MIT Startup Tesseract Aims To Commercialize Mobile Digital Photo Refocusing And 3D Effects

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An MIT project that aimed to bring light field refocusing powers to existing cameras for less than a dollar is being spun out as its own commercial venture: Tesseract wants to provide the same capabilities to mobile devices, and the startup has the demos to prove it, using actual Android smartphone hardware using its technology.

Some of the flagship features of Tesseract include light field-style refocusing a la Lytro, albeit accomplished for much less money. At these rates, incorporating it into existing hardware becomes a lot more palatable for smartphone OEMs, which are constantly concerned about component costs when speccing out new devices.

In addition to refocusing after capture, it also offers up the ability to selectively separate foreground and background components, as well as apply special filter effects to different elements of the photo, and edit on different, automatically defined layers. It’s part RAW, part PSD but straight from your mobile device’s camera.

The plan for Tesseract is to sell its tech directly to OEMs for use in their devices, but there are many other potential uses, too. One client that founder Kshitij Marwah never expected is a bank with annual revenue in the billions that wants to use it to make their account opening process easier, he told me via email. The startup is also in ongoing discussions with smartphone manufacturers, other OEMs and banks to see how it might be adopted in their respective devices and processes.

Already, companies like HTC are reported to be introducing some of these features on their next-gen mobile devices. But HTC’s implementation seems to require multiple lenses and no doubt considerable expense on the component front. Qualcomm recently demoed mobile processors that offer selective refocusing thanks to improvements on the system-on-a-chip, but that too might be fairly costly to implement. With so many different approaches to this kind of camera innovation, one thing’s nearly certain: Within the next few years, no one should have to live with the focal composition they originally chose when they take a photo with their top-tier smartphone.