The project LIPA investigates the usage of light field cameras, also known as plenoptic cameras, for future planetary exploration missions. The goal of the project is show the advantages of light field cameras as close range imaging devices in the context of in-situ investigations on other planets. We investigate the optical behavior of these cameras but also the light field processing for this use case.
The project LIPA (Light field cameras for In-situ Planetology and Astrobiology) investigates the usage of light field cameras for future planetary exploration missions.
During such missions, in-situ investigations of interesting sites on a planet's surface are often performed with the help of so called hand lens imagers. These cameras provide high resolution images of fine details of rocks or soils. Hence, they are similar in functionality to the hand lens or magnifier a geologist usually carries along during field trips. In order to provide the scientist with the same tool during missions to a remote planet, hand lens imagers have shown their high usability during various rover and lander missions. Images from such a camera can be used by geologists and other planetologists, but also by astrobiologists in order to search for signs of life on a planet.
A current example of a hand lens imager in operation is the MAHLI camera on board of the NASA Mars rover Curiosity. This camera can provide close range images with a resolution high enough to see and measure even single grains of sand. But it can also be used to create landscape views or the famous selfies that Curiosity made of itself. Experience from several missions shows that hand lens imagers are also an important tool for the operation and maintenance of a rover. But such cameras are physically limited in their depth of field, which requires a focusing mechanism. Additionally, multiple images need to be recorded in order to create a depth map.
The advantages of light field cameras, also known as plenoptic cameras, over conventional cameras become most evident at close range. The main advantages are an extended depth of field and single shot depth images from a single camera. Therefore we envision the use of plenoptic hand lens imagers for in-situ investigations during future missions in order to provide enhanced imaging performance with less operational overhead.
In order to prove the advantages in the context of in-situ investigations, the goal of the project LIPA is to determine the potential of light field cameras as close range imagers. We investigate the optical behavior of such cameras but also the light field processing for this use case.
The project is conducted in cooperation with the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems – Department of Information Processing of Optical Systems and the DLR Institute of Planetary Research.