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Pelican's lenses also allow for slimmer form factors

Pelican Imaging may be a fresh face on the market, but it drew lots of attention with its plenoptic imaging technology, which uses software to stitch together input from multiple small lenses into a single cohesive image.  

The resulting image not only rivals images taken from larger lenses, it also allows for dynamic adjustments to the focal length.  In many ways the multi-lens technology mimics nature -- insects see the world through multiple lenses, but their brain is thought to act as an image processor, stitching these images together into a single scene.

Now Finnish Windows Phone-maker Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) has made a invest in Pelican worth up to $15M USD, hoping that the imaging firm's expertise can help it to beat out Android phonemakers and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) in smartphone imaging.


Nokia is already very focused on imaging; its PureView smartphone -- which will soon receive a Windows Phone makeover -- can take 41 megapixel shots.  Nokia has been among the companies aggressively pushing high dynamic range (HDR) imaging as a means to improve smartphone camera image color.

Shipments of Nokia's smartphones doubled on a YoY (year-to-year) basis, but the phonemaker still only accounts for 3 percent of total global smartphone sales.  Plenoptic imaging could help it win customers who are obsessed with taking the perfect smartphone image.  

Describes Bo Ilsoe, a partner at Nokia Growth Partners, "[Plenoptic imaging] is on the cusp of being commercialized and Pelican does software for that.  It’s very complicated to do this algorithmically and Pelican is one of the companies that has mastered this technology.

Pelican Imaging
Pelican Imaging's software, combined with Heptagon's lenses could make a unique new kind of smartphone camera. [Image Source: Pelican Imaging]

Nokia Growth investments are typically around $4M to $7M, and are capped at $15M USD.  Pelican's other investors include Globespan Capital Partners, Granite Ventures, InterWest Partners, and Invesco Quality Muni Inv Trust (IQT).

Nokia's fund also invested in Invisage, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based quantum dots imaging firm who looks to make smartphone sensors with the fresh nanotechnology, and Singapore-based lens-maker Heptagon.  The Heptagon investment is particularly interesting as it is a startup that makes micro-optics.  In other words, you could combine Heptagon's tiny lenses with Pelican's software to potentially make a full plenoptic smartphone imaging sensor.

Such a sensor could not only allow better images and more post-processing, but is also expected to be slimmer than a traditional camera module, allowing for thinner smartphones.




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