Amazing photographs of what the world looks like to drones and other robots.

With any luck, the future will bring more self-driving cars and flying drones to deliver pizza and other goodies. For those robots to get around safely, though, they need to both see their surroundings and understand what they’re seeing. A new kind of camera developed by engineers in California may help them do just that. It sees more than what meets our eyes.

The new camera combines two powerful traits. First, it takes exceptionally wide images. Second, it collects data about all the light bouncing around the scene. Then, an onboard computer uses those data to quickly analyze what the camera sees. It can calculate the distance to something in the picture, for example. Or it can refocus a specific spot within the image.

Such calculations would help self-driving cars or drones better recognize what’s around them. What kinds of things? These might include other vehicles, obstacles, intersections and pedestrians. The technology could be used to build cameras that help their host vehicle make faster decisions — and use less power — than do the cameras on drones and vehicles now. A car might then use those data to navigate more safely.

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