An LG patent application emerged from the United States Patent Office last week, describing an LG-made "mobile terminal" featuring a total of sixteen rear-facing cameras. The patent application includes a handful of sketches exemplifying some of the uses of the unconventional camera array which focus primarily on post-processing. The process includes the capturing of multiple images through a plurality of lenses, outputting "at least one" of the images on the display, and offering the option of generating a moving image using the data. Capturing multiple photos from different angles at the same time could also expand the prospects of augmented-reality, and it's likely that this type of hardware would be accompanied by imaging algorithms which would help with stitching together images and rotating objects in the photos seamlessly.
The patent also showcases the sixteen lenses being positioned at different angles, capable of forming concave or convex grids, but it's unclear whether these sketches show multiple examples of how the camera array would be fixed in place for a potential final product, or if the lens arrangement could be changed by users via the camera application and some form of motorized hardware, allowing for even deeper customization.
Background: LG already has some prior experience with smartphones featuring multiple cameras, and the recent LG V40 ThinQ is a prime example of that. The device was launched with three main cameras on the back panel, and the arrangement offers some augmented reality capabilities through Google's ARCore engine. On the most part, these tools revolve mainly around post-editing photos with augmented reality emojis and stickers, but the smartphone featured in the recent patent seems to be much more about actual photo editing. It allows cropping parts of photos captured at the same time and combining them for the best results, and all of this seems to be backed by face-recognition technologies.
The Korean OEM was also the first to release a smartphone featuring two cameras, i.e., the LG Optimus 3D back in 2011. The technology was, perhaps, ahead of its time or not baked sufficiently, as dual-camera handsets didn't become widespread so early in the smartphone's lifetime. Having said that, it's likely that even if LG is considering releasing a smartphone boasting sixteen rear-facing cameras, the device would be more of a niche-product or a showcase of what the future might have in store for mobile enthusiasts. Right now smartphones seem to include an increasing number of cameras every one or two generations, and while two-camera setups have arguably become the norm, some OEMs including LG are already moving towards devices with more than two rear-facing sensors. Perhaps the trend will continue and LG's sixteen-camera smartphone won't seem so far-fetched in the future.
Impact: For now, it's unlikely that this type of smartphone will be commercialized in the coming year even if the patent exists, but nevertheless, LG is certainly considering it and OEMs tend to think ahead, trying to determine how our current technologies might evolve and where they could eventually lead to. Augmented reality is apparently here for the long run, and multiple cameras will inevitably facilitate it in one form or another.