From creating cars that communicate with each other, to helping kids write their own books, to improvising medical devices worthy of MacGyver, these six innovators promise to change the way we live
Author TOM SAMILJAN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATHEW SCOTT, GUIDO VITTI and CJ BENNINGER
If you’ve ever taken pictures all day on that fancy new digital SLR only to discover — when you finally take a look on your computer — that most of the shots are blurry, then Ren Ng is ready to help. As founder and CEO of Lytro, the 35-year-old Stanford Ph.D. is responsible for one of the most significant photographic inventions since the Polaroid camera. In December, Ng’s company debuted the Lytro Camera ($399, lytro.com), a stylish, telescope-like device that allows you to focus the picture after you take it.
Representing an entirely new kind of camera, the Lytro uses light field imaging, a photographic process that typically requires 100 digicams and a supercomputer, to capture light more accurately and comprehensively than traditional cameras do. The result: highly editable pictures. Light field technology has been around since the 1990s, but Ng’s breakthrough came when he compressed the work of the aforementioned digicams and supercomputer into one portable device small enough to fit in a purse or briefcase. (As a bonus, the extra information on Lytro-captured pictures means each one is also automatically available in 3-D, if you care about that sort of thing.)
The Lytro is about as knob-free as an iPad, with most of its controls on a touchscreen. “With all their modes and dials and buttons, the majority of cameras today are too complicated for most people,” says Ng. “You can’t use powerful technology for technology’s sake. Our focus is always to make it simple.” To that end, apart from sparing you the need to focus — which allows you to take rapid-fire shots — the Lytro also lets you instantly tag a photo as a favorite right in the camera, so you don’t have to sort through your Facebook shares after uploading.
This year Lytro’s technology is in just one camera. However, since most of the company’s innovation lies in its software and powerful miniaturized sensor, we can see where this is heading: into other cameras, and even into cellphones, which heretofore have been plagued by slow shutter speeds. The Lytro can’t shoot video — but don’t expect the revolution to skip camcorders, since the technology is applicable to video, too. “It really is camera 3.0,” says Ng.
REN NG / AGE 35 / FROM MALAYSIA AND AUSTRALIA / LIVES IN REDWOOD CITY, CALIF. / PREVIOUS GIG DOCTORAL STUDENT, STANFORD UNIVERSITY