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Picture a wall that stares back at you. Or a uniform that shows a soldier a 360-degree view of the battlefield. Both scenarios are possible courtesy of a new generation of flexible, translucent fibers developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. These so-called multimaterial fibers can turn incoming light waves into images without the need for a camera lens. And unlike fiber optic cables, they can transmit images that have been captured across their entire length.
Current cameras rely on lenses to produce a recognizable image. The curved glass or plastic of a lens focuses light waves reflected off an object onto a surface that can display the resulting images, either film or, in the case of digital cameras, charged-coupled devices. The idea has worked well for decades, but it's always contained an Achilles' heel: Damage the lens, and you lose or diminish the ability to see.