The U.S. Patent Office really does get to see the coolest stuff first. Case in point: a patent Google recently filed for a multi-flash smartphone camera. Instead of one blinding flash, a series of flashes would ring the smartphone's camera lens, possibly with software instructing specific flashes to fire based on the lighting conditions. The flashes might also work together to create soft lighting for portraits or for simply brightening up any photo taken in a dimly lit location. Think about it. How many times have group dinner photos stymied your smartphone? Multiple flashes that remove harsh shadows could fix that.
While it's possible that these drawings are the closest a multi-flash camera might come to reality, Google's drawings are certainly interesting. The first one shows stationary flashes arranged in a ring around the camera lens. The second and third drawings show moveable flashes that run along tracks in the back of the phone. One of them is in a ring shape that would give the flashes a small amount of mobility to the left or right. The other has a straight line for moveable flashes in a bar above the lens with two vertical lines that bow out around the sides of the lens.
Of course, these are just patent drawings and no one knows for sure if technology like this will ever reach a smartphone near you. But, like the people at Google who dreamed this up, we certainly hope it does.