Written by Jonny Williamson
A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, has created a system which gives someone the ability to see through objects or around corners. Possible applications include emergency servicemen being able to see into dangerous or hostile environments – potentially crucial in search and rescue situations – or to aid vehicle navigation systems. It could also be utilized in many manufacturing sectors to look inside inaccessible machines with moving parts or contaminated areas, or the medical field to aid in diagnosis and surgery.
Head of the Camera Culture Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, which carried out the study, Ramesh Raskar said,
“We are all familiar with sound echoes, but we can also exploit echoes of light.”
+MORE FROM MANUFACTURING DIGITAL
The principle behind the system is similar to that of a periscope, though instead of using mirrors set at angles to reflect light, typically un-reflective surfaces such as walls, doors and floors are used.
“Four years ago, when I talked to people in ultrafast optics about using femtosecond lasers for room-sized scenes, they said it was totally ridiculous.”
The system works by using one such femtosecond laser – capable of emitting bursts of light so short that their duration is measured in quadrillionths of a second – to repeatedly fire light at the opposite side of what is to be photographed.
The light reflects off the surface and re-enters the room or object, reflecting off more surfaces and ultimately re-emerges striking a detector. The detector is set-up to take very precise measurements every few picoseconds – measured in trillionths of a second.
Taking measurements from different angles and comparing the time it takes for the light to return creates a vast amount of usable data. This data is then processed by algorithms designed by the researchers to create an image of the room or object.
At the moment the displayed images are a little blurred, but recognizable with the process taking several minutes, though the team hopes to reduce that down to seconds.