When I was a kid, we had a periscope you could make out of a cardboard tube and two small hand mirrors. We used it to peek above tables we were hiding under, or around corners, and spy on our friends or play varieties of hide and seek games. Now there's a video camera system that can do the same, and record what it sees with what amounts to very, very fast frame rates.
The video system, called Cornar, was created by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, led by associate professor Ramesh Raskar. It can look beyond the line of sight, as well as peer around corners. Instead of using an angled mirror at each end of the periscope to reflect and redirect light, Cornar deploys ordinary surfaces that aren't usually considered to be reflective, like walls, doors, or floors.
Using a femtosecond laser, the Cornar video camera system bounces light off of walls and floors to "see" around corners and beyond the line of sight. (Source: MIT)
Conar is based on a femtosecond laser, which is wicked fast, and a picosecond detector. Bursts of light generated by the laser reflect off of multiple surfaces and reconstruct a 3D image.
The laser fires femtosecond bursts of light at a surface, for example, the wall opposite the doorway of a room. The light reflects off of that surface and into the room, where it bounces around, reflecting off of many more surfaces and acting as a flash. Eventually, the bursts re-emerge and strike a detector that takes measurements every few picoseconds. By sampling light at picosecond levels of accuracy, the researchers say they can reconstruct shapes with centimeter levels of accuracy. (You can watch a video demonstrating this process here.)
The system repeats this entire process multiple times, bouncing bursts of light off of several different spots on the wall, so groups of bursts enter the room at several different angles. The detector also measures the returning light at their different returning different angles.
Very interesting. If the "camera" measures time of flight of the photons, perhaps it relies on only one sensitive photodetector rather than an imaging array. Photodiodes can offer femtosecond response.
I think there are several possible markets for this technology, and I'm not at all sure that they will all be niche markets, although no doubt some will be. Thanks, Jim, for your input, experience and enthusiasm. I didn't quite envision the Star Trek transponder when reading about this, but the possibilities for military/first responder and industrial/commercial applications seem pretty interesting and achievable.
Another compelling example of physics and discovery coming out of the Media lab at MIT.As "apresher" mused about commercial viability, I'm not so sure this is a niche market, but I definitely agree that this technology is in its infancy and has great potential to grow into something fantastic.
For a period of time about 10 years ago, I had the exciting responsibility to visit and watch media lab presentations, then take ideas like this one back into Advance Development for product design at Motorola. I was tasked with conceiving viable applications for emerging technologies to be characterized into everyday devices that eventually flooded markets and became household familiarities. While that may sound like wishful thinking, I can truthfully report that some of the "New Ideas" that came from the Media Lab during that period 2001-2004 were E-Ink, Vision tracking, vehicle distance sensing, and audio beams; all of which have today landed into huge commercial applications and become parts of multi-million dollar industries.
So, while the photon-bounce assembled image of today's technology capability might seem like a blurry-blob only roughly recognizable,the breakthrough of re-assembling photon bounces into quazi recognizable image has been accomplished.Amazing! To me, this sounds like the pre-cursor to the Enterprise's 4-pad Transporter.Beam me up, Scotty!
This reminds me of the Lytro light-field camera. A clever detector arrangement collects lots of data and through the majic of software and image can be reconstructed that would not have been possible before.
Pretty cool technology. I could see something like this coming into play for first responders to disasters like the Chilean mine incident or even for fire fighters. I'm admittedly not that up to date on vision systems, but I am surprised that there isn't more technology out like this already.
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