The camera that takes photographs around corners

by PYB James | Dec 12, 2010

Ground breaking photographic technology is set to make history with a new camera, developed by MIT Media Lab, that can shoot round corners.

US scientists presented the camera at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, showing off how it examines light bouncing off other objects to take pictures from around corners.  The prototype illuminates scenes by using an ultra high-intensity burst of laser light and constructs basic images of its surroundings which include hidden objects around a corner.

The camera collects tiny amounts of light that bounce around the area. “It’s like having x-ray vision without the x-rays” said Professor Ramesh Raskar,  head of the Camera Culture group at the MIT Media Lab who is a member of the team behind this system.

More commonly used to measure reactions at molecular and atomic scale, light sources (in the case the camera’s laser) are used to fire a pulse of light to a scene. The light particles scatter and reflect off surfaces including walls and floors and continue to bounce around a corner and reflect off whatever objects are behind it. Some of these particles then reflect back round to the camera.

Expert in light scattering and computer vision Professor Shree Navar of Columbia University, although complimentary about this work, did state that at this stage it wasn’t clear how much detail the camera would pick up of invisible scenes.

This is still an incredible development in the world of photography as Professor Rasker was told by seniors when starting his research three years ago that this would be “impossible”.  However this has now become closer to reality.

Possible applications to everyday life could be that this type of technology could used to build a map of dangerous surroundings, such as a building fire, or in a robot car that can map out its path so it knows the corners to take before taking them.

Based on good results from trials, the team could have a working endoscope prototype within two years, although it would be room sized, so building something portable could take longer.

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