MIT Media Lab professor Ramesh Raskar and his team have built a camera that can take pictures around corners and beyond the line of sight.
The CORNAR system bounces high-speed laser pulses off any opaque surface, such as a door or wall. These pulses then reflect off the subject and bounce back to a camera that records incoming light in picosecond intervals. The system measures and triangulates distance based on this time-of-flight data, creating a point cloud that visually represents the objects in the other room. In essence, the camera measures and interprets reflected echoes of light.
Raskar envisions that a future version of the system could be used by emergency responders — firefighters looking for people in burning buildings or police determining whether rooms are safe to enter — or by vehicle navigation systems, which could bounce light off the ground to look around blind corners. It could also be used with endoscopic medical devices, to produce images of previously obscure regions of the human body.
This video shows how the scientists reconstruct a hidden object using scattered laser light, which enables them to see around corners. (Credits: Nature Communications; MIT Media Lab; Experimental setup by Andreas Velten; Photo taken by Christopher Barsi.)
The CORNAR Camera was recognised in the Popular Mechanics 2012 Breakthrough Awards – an annual competition where we salute the greatest advances. Get your hands on PM’s Dec ’12 issue – on sale on 19 November – to find out about the best bold ideas of 2012.