Using ultra-fast imaging and "echoes of light," researchers have developed an innovative camera that takes pictures outside of traditional line of sight.
Short bursts of light that reflect off of different objects is key for researchers at MIT. They've named the process "Femto-Photography. It exploits the finite speed of light and it is part of what they call the "femtosecond transient imaging system."
Applying a femtosecond laser, short pulses of light bounce around off of one object and on to another before reflecting back onto the original object where it is then captured by the camera. The bursts of light last for one quadrillionth of a second. Algorithms then reconstruct what is hidden.
According to MIT Professor Ramesh Raskar, the camera creates a "3D time-image" of the unseen image, by continuously gathering light and computing the time and distance that each pixel has traveled.
"It’s like having x-ray vision without the x-rays," Raskar said. "We’re going around the problem rather than going through it."
The research is still in the early stages of development but potential applications could include search and rescue, medical imaging, industrial building inspection and traffic collision prevention.
"You could generate a map before you go into a dangerous place like a building fire, or a robotic car could use the system to compute the path it should take around a corner before it takes it."
The researchers foresee a portable imaging system available within the next two years.
MIT's Femtosecond Transient Imaging Report (PDF) by Ahmed Kirmani offers more project information.