Lasers And Cameras Let Scientists See Around Corners

Still waiting for x-ray vision, though

Vision is one of the more limited ways to perceive the world. As much as people can see within their line of sight, that line doesn’t bend around corners, unfortunately. This is frustrating at the best of times, and potentially tragic in others–for example, when a child runs behind a car and a driver can’t see them. Researchers at theHeriot-Watt University in Edinburgh created a system that, using cameras and lasers, can not only see around corners, but can tell if hidden objects have moved.

Here’s how it works: a laser beam goes forward in a straight line angled slightly downward. Light scatters from where it hits, and some of that light is reflected off of objects not seen, like one around a corner. A special camera watches the ground ahead for where the light bounces back, and then picks up signs of, say, a light bouncing off that person hidden around the corner. When the person moves, the place they reflect the laser changes, and suddenly the system can see someone lurking out of sight.

The science of it is incredibly tricky, requiring very precise timing and accurate cameras. The researchers boast that their method can “follow the movement of an object located a metre away from the camera with centimetre precision.” Or, converted away from the metric elegance of that statement, it can see things about 3 feet away from the camera with about half an inch of error.

Someday, the technology could give cars an extra way to avoid accidents, and might also help out in surveillance and law enforcement.

Watch a video about it below:
Kelsey D. Atherton

Kelsey D. Athertonis a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.