To most of us, seeing what’s around the corner before rounding the bend is known as premonition. For students and professors at MIT’s Media Lab, it’s called physics. The lab is working on a laser-based camera that can snap images around corners, imaging scenery that is beyond direct line of sight.
The camera works by incorporating complex computer algorithms with blasts from a femtosecond laser that issues ultra-short bursts of light lasting just one quadrillionth of a second. Those intense light bursts charge forward and illuminate a scene – even a scene around the corner from the source – sending photons bouncing around the area. Some of those photons make it back to the camera, which uses aforementioned complex computer mathematics to rebuild the scene around the corner, pixel by pixel.
Professor Ramesh Raskar, head of the Camera Culture group at MIT’s Media Lab, equates the technology to X-ray vision, but instead of going through an obstacle the camera uses light to go around it. That could have some seriously handy applications in the arenas of defense, search and rescue, or machine vision. Rescuers could use the technology to map collapsed buildings to search for survivors or determine the safety situation inside, and robot cars could quickly map the area directly around a corner before it begins a turn to ensure it charts the proper path.