It may be impossible for any human to see around a corner, much less track objects hidden in a corner, but a camera developed by researchers in Scotland is able to do all of that in close to real time.
This laser-facilitated camera makes use of sophisticated data processing to convert walls and floors into what researchers call a “virtual mirror,” which makes it possible to track moving objects that aren’t visible via a direct line of sight. And one of its main applications, say the researchers, may potentially be use in computer-facilitated vehicles. According to co-lead researcher Genevieve Gariepy of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, this camera “could be incredibly helpful for vehicles to avoid collisions around sharp turns,” or allow emergency responders to see around blind corners in risky situations.
The data processing technology used is called echo mapping, which is already being used by other cameras to create a three-dimensional view of a room, but this new camera stands out because of the amazing speed in which it makes its measurements. The system in this device makes use of a precise laser and a high-end, sensitive camera module that’s capable of tracking individual light photons. Due to its speed and sensitivity, the camera can detect and track objects hidden around corners in near-real time, instead of doing so in hours.
There are limitations to the study, the researchers said, as the camera’s system cannot generate 3D images of the objects it’s able to detect. The study’s senior author Daniele Faccio, also of Heriot-Watt, said that more research may be able to allow the system to see in full 3D, as well as make it detect images faster than three seconds (its current speed) and hundreds of feet away.
“Extending the detection distance — for example, up to hundreds of meters — is a great challenge, but we are confident that as the technology gets better and better, this will become possible,” Faccio explained in a press statement. “It is clear that now we need better cameras, and these are indeed under development as we speak.”
Findings of the study were published this week in the journal Nature Photonics.