All-seeing laser eye

© Photo | Gernot Walter

An MIT team is using a special camera to look round corners – with the help of the femtosecond laser

The results are impressive: A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is using a special camera to capture 3D images of objects that are outside the camera’s field of vision – even when these objects are in another room.

There is more

Functional principal

MIT’s special camera evaluates light pulses that are bounced back from obscured areas. A computer algorithm processes the data and creates an image. 
For more details on how the camera works please visit the MIT website 


Possible applications

Locate survivors during search and rescue missions


Avoiding collisions caused by blind spots


Various endoscopic procedures such as cardioscopy, colonoscopy, bronchoscopy.

How it works

The device captures images with the help of a femtosecond laser, which shoots ultra-short light pulses into the room that then rebound off all the objects and walls. This allows the pulses to also be reflected into and bounced back from areas obscured fromthe camera’s field of vision. A detector mounted in the camera catches the pulses on the rebound. This process is repeated over and over at great speed, and continues until a special image reconstruction algorithm has calculated an image from the data. The method uses systems derived from computed tomography.

New job for femtosecond lasers

This is a completely new field of application for femtosecond lasers. In the past, scientists would at most have used them to take extremely high-speed pictures of biochemical processes in the laboratory environment, although the light pulses were only ever aimed at small areas at the time. “When I first talked about using femtosecond lasers to take 3D scans of entire interior spaces, people thought it was a silly idea,” says Ramesh Raskar, Professor at MIT Media Lab and head of the project.

Fields of application for the “camera that looks around corners”

Raskar believes that advanced versions of the device could be of particular interest to search and rescue teams in emergency services. It would enable fire fighters to locate victims trapped in burning buildings, and allow police officers to scope spaces from afar. He also envisages everyday applications for the technology, such as collision warning systems for vehicles executing a turn. It could also prove particularly interesting for the medical community, as the system could be used to generate detailed images of obscured parts of the human body.

What’s next?

Raskar and his team still have a way to go before the product is market-ready. Their main concern at the moment is how to improve image quality. Raskar is also researching innovative solid-state femtosecond lasers in a bid to drop the price and shrink the size – as things stand, his camera for looking around corners is still pretty bulky.

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