Madison Ruppert, Contributor
Lately there has been a surprising amount of news dealing with technology allowing people to see through walls, clothes, skin, and just about everything else.
Most recently, researchers used WiFi radar; and earlier this year researchers at the University of Texas announced the design of a microchip allowing mobile devices to see through walls.
This latest announcement reveals some technology which, while not nearly as unbelievable as the above, is still quite impressive.
The project involved researchers from some of the nation’s top institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, along with researchers from Rice University and the University of Wisconsin.
The researchers drew from the chaotic behavior of photons – the elementary particle, or quantum, of light and all electromagnetic radiation – in order to arrive at a method of using photons and advanced optics to actually reconstruct three-dimensional objects hidden around corners or even underneath skin.
The technology still seems to be relatively rudimentary at this stage since, as you can see in the August 6, 2012 press release from the Optical Society, the images revealed aren’t quite perfect.
That being said, you can definitely make out what the objects are, which means that it works well enough to detect a human being, animal, or other object around a corner or hidden by some other obstacle.
The researchers – who published their findings in the Optical Society’s open-access journal called Optics Express – already see some positive applications for this technology.
“Say you have a house collapsing and need to know if anyone is inside, our technology would be useful. It’s ideal for use in nearly any disaster-type situation, especially fires, in which you need to find out what’s going on inside and around corners — but don’t want to risk sending someone inside because of dangerous or hazardous conditions. You could use this technology to greatly reduce risking rescue workers’ lives,” explained Otkrist Gupta, MIT graduate student and lead author of the paper.
The technique they developed is quite astounding and involves recording the time it takes for photons to hit an object and be reflected back in order to create a rough image.
“Imagine photons as particles bouncing right off the walls and down a corridor and around a corner — the ones that hit an object are reflected back. When this happens, we can use the data about the time they take to move around and bounce back to get information about geometry,” said Gupta.
The researchers used an ultrafast laser and what is known as a “streak camera,” both of which operate at an unbelievable rate of trillions of cycles per second, in order to create the images.
The streak cameras the team used create an image by analyzing the timing of incoming photons. “This type of imaging provides us with a very good idea of how long each of the photons takes to bounce and come back,” explains Gupta.
“If there’s something around the corner, the photons come back sooner and arrive earlier in time. We’re actually capturing and counting photons. Each image we shoot has three or fewer photons in it. And we take lots of images very quickly to create ‘streak’ images, which help us determine the distance traveled by the photons in centimeters. Once we collect that data, we can infer the basic geometry of the hidden object(s) and a 3-D picture emerges,” he said.
The most interesting potential application, in my opinion, is non-invasive biomedical imaging. The researchers are planning to investigate the ability of this technology to actually “see” beneath the skin of a patient for diagnostic or other purposes.
According to Gupta, this technology likely won’t be available commercially for at least five to ten years, based on the normal time spent on research and development before a product launch.
It would be interesting to see if this technique has already been leveraged in other sectors. I honestly would be quite surprised if the military has not already exploited this imaging technique in one way or another.
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This article first appeared at End the Lie.