Inventor and researcher Ramesh Raskar is so fascinated by super-human vision that he actually pioneered technologies to achieve it. His novel imaging techniques led to cameras that can illuminate objects hidden around corners and read the pages in a closed book.
Raskar, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and head of the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture Group, has worked on cameras that can perform amazing feats. One of his techniques, called femto-photography, uses a camera and software to visualize the propagation of light at about half a trillion frames per second. That's ultra-fast. It's so fast that a blink of the human eye is ridiculously slow in comparison.
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In femto-photography, a laser pulse fires and scatters light all over the place. Some of it hits an object hidden around the corner from the camera. Yet the camera is powerful enough to capture dozens of these sneaky images, which then get analyzed and pieced together, showing the object in three dimensions.
Another technique Raskar and his colleagues developed can read individual pages in a closed book. Their prototype system extracts and localizes single pages through special time-gated terahertz spectral analysis. It accurately picked up terahertz radiation signals from the paper and filtered out the noise to show letters on the first nine pages in a stack, MIT News reported. This week Raskar won the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize honoring outstanding mid-career inventors.
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Although I can imagine super-human vision being used for nefarious ends, Raskar isn't that kind of guy. He envisions his research helping people drive safely through fog, detecting tumor cells in a non-invasive way and reading rare books. He told the Lemelson-MIT program he was surprised to learn that 90 percent of book archives are too fragile to be shared with the public.
"Our research can only scan first 9 pages," he said. "But fundamentally, there is nothing stopping anyone else to build on top of our solution to penetrate deeper into more pages."
This imaging technique brought to mind Alastor Moody from the "Harry Potter" universe, whose magical eye could see in all directions, through walls, and past invisibility cloaks. Raskar doesn't need magic to make the invisible visible, though. His tech is the real deal.