New Bond-style camera can peer around corners

LONDON (TIP): British researchers have developed a James Bond-style camera that can peer around corners to see people or objects. The technology could someday allow troops to obtain information without breaking cover or be fitted on cars to give advance warnings of obstacles.

The prototype uses short high-intensity bursts of laser light to illuminate a target object and then collects the tiny fraction of that light that is scattered back on to a detector on the camera. The geometry of the setup is similar to that in a conventional periscope, in which light from the target object turns a corner by bouncing off a reflecting surface. In this case, however, the reflecting surface is simply a wall or the floor and, unlike a mirror, which reflects light in clean, straight lines, the light is scattered in every direction.

Normally this scattering of light would make it impossible to reconstruct the shape and position of the target object, ‘The Times’ reported. The new camera overcomes this by recording the incoming light at more than 15 billion frames per second — quickly enough to detect tiny differences in the times at which individual photons arrive back at the camera. To build a picture, the camera fires the laser 4,000 times each second, at many different angles.

A computer algorithm is then used to reconstruct the shape and position of hidden objects around the corner. The prototype will soon be tested in the laboratory to see whether it can be used to distinguish basic shapes, such as cut-out letters. “You could probably read a newspaper headline. It’s very Superman, very James Bond,” said Jonathan Leach, a member of the research team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

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