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A Camera That Sees Around Corners

James Bond might be needing one of these…

Michael Cruickshank
A Camera That Sees Around Corners© 2018 The Royal Society

Spy films are full of outlandish gadgets which are always too good to be true. From James Bond’s invisible Aston Martin ‘Vanish’ to the self-destructing video sunglasses used by Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible, we see a lot of fantastical tech would be practically impossible to build.

What if somebody was actually crazy enough to try?

A team from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have been working on a device which mimics some of the best which spy films have to offer. Using a unique form of super fast imaging, they have managed to build a camera which allows a user to effectively see around corners.

Fundamentally, their technology is built around a camera so fast, that it can capture the movement of individual photons (the minute particles that make up beams of light). To do this they built an array of single-photon detectors, where each individual detector is outfitted with a super fast clock. When light arrives at the detector array, it records not just where it arrives, but also crucially what time it arrives.

Image: © 2014 The Royal Society

Dr Jonathan Leach, a member of the Heriot-Watt research team explains in an interview with the Royal Society:

“The most exciting thing that this camera is going to allow us to do is look around corners, because the information about what is around a corner and where it is [...] is contained in the time information. [...] It’s very James Bond...”

While the team does not have any direct product applications created for the camera just yet, they believe in its current form, it would have the resolution to enable someone to read a headline on a newspaper around a corner.

They theorize that the camera would have significant military applications, such as allowing soldiers to check around a corner in dangerous environments. In addition, it would allow civilian rescue agencies to better search collapsed buildings in the wake of disasters such as earthquakes, and rapidly explore spaces without needing camera probes.

With such cool technology in development, who knows what is next?

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