Researchers at two preeminent universities in Scotland designed a camera that doesn’t use x-ray vision or mirrors to locate objects beyond its line of sight. Instead, the camera turns floor, walls into virtual mirrors to see around corners by using complex algorithms and laser technology.
Study authors explained that we can clearly see objects in mirrors because a mirror reflects light at a constant angle into our eyes. This constant angle helps us clearly see reflected objects although light may reach these objects from different points.
On the other hand, non-reflective surfaces such as walls and floors in a room are unable to concentrate the light from one source into a single angle, so the human eye cannot see a clear image of the object reflected by these surfaces.
But a joint team of researchers from Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities managed to design a system that can draw information even from non-reflective surfaces and piece that information together into an image. The system heavily relies of laser technology, state-of-the-art detectors, and a series of complex algorithms.
The technology used can calculate how far a moving object that is located out of the camera’s line of sight is by looking at the time the light from a laser beam needs to reach the object, scatter, and bounce off to the camera’s sensors.
Engineers explained that the camera fires a laser beam in the direction of a non-reflective surface such as a wall or floor. Next, the light scatters around and a small fraction hits the target located around the corner.
Since speed of light is the same, an in-built processor can calculate how long it takes for the beam to hit the floor, reach the target and return to the camera, and from that info it can measure the distance between the camera and the target.
Although the process may not look very complicated, researchers had a major obstacle to overcome. When light bounces off the non-reflective surface, it hits other objects in the room, as well. So, the team had to come up with a method to separate objects that the camera plans to locate and track from those that are just ‘background noise.’
Scientists managed to solve the problem by instructing the camera to pay attention to moving targets and ignore static objects. On a moving object light will scatter at different angles so the image in the virtual mirror is constantly changing. This is how the camera can tell dynamic objects from stationary ones.