A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institiute of Technology have developed a camera capable of capturing 3D images in almost total darkness.
The images are captured using single particles of light, called photons. Ahmed Kirmani, who penned the findings, explained that “with only one photon per pixel you would expect the image to be completely featureless,” as normally the number of photons detected would tell you how bright an image was, leading the research to be termed as “counter-intuitive”.
Kirmani went on to say that the team took the concept of the Lidar system, which is used by Google Streetview and built on it.
“We borrowed the principles from this, the detectors can identify single photons but they still need hundreds of thousands to form images. But we took the system to its limit.”
The Lidar system works using a laser that fires pulses of light towards an object in a grid sequence. Each location on the grid corresponds to a pixel in the final image. Normally the laser would fire a large number of times at each grid position and detect multiple reflected photons but the system developed by the MIT researchers, moved on to the next position in the grid as soon as it had detected a single photon.
In describing possible applications for this technology, the team say it could be used in ophthalmology; capturing an image of a patient’s eye without needing to shine a bright light in to the eye.
Mr Kirmani said the military could use the technology for soldiers in combat situations as it would give them the advantage of seeing in the dark. The military obviously appreciate the value of this advantage as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has part funded this research.
“Any technology that enhances a military’s ability to navigate, target or engage in near-total darkness would be highly prized. 3D imagery married with existing imagery and navigation technologies could significantly enhance the capabilities currently possessed,” said Reed Foster, a defence analyst at IHS.
In the future there is also the potential for this technology to be used for 3D cameras in mobile phones, due to the fact that it needs less light and therefore less power.