Camera captures images at a trillion frames per second to record beams of light


posted Friday, July 27, 2012 at 1:38 PM EDT

Light-in-slow-motion-logoWhile waiting for my flying car to be delivered — I ordered it 30 years ago — I try to keep up with the latest science around imaging. Earlier this year I reported on a camera that can see around corners and now Ramesh Rasker, a researcher at MIT, has introduced the concept of femto-photography, a new type of imaging in which you can literally record light itself.

In a recent TED speech in Edinburgh (shown below), he presented a video demonstration of a light beam shooting through a Coke bottle. Photography creates images by recording light but Raskar’s femto-photography technology can photograph light itself as it moves at the speed of light. The demo is downright amazing.

His central theme in the talk is that watching light, sliced and diced this finely, can reveal extraordinary things about the nature of both light and objects. For example, he shows another video of a super slowed down light racing over a tomato. In the video we see that the tomato’s ripeness causes an afterglow on its surface as the beam passes by.

Rasker asks the audience to imagine going into a supermarket and using a femto-photography capable Smartphone, checking if fruits and vegetables are ripe. Okay, Ramesh, I get the point that this is wonderful demonstration of the technology, but did all of this research go into building a better ripe fruit detector?

Rasker also reviews the camera that sees around corners, which works through the same process. The video gives you a chance to see this camera in action. He happily speculates on its medical uses to allow for non-invasive 3-D imagery within the body.

While he hasn’t built a working flying car, Rasker points out that this kind of technology can help in revealing the details of auto accidents. And, of course, femto-photography could open a new world of photography to photographers. We could have cameras that can see so deeply into light and time that we will see the world as never before.

I only hope my femto-camera comes sooner than my flying car.