Add this to the “never thought it would be possible” file. Nature Photonics has published research from a team at Hariot-Watt University that has figured out how to range and track an object hidden around a corner.
Here’s how it works: They hide an object around the corner from the camera and then shine a laser pointer out of the camera’s range. As the light from the laser spreads, it reflects off of the hidden object. Next, the camera picks up light reflected by the object.
The team of researchers explains that the system uses time-of-flight to determine how far away the object is. It also records the shape of the laser “echo” to determine what direction the echo was sent from. These calculations are all performed in under a second, so the system is able to track moving objects without much delay.
In the video below demonstrating the technology, the object is Terry, a little foam person.
Unfortunately, though the sensor can perform fast ranging and picture the object in “considerable detail,” it cannot currently determine the full 3D shape of the object. As of right now, those two tasks cannot be completed by the same technology, since ranging an object around a corner requires a sensor with a very quick acquisition time, and determining the shape of static, hidden objects often requires long acquisition times. You can’t scan a shape and range it too.
For now, that is. The team is working to expand the range of the sensor beyond a few meters and even determine 3D shapes. The sensor is more likely to be useful for emergency response, detecting hidden pedestrians, and security cameras. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to scan around corners someday.