What’s just around the corner? Soon, a camera may show you | business | Hindustan Times
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What’s just around the corner? Soon, a camera may show you

Anyone who has witnessed the megapixel one-upmanship in camera ads might think that computer chips run the show in digital photography.

business Updated: Dec 19, 2010 22:06 IST

Anyone who has witnessed the megapixel one-upmanship in camera ads might think that computer chips run the show in digital photography.

That’s not true. In most cameras, lenses still form the basic image. Computers have only a toehold, controlling megapixel detectors and features like the shutter. But in research labs, the new discipline of computational photography is gaining ground, taking over jobs that were once the province of lenses.

In the future, the technology of computational photography may guide rescue robots, or endoscopes that need to peer around artery blockages. In camera phones, the technology can already merge two exposures of the same image. One day, it could even change the focus of a picture you've already taken.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one experimental camera has no lens at all: it uses reflected light, computer processing and other tools to let it see around corners.

Ramesh Raskar, leader of the camera culture research group at M.I.T., aims his camera and an ultrafast laser attachment at a door half-open into a model room containing simple objects. The laser — the equivalent of a flash - fires pulses shorter than a trillionth of a second. Light bounces off the door, scatters into the room, hits the objects within and then bounces back to the detector. Raskar traces those bouncing echoes of light photon by photon, based on when and where they land.

From the reflected light, as well as the room's geometry and mathematical modeling, he deduces the structure of the hidden objects. “If you modify your camera and add sophisticated processing,” he said, “the camera can look around objects and see what’s beyond.”