• 10.23.12

This Sci-Fi Camera Sees Through Shower Curtains

Powerful technology. But how do you design to harness it?

This Sci-Fi Camera Sees Through Shower Curtains

When you look through frosted glass, an object loses its form. The same could even be said of the veins seen through our skin, which we can vaguely make out but, thank goodness, are generally shielded by flesh from 100% anatomical clarity.


The reason we can’t see inside these spaces is the influence of “scattering media.” Frosted glass and skin scatter light all around, so those photons that carve out very specific shapes to our eyes become a blended mishmash.

Now, a team of Israeli researchers has developed a technique to rewind that mishmash, rearranging the scattered light to its original, sensible form. (Read the full paper here (PDF).) Using a “spatial light modulator”–think of it as a window that de-scatters the light–along with a digital camera, meaningless speckles can be enhanced algorithmically “1000-fold” to become sensical figures. The technique is so sensitive that, by analyzing a murky reflection on a wall, you can actually make out text placed around the corner.

So the question becomes, what do you do with this sort of tech? The team was inspired primarily by the idea of looking deep into tissues, peering into our bodies without the use of X-rays or other imaging solutions. Such a future would be fascinating. It’s not hard to imagine a pair of “X-ray” glasses that would allow doctors to literally look inside our bodies. But I’m also curious as to what sorts of applications we could see outside the medical field. I can’t help but wonder if smoke is an applicable material, meaning firefighters could peer through disasters with a bit more clarity. Could we design buildings with walls that are structurally more sound than glass but are ultimately meant to be seen through? Could the system help us look through the odd refractions of cloudy water–or even into the turbid stream of a waterfall? If so, would these ideas impact tourism? Would we need to snorkel to see fish? Would anyone take a ride on a glass-bottom boat ever again?

No doubt, the idea is a little disconcerting for privacy–an entire sector of our lives that would need a redesign overnight. But in reshaping the spaces around us, in reshaping the experiences around us, it’s pretty amazing, no?

Read the paper here (PDF).

[Hat tip: ExtremeTech]


[Image: Hand via Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.