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(A to L) 3D estimates of front views and lateral views rendered as point clouds overlaid with reflectivity data. (Photo: Kirmani et al., Science)

This Camera Capture Images in the Dark, Using Just a Few Particles of Light

The most obvious application for this camera is for spying and surveillance, but it may also be used for remote sensing or to study microscopic structures

To take photos in the dark without a flash, photographers must rely on cranking up their ISO, the setting that determines their camera's sensitivity to light. As light becomes more and more scarce, even the most sophisticated cameras produce grainy images at best. But MIT researchers have developed a powerful algorithm that, paired with a machine called a solid state detector, can create high-resolution, 3D renderings by detecting and recording single particles of light, Nature News reports.

Rather than invent new machinery, Nature says, the researchers focused on creating an algorithm that takes into account the physics of low light and the relationships between light particles as they move around an object. Nature describes how the machine actually works:

In the team’s setup, low-intensity pulses of visible laser light scan an object of interest. The laser fires a pulse at a given location until a single reflected photon is recorded by a detector; each illuminated location corresponds to a pixel in the final image.

To simulate real-world conditions, the researchers used an incandescent lamp that created a level of stray background photons roughly equal to those that number reflected from the laser.

Variations in the time it takes for photons from the laser pulses to be reflected back from the object provides depth information about the body — a standard way of revealing three-dimensional structure.


But this new algorithm, Nature continues, is about one hundred times more powerful than existing technologies that use this method.

The most obvious application for such a camera, of course, is for spying and surveillance, but the researchers also told Nature that it could be used for remote sensing or to study microscopic structures that may be damaged by light sources.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Wild Animals Caught on Camera
Can This Invention Save Cameras

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