Researchers Develop Camera Brings Unseen World to Light

Sunday, July 7, 2019 - 14:38

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a highly compact, portable camera that can image polarization in a single shot.

Based on the research, published in Science, this camera, about the size of a thumb, could find a place in the vision systems of autonomous vehicles, onboard planes or satellites to study atmospheric chemistry, or be used to detect camouflaged objects, Science Daily reports.

"Polarization is a feature of light that is changed upon reflection off a surface," said Paul Chevalier, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-author of the study. "Based on that change, polarization can help us in the 3D reconstruction of an object, to estimate its depth, texture and shape, and to distinguish man-made objects from natural ones, even if they're the same shape and color."

Using a new understanding how polarized light interacts with objects, the researchers designed a metasurface that uses an array of subwavelength spaced nanopillars to direct light based on its polarization. The light then forms four images, each one showing a different aspect of the polarization. Taken together, these give a full snapshot of polarization at every pixel.

The device is about two centimeters in length and no more complicated than a camera on a smartphone. With an attached lens and protective case, the device is about the size of a small lunch box. The researchers tested the camera to show defects in injection-molded plastic objects, took it outside to film the polarization off car windshields and even took selfies to demonstrate how a polarization camera can visualize the 3D contours of a face.

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