The camera uses a femtosecond laser, which fires extremely short bursts of light that can reflect off one object, such as the open door of a room, and then off a second object inside the room before reflecting back to the first object and being captured by the camera, after which algorithms can use the information to reconstruct the hidden scene, Physorg.com reported Wednesday.
The camera system, designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Ramesh Raskar and others, exploits the fact that it is possible to capture light at extremely short time scales, about one quadrillionth of a second, and by continuously gathering light and computing the time and distance that each pixel has traveled, the camera creates a "3D time-image" of the scene it can't directly see.
"It's like having X-ray vision without the X-rays," Raskar said. "We're going around the problem rather than going through it."
The camera is in early stages of development and the researchers say they're working on accurately mapping more complex scenes.
Among many possible uses for the camera, they say, is as a biomedical imaging device allowing doctors to use endoscopes to view areas inside the body that are normally hidden.
A portable imaging system in the form of an endoscope could be ready in the next two years, the researchers estimate.