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MIT-developed $500 nano-camera works at the speed of light

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Three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a $500 nano-camera that works at the speed of light.

The MIT students Ayush Bhandari, Refael Whyte and Achuta Kadambi, have developed the nano-camera which is not thwarted by non-ideal conditions. The camera operates by sending a light signal to ascertain the location of an object. The farther an object is, the longer time it takes for the signal to return to the nano-camera's sensor.

The 3D camera was presented at Siggraph Asia in Hong Kong last week. The camera could perhaps be used in medical imaging and collision-avoidance detectors for cars in the near future. Moreover, it could also be deployed in interactive gaming to improve the accuracy of motion tracking and devices that use gesture recognition.

The technology used by the nano-camera is called 'Time of Flight' and is similar to that used by the Kinect camera in the Xbox One.

"Time of flight cameras produce real-time range maps at a relatively low cost using continuous wave amplitude modulation and demodulation. However, they are geared to measure range (or phase) for a single reflected bounce of light and suffer from systematic errors due to multipath interference," per the researchers.

The nano-camera invented by the MIT students uses LED diodes which can be timed to each nanosecond "to sweep the scene."

The students note that these cameras cannot recreate an environment in 3D as they can create spotty images when faced with fog or rain. Moreover, the 3-D cameras are unable to capture translucent objects like a glass vase.

"Using the current state of the art, such as the new Kinect, you cannot capture translucent objects in 3-D," says Kadambi. "That is because the light that bounces off the transparent object and the background smear into one pixel on the camera. Using our technique you can generate 3-D models of translucent or near-transparent objects."

Yet another problem faced by the camera is the confusion created by motion or semi-transparent surfaces, which does not let the camera measure depth. However, the blur which is caused by movement is fixed in the nano-camera via an encoding process.

Check out the nano-camera in action in the video below.

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