Femto-Photography – Video At A Trillion Frames Per Second!



By | Posted on 05 August 2012

Image courtesy TED.com

The image above probably doesn’t look very impressive.  After all it’s just someone shining a light at a water-filled Coke bottle, right?  Well, yes and no.

What you’re actually seeing is a pulse of light captured as it’s passing through the bottle.  In fact, it’s captured with such a high frame rate that it looks like a slow motion “light bullet” not a beam.  That’s femto-photography, the ability to capture video at a trillion (That’s a thousand billion or a million million.  Pick your favorite.) frames per second!

Image courtesy TED.comIn this TED talk professor Ramesh Raskar of MIT presents his femto-photography imaging system that will change the way we look at things in ways you can’t even imagine.  For comparison, Raskar brings up the famous photograph of a bullet piercing an apple which was taken in 1964 by MIT professor Harold Edgerton.  Edgerton’s work inspired Raskar to do research into high-speed photography.  The photograph to the right was taken at a millionth of a second and even now nearly 50 years later it remains both iconic and impressive.

The important thing to note here is Raskar’s technique is a million times faster than that!

Raskar goes on to tell how his technique might someday be used to make cameras that can see around corners, see inside the human body without X-rays, or simply scan produce to see if it’s ripe.  In addition to this incredible technology, Raskar and MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture research group are also working on low-cost eye care devices, new generations of CAT scan machines and human-computer interaction systems.

The video clocks in at a couple of seconds beyond 11 minutes, but it is so fascinating that the time flies by while watching.  If you don’t at least take the time to watch a pulse of light slowly sauntering through that Coke bottle you’ll miss out on one of the most incredible things you might ever see.

For a quick and interesting Q&A with Raskar where he discusses his various research projects, including a cheap smartphone attachment that can quickly determine your eyeglass prescription, head on over to the TED article Cameras that draw comics, diagnose eye prescriptions and more: Q&A with Ramesh Raskar.  He’s got a ton of groundbreaking stuff in the works and after the femto-photography demonstration I have no doubt we’ll be seeing his other projects come to life.

[Hat tip to Jason Huls of Ten Wing Films for bringing this to my attention!]


Editor for Three If By Space. Tom first became interested in science fiction & science as a very young child thanks to his parents. His earliest memories of enjoying scifi were sitting with his dad watching first-run episodes of the original Star Trek. Although a rabid fan of nearly all forms of scripted television, some of Tom’s favorite shows are Firefly, Falling Skies, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, the X-Files and all versions of both Star Trek and Stargate. He also has a particular love for British television and dearly hopes to one day visit the UK.

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  • http://twitter.com/SpeedBrkr Arthur Moy

    Very cool stuff!

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