A $500 “nano-camera” that can operate at the speed of light has been developed by researchers in the MIT Media Lab. The three-dimensional camera could be used in medical imaging and collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and to improve the accuracy of motion tracking and gesture-recognition devices used in interactive gaming.

MIT students (l-r) Ayush Bhandari, Refael Whyte, and Achuta Kadambi pose next to their nano-camera that can capture translucent objects, such as a glass vase, in 3D. (Bryce Vickmark)
The camera is based on “Time of Flight” technology like that used in Microsoft’s second- generation Kinect device, in which the location of objects is calculated by how long it takes a light signal to reflect off a surface and return to the sensor. However, unlike existing devices based on this technology, the new camera is not fooled by rain, fog, or even translucent objects.

Instead, the new device uses an encoding technique commonly used in the telecommunications industry to calculate the distance a signal has traveled. The idea is similar to existing techniques that clear blurring in photographs. The device use inexpensive hardware such as LEDs, meaning the camera can reach a time resolution within one order of magnitude of femtophotography while costing just $500.

Visit http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/inexpensive-nano-camera-1126.html to learn more.

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