Researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft Research developed HyperCam, a lower-cost hyperspectral camera that uses both visible and invisible near-infrared light to “see” beneath surfaces and capture unseen details. Hyperspectral imaging is used today in everything from satellite imaging and energy monitoring to infrastructure and food safety inspections, but the technology’s high cost has limited its use to industrial or commercial purposes.

Compared to an image taken with a normal camera (left), HyperCam images (right) reveal detailed vein and skin texture patterns that are unique to each individual. (University of Washington)

A typical camera divides visible light into three bands — red, green and blue — and generates images using different combinations of those colors. But cameras that utilize other wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum can reveal invisible differences. HyperCam, which uses the visible and near-infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, illuminates a scene with 17 different wavelengths and generates an image for each.