Scientists from Stanford University have invented a new technique that allows them to see objects that are hidden around corners. This breakthrough is a big deal for the autonomous auto future as it could allow the car to see potential hazards before the human in the car even knew it was there. This is a very big deal in an urban environment.
The technique uses a laser that reflects off nearby surfaces to shine on objects around a corner. The new technique also has applications beyond autonomous autos. The team says that the same system could allow rescue teams to find people blocked from view by rubble in a disaster situation.
Aerial vehicles could also use the technique to see what’s under heavy foliage cover. Researcher Gordon Wetzstein says that the technique sounds like magic, but that non-line-of-sight imaging is feasible. The paper describing this new technique was published in the March 5 issue of Nature.
The system uses a laser next to a highly-sensitive photon detector that can record even a single particle of light. The pulses of laser light are shot at a surface to reflect around a corner are invisible to the human eye. When they bounce off something around the corner, they bounce back and hit the photon detector.
The algorithm can untangle the path of the light captured by the detector and create an image out of the results. The system can do all the processing in less than a second. The team thinks that they can speed the process up to near instantaneous in the future. The algorithm is already to the point that the team thinks it is ready for use in LIDAR systems. Improvements in how the system works in daylight need to be made before it is ready for deployment.