The ability to see objects hidden behind walls could be invaluable in dangerous or inaccessible locations, such as inside machinery with moving parts, or in highly contaminated areas. Now scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have found a way to do just that.
They fire a pulse of laser light at a wall on the far side of the hidden scene, and record the time at which the scattered light reaches a camera. Photons bounce off the wall onto the hidden object and back to the wall, scattering each time, before a small fraction eventually reaches the camera, each at a slightly different time. It's this time resolution that provides the key to revealing the hidden geometry. The position of the 50-femtosecond (that’s 50 quadrillionths of a second) laser pulse is also changed 60 times, to gain multiple perspectives on the hidden scene. “We are all familiar with sound echoes, but we can also exploit echoes of light,” says Ramesh Raskar, head of the Camera Culture Research Group at the MIT Media Lab which carried out the study.