I aim for versatility as a writer. I love taking on projects that stretch my abilities and let me expand my comfort zone. One of my favorite projects was working with the fine folks over at FWthinking.com, a Discovery Channel website that explores technologies of the future and how they will affect humanity. I wrote the scripts for the following segments, which were directed by Dan Bush and narrated by Jonathan Strickland. An actual script is included below.
Hook: Ever wished you could see through walls? Well... now you can.
When cameras first came along, they fundamentally changed how we viewed the world. Early photographs resolved the raging debate about whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground simultaneously when the horse trotted. In an instant, an unknowable question was answered.
Today we find ourselves in the era of digital cameras, the possibilities of which we're just now starting to see. For instance: The company Lytro has developed a camera that uses a process called light-field capture. Unlike a regular camera, where light from only one direction reaches the image sensor, the Lytro produces its images by capturing light rays— 11 million of them— traveling in all directions, which its computer then processes. What does this mean for photographers? For one, it provides the ability to change the focus of a picture from foreground to background, or wherever you want, after you've taken the picture. Also, all that light information allows the images to be viewed in 3-D using glasses like you'd use at the movies.
But what about those of us whose pictures turn out just plain blurry? Researchers at MIT are working on algorithms to decode a blurry image and reconstruct it clearly. Say your hand's shaking while you take a picture. For the un-blurring processs, called deconvolution, to work, the camera has to know exactly the direction and velocity the camera was going at the time the picture was taken. The algorithm is used to invert this motion and build an image of what the photograph would have looked like had the camera been still. No word yet on technology that will keep me from cutting off all my tall friends' heads from my pictures.
(image of photo with tall guy's head out of frame).
Sorry Steve. But seriously, what we're really seeing here with light-field capture and image deconvolution is immense computing power being used to extract gobs more visual information in each picture than we've been able to in the past.
And you ain't seen nothing yet. Helping hapless photographers like myself is a noble endeavor, but there are also people working on cameras with applications most of us have never dreamed of.
Ramesh Raskar of MIT has created a super slow-motion camera. Employing 500 sensors triggered at trillionth-of-a-second intervals, the camera can actually capture the movement of photons — you heard right: it can keep up with the speed of light, the fastest thing in the universe. But what's the use of the thing, other than maybe making instant replay challenges in football even longer? For one, by interpreting the scattering of light, the camera can actually see around corners!
How? Imagine a person is in a room, and the camera outside takes a picture of the room's half-opened door. The light bounces off the door, scattering in all directions; some light then bounces off the person in the room, and some of that light bounces back off of the door and returns to the camera. The key is that the photons all return at a slightly different time. The difference in time in the photons' arrival can be analyzed to create an image of what they bounced off of in the other room.
This could be applied in medical technology as a less invasive way to see things in the body, everything from cardiograms to the dreaded colonoscopy. In an emergency, this technology could be used to look for survivors in burning or collapsed buildings. And the camera could be installed on cars to trigger the braking system in order to avoid another car flying around a corner.
Cameras have changed the way we understand the world and ourselves. And the coming generations of cameras may offer what is essentially extra-sensory perception, access to knowledge we never even knew was there. We might even be able to get Steve's head back.