An innovative technology put forth by physicists at the University of Glasgow allows for making sophisticated 3D images without using conventional digital cameras. Instead, it uses simple, cheap detectors with a single pixel to sense light in place of the millions of pixels used in the imaging sensors of digital cameras.

Professor Miles Padgett, Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University, is at the forefront of the team of researchers who developed the technique.

The physicists believe that this technology could be used to create more affordable forms of 3D imaging in the future. Using detectors that can sense frequencies that are beyond visible light, this technology could lead the way for new possibilities in other fields, including medicine and geography.


Cheaper way of making sophisticated 3D images

The team refers to this technology as 3D computational imaging, or “ghost”  imaging; the system they have created can produce detailed images of objects in a matter of seconds. 

Professor Padgett said, “Four detectors give images, each of which contain shadows, giving us clues about the 3D shape of the object. Combining the four images using a well-known technique known as ‘shape from shade’ allows us to create a full 3D image of the object. Conventional 3D imaging systems which use multiple digital camera sensors to produce a 3D image from 2D information need to be carefully calibrated to ensure the multi-megapixel images align correctly. Our single-pixel system creates images with a similar degree of accuracy without the need for such detailed calibration.” 

Interestingly, according to the researchers, unlike conventional 3D imaging techniques, in the new technique there exists single-pixel detectors that can “see” wavelengths that are way beyond those digital cameras are currently capable of.

Lead author on the paper Baoqing Sun of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy said, “However, digital camera sensors have a very limited sensitivity beyond the spectrum of visible light, whereas a single-pixel detector can easily be made to capture information far beyond the visible, reaching wavelengths from X-ray to TeraHertz.”

The system’s unique capabilities and affordability could make it a valuable tool for a wide range of industries.

Research assistant Matthew Edgar, who contributed to the paper, believes that a more portable version of this system could be created without much difficulty, making it more practical to use outside the lab. 

He added, “It could be used to look for the telltale gases which leak from the ground where oil can be found, for example, or it could be tuned into the terahertz range to probe just below the skin to search for tumours or other medical conditions. We plan to continue working on the system and perhaps working with commercial partners to bring a version to market in the future.”

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