Super-Laser That Sees Around Corners May Be the Breakthrough Driverless Cars Have Been Waiting For
In terms of super-powers, the ability to see around corners wouldn't be that life-changing for a mild-mannered human, but it'd be a breakthrough for driverless cars—especially in packed cities like Boston and New York. A team of scientists at Stanford are working on making this possible with lasers, a mannequin, and a new, super-fast algorithm that can piece together scattered light into eerily accurate images.
The system works like this: an extremely sensitive photon detector is placed alongside a laser, which shoots a beam at a wall that bounces and strikes an object (in this case, a little mannequin). A portion of the light from the laser bounces back off the mannequin and the wall, then into the photon detector.
This process can take anywhere from a couple minutes to an hour, but the magic happens when the data is fed into the new algorithm designed by the Stanford team: the program untangles and refines the vague data collected by the photon detector and creates a sharper facsimile of the object around the corner, all in less than a second.
Aside from use in autonomous cars, this technology could be used by aerial vehicles like drones to see through dense foliage or rescue workers to find victims trapped in rubble.
Right now, however, the method created by this team has trouble dealing with ambient light and long distances, along with the ability to create accurate images of moving objects, all of which limits its immediate applicability. Fortunately, many of the objects that are essential to road safety, like traffic signs and reflective vests for construction workers, are already designed to reflect light, making them easier to pick up using a laser.
According to Gordon Wetzstein, the senior author on the new paper describing the team's discoveries, "This is a big step forward for our field that will hopefully benefit all of us. In the future, we want to make it even more practical in the 'wild.' "