Electronics

HyperCam would let you see the unseen

HyperCam would let you see the...
The prototype HyperCam
The prototype HyperCam
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Avocados shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing their level of ripeness
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Avocados shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing their level of ripeness
A hand shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing its veins and skin texture
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A hand shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing its veins and skin texture
The prototype HyperCam
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The prototype HyperCam
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Because regular cameras just process visible light, the images that they produce look like what we see with our own eyes. By contrast, hyperspectral cameras process additional wavelengths, showing us things that we wouldn't otherwise be able to see. Unfortunately, they also tend to be big, expensive, and thus limited to scientific or industrial applications. That could be about to change, however, as scientists from the University of Washington and Microsoft Research are creating a compact, inexpensive consumer hyperspectral camera. It may even find its way into your smartphone.

Known as the HyperCam, the device both emits and then images 17 different wavelengths of light within the visible and near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. By contrast, a conventional camera just works with the red, green and blue (RGB) bands of visible light.

The HyperCam then compares each of those images to one regular RGB photo of the same subject, to see which ones differ most from what the human eye would see. Those select images are combined into one composite photo, which is presented to the user.

So, what sort of things might it show them? Examples include veins beneath the skin, or the ripeness of fruits beneath their skins. In lab tests, the HyperCam was able to accurately identify 25 different people based on their vein patterns, with 99 percent accuracy. It was also able to gauge the ripeness of 10 types of fruit with 94 percent accuracy – by contrast, a conventional RGB camera had a success rate of only 62 percent.

Avocados shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing their level of ripeness
Avocados shot by a regular RGB camera (left) and by the HyperCam, showing their level of ripeness

In its current form the technology would cost about US$800 as a standalone camera, although it might only cost about $50 to add to a smartphone in the manufacturing process. Before that can happen, however, the camera has to be further miniaturized and adapted to work better in bright light.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University are working on a similar project, although one that's perhaps even more ambitious. They're developing a smartphone hyperspectral camera that could identify the unique electromagnetic "fingerprints" of various substances, meaning that you could see what something was made of just by pointing your phone's camera at it.

Source: University of Washington

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5 comments
MG127
Every normal LCD camera can record near IR, you just need a bit longer exposure time to get them bright enough or just a bunch of IR LEDs
christopher
Great, just what we need, more idiots building things that biometrics can use, and subjecting everyone to even more security nightmares; there's a really good reason why biometrics is banned on people who are not yet equipped to make choices about reducing their own security (children); we should heed the advice of the experts and stop encouraging hardware manufacturers to mess about with this stupid use case. Seeing through stuff is cool. Using that for identification/security is unsafe.
Τριαντάφυλλος Καραγιάννης
Release it as an add-on camera to a smartphone. This way we're free to buy the thing without being limited to some particular smartphone(s).
Don Duncan
I would pay $50 to detect fruit ripeness. This is becoming increasingly more difficult. I have been fooled and purchased bad papaya and melon, despite careful inspection. I rarely buy one of my favorites, bananas, because they are picked too green, ruining the nutrition and taste. Also, glass that purports to filter IR could be checked to verify the manufactures claims.
Michael Wilson
I too would pay good money for a device that can detect rotting fruit or meat. A lifetime of chronic allergies, severe asthma and nasal polyps have dulled my sense of taste and smell so, I have to rely on others to help me determine the quality of produce. This device would be very helpful.