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3D vision at 100bn frames per second captured in camera breakthrough

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scientists have developed a camera that is capable of taking up to 100 billion frames per second and sees in 3D in a similar fashion to the human vision system.

The new technology, which has been dubbed “single-shot stereo-polarimetric compressed ultrafast photography,” or SP-CUP, quickly captures all of the frames of a video in one action without repeating the event.

This makes a CUP camera extremely fast (a good smartphone camera can only take 60 frames per second) and the developers also added a third dimension to this ultrafast imagery by making the camera “see” in a way similar to humans.

Depth perception in human vision is made possible because of having two eyes, each of which observes objects and their surroundings from a slightly different angle. The information from these two images is combined by the brain into a single 3D image.

Researcher Lihong Wang from the California Institute of Technology said the camera works in the same way. “The camera is stereo now. We have one lens, but it functions as two halves that provide two views with an offset. Two channels mimic our eyes,” he said.

The computer that runs the SP-CUP camera processes data from these two channels into one three-dimensional movie. The SP-CUP system also possesses the ability to see the polarisation of light waves, which is the direction in which light waves vibrate as they travel.

Ordinary light has waves that vibrate in all directions. Polarised light, on the other hand, has been altered so that its waves all vibrate in the same direction. This can occur through natural means, such as when light reflects off a surface, or as a result of artificial manipulation, as happens with polarising filters.

Though our eyes cannot detect the polarisation of light directly, the phenomenon has been exploited in a range of applications, from LCD screens to polarised sunglasses, camera lenses in optics to devices that detect hidden stress in materials, and the three-dimensional configurations of molecules.

SP-CUP’s combination of high-speed three-dimensional imagery and the use of polarisation information makes it a powerful tool that may be applicable to a wide variety of scientific problems.

It may help researchers better understand the physics of sonoluminescence, a phenomenon in which sound waves create tiny bubbles in water or other liquids. As the bubbles rapidly collapse after their formation, they emit a burst of light.

“Some people consider this one of the greatest mysteries in physics,” Wang said. “When a bubble collapses, its interior reaches such a high temperature that it generates light. The process that makes this happen is very mysterious because it all happens so fast and we’re wondering if our camera can help us figure it out.”

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