Mar 5, 2024 - News

USF researchers create algorithm to see behind objects

Illustration of a photograph of a shadowy figure with a magnifying glass revealing an eye.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Superman's X-ray vision helped him save Metropolis. University of South Florida researchers don't wear capes, but their new technology could similarly help people in the real world.

Why it matters: A new algorithm allows researchers to see around obstacles into hidden areas using a photo from an ordinary camera.

  • The technology could eventually be used by law enforcement, search-and-rescue teams, strategic military efforts, and in cars to prevent crashes.

Driving the news: John Murray-Bruce, ​​an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, and his doctoral student, Robinson Czajkowski, in a study published last month wrote their research is the first of its kind to successfully reconstruct a hidden scene in 3D using an ordinary digital camera.

  • Previously, ordinary cameras could only be used to create rough 2D reconstructions of small spaces. 3D imaging of hidden scenes required expensive specialized equipment, according to the university.

The intrigue: Murray-Bruce, who had been working on the algorithm since 2017, was motivated to keep developing the technology after getting in a car crash in December.

  • "Since then, I have even more fire to make this practical and get it into everyday vehicles, every day life," he told Axios.

How it works: The algorithm pulls information from the photo of faint shadows cast on nearby surfaces to create high-quality reconstruction of the hidden scene.

  • Our brains do something similar to see in 3D, reading signals from light that bounces off objects. Surfaces outside our field of vision also contribute light to what we see.
  • "The signal's always there, it's what you do with it," Murray-Bruce said. "Our algorithm is trying to find the best signal for what we capture."
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