What is Femto Photography

Moving on in our series on ‘How emerging tech could dump existing business models into the Jurassic Park?’, here’s one technology that does not seem to be up on the radar of most tech forecasters including Gartner. And that one is ‘Femto Photography’

What is Femto photography?

Femto photography, for us today, is like what a caveman would have thought about landing on the moon. It is about capturing images at, hold your breath, a trillion frames per second. Such high speed image capture enables us to see a light beam passing through a medium. It can make you actually see a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun all the way to the target. However, if the distance travelled by the bullet is about ten inches, this tiny video clip would be about a week long.

Can’t get it??? Here’s what it is. The femto camera captures images at such high speeds that enable it to capture almost every minute movement of the bullet that makes it appear in super-super slow motion. The camera does this by capturing a fraction of the bursts of photons of light emitted and reflected by the object. Few of these photons reach the camera lens at different intervals of time. By analyzing the time differences, the image can be conjured up in three dimensions.

Now, let us forget about the technical details and understand what this technology could be used for. Basically, it is a technique that can capture images of ultra-fast /invisible processes and enable us to understand them.

  1. The camera can capture light bouncing off back and forth from objects, so it can capture images around corners without having to be in front of the object.
    1. This makes it possible to look for survivors hidden from the naked eye in calamities such as building collapses etc.
    2. It also enables a doctor to see inside the body where catheters cannot be kinked around through delicate blood vessels & organs or where passages are too narrow to let a catheter in.
    3. It enables locating terrorists hidden behind walls in close combat.
  2. The camera can be used to check the ripeness of fruits and vegetables, by actually seeing the progression of the ripening process. So biting into a sour mango may soon become a thing of the past 🙂

These are some applications that are being talked about today. However, the one that catches my fancy is the ability of this technology to capture subtle nuances of seemingly normal activities.

Femto Photography could democratize the ‘Art Industry’

For long, all of us have witnessed the death of art forms that are based on the instinctive finger movements of artists. Take as an example, the deft finger, wrist and arm movements of an expert potter that create a masterpiece from a clod of mud. However, because of the instinctive nature of these arts, passing these skills down the generations through training is difficult. If we could play back the movements of this expert potter in super slow motion (using femto-photography), may be training would be easier.

Going even further, imagine if we could capture the subtle and skillful maneuvers of an expert potter and then digitize these into an input that can be fed to a CNC machine that replicates the movements on a piece of clay. Could we not be able to mass-produce art????

If only we would have been able to capture the details of the deft brushstrokes of a Picasso or a Hussein in action on a canvas.

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