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This Camera Sees What Your Eyes Don’t

This Camera Sees What Your Eyes Don’t

What if you could see inside your avocado before you ate it?

This Camera Sees What Your Eyes Don’t

Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 14:00

Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- There's nothing better to a fresh food lover than picking out a perfectly ripe avocado or tomato -- until one slice reveals a brown bruise or mealy mess.

Have you ever wanted to check if an avocado's gone bad before buying it? A new camera technology might be just what you need to "see" beneath surfaces and reveal hidden details in things like fruit and even under human skin.

It may look like a typical camera with a big flash, but there's nothing ordinary about it at all. It's called a hyper-spectral camera and it can see much more than a traditional camera. It can even "see" images that your eyes can't.

"If you point a hyper-spectral camera, on a human body, you're able to see the person's veins," said Mayank Goel, a PhD student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The human eye and a normal camera see just three "bands" or colors of light -- red, green and blue. A hyper-spectral camera can see many more bands of light -- 17 in this case. That's way more colors than a normal camera can capture.

"Twelve of these wavelengths are in the color spectrum, so like red, green, blue, orange, yellow, violet, colors like that. And the rest of the five wavelengths are from the infrared region. And the infrared is the other wavelengths that the human eye cannot see at all," said Goel.

The camera flashes in a sequence of 17 different wavelengths of light, capturing a different image for each wavelength -- then computer software combines the images to make one overall image -- one that can reveal invisible details like the veins inside a hand. 

"The infrared light would penetrate into one or two layers of the skin and that's why you can see the veins through a multispectral camera," said Goel.

The camera caught a time-lapse of the inside of an avocado ripening over the course of a week. 

It's super cool technology, but it's not the first hyperspectral camera of its kind -- it's just much cheaper, by thousands of dollars.  

"What we can do here is that you can have a much lower cost version that could be just part of your smart phone. And you could use that to just see the produce you're buying, is it ripe, is it not ripe, or is there any defect on the inside," said Goel.

Researchers think the technology has other applications too.

"I've been talking to dentists who just want to build like a really small version of this hyperspectral camera into the toothbrush itself, so that when a person is brushing their teeth, it just keeps track of their teeth health," said Goel.

Researchers are working to improve the technology to work better in bright light, but say they hope to have a smart phone version for just 50 bucks in the next few years.

For more information, contact the research team at hypercam@cs.washington.edu.

Get Inside the Science

Affordable camera reveals hidden details invisible to the naked eye

Mayank Goel, University of Washington

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Karin Heineman

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.