You never know what’s around the corner, but you also know never to say never — because in four years or so, you just might know exactly what’s hiding there.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded a $4.4 million grant to researchers at the Morgridge Institute for Research and University of Wisconsin-Madison to design a “camera” that can see what’s literally out of sight.

Seven other universities also received grants to study “non-line-of-sight imaging” and its potential applications.


The technology, developed by MIT scientist Andreas Velten and demonstrated for the first time in 2012, works by shining a pulse of laser light into a room that scatters when it hits a wall or ceiling. Digital Trends reports that the pulses bounce off of objects in the room, and then many of them bounce their way back to the camera, which can digitally reconstruct an image of what the photons have hit.

Velten is now collaborating with Mohit Gupta, assistant professor of computer sciences at UW-Madison, to see how far they can take the technology. They are creating models where the light bounces six or more times to spot things that are outside the field of view.

“The more times you can bounce this light within a scene, the more possible data you can collect,” Velten says. “Since the first light is the strongest, and each proceeding bounce gets weaker and weaker, the sensor has to be sensitive enough to capture even a few photons of light.”

Gupta, meanwhile, is developing algorithms that can better read the data and help recreate what the photons have hit.

“The information we will get is going to be noisy and the shapes will be blob-like, not much to the naked eye, so the visualization part of this will be huge,” Gupta says. “Because this problem is so new, we don’t even know what’s possible.”

But the scientists hope the sky’s the limit. They believe it could be used to test the safety of jet engines while they are running, to see hidden spaces in shipwrecks, even to probe the dimensions of caves on the moon.

It could also lead to breakthroughs in medical imaging, search-and-rescue missions, navigation and national security.

DARPA’s grant will support research for four years – two for investigating the technology’s full potential and two more for developing a viable non-line-of-sight imaging camera.