No matter how good your smartphone camera is,
it can show you only a fraction of the detail Alex
Hegyi can with the one he’s built at Xerox’s PARC
in Palo Alto, California. That’s because Hegyi’s camera also records parts of the spectrum of light that
you can’t see.
Since Hegyi’s camera logs a wider range of wavelengths, it can be used for everything from checking produce at the grocery store (fruits increasingly
absorb certain wavelengths as they ripen) to spotting
counterfeit drugs (the real ones reflect a distinctive
pattern). In the near future, Hegyi hopes, his technology can be added to smartphone cameras, so anyone
can make and use apps that harness so-called hyper-spectral imaging.
Such systems have been around for years, but
they have been big and expensive, limiting them to
non-consumer applications like surveillance and
quality control for food and drugs. His version,
which is much simpler and more compact, relies on
a black-and-white USB camera. He adds a liquid
crystal cell, set between polarizing filters, in front
of its image sensor. He also created software, which
he runs on a connected tablet computer, to process
Three to five years from now, Hegyi thinks, your
phone could be revealing information that isn’t
available in the visible spectrum of light. With such
a tool, he says, “consumers themselves don’t have to
know anything about wavelengths—they can take a
picture and the display can say ‘counterfeit’ or ‘real.’”
Or it might say the peach is ripe. —Rachel Metz
These innovators are building the stuff of the future, from
a smart sweatband to tomorrow’s memory technology.
Alex Hegyi / Evan Macosko / Wei Gao / Muyinatu Lediju Bell /
Adam Bry / Kendra Kuhl / Desmond Loke / Jiawei Gu / Dinesh Bharadia
A new type of camera could let
smartphones find counterfeit drugs or
spot the ripest peach.
Hegyi’s prototype is a modified
USB camera. Software lets him
look at images in a new light,
revealing novel details.