'Ultrafast' Camera Can Capture 3D Movies at 100 Billion Frames per Second

The new 3D camera can capture 10 billion pictures in the time it takes to blink a human eye.
Brad Bergan

A new 3D camera using "single-shot stereo-polarimetric compressed ultrafast photography" (SP-CUP) can record at blinding speeds of up to 100 billion frames per second in 3D, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

This is fast enough to snap 10 billion pictures — more than the global population of humans — in the amount of time it takes to blink an eye.


'Ultrafast' camera can capture 3D movies up to 100 billion frames per second

This new invention comes from Caltech's Lihong Wong — Bren Professor of medical engineering and electrical engineering in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng department of Medical Engineering — whose lab worked to take high-speed cameras into the third dimension.

Caltech Ultrafast Camera
The camera has 'two channels' that 'mimic our eyes,' said Wang. Source: Lihon Wang / Caltech

The new camera uses the same underpinning technology of Wang's earlier CUP cameras — which capture all of a video's frames in one action without a need to repeat the event. Comparatively, a quality cell-phone camera takes 60 frames per second.

Wang explains in his paper how adding a third dimension (3D)  to the ultrafast imagery helps the camera to "see" more like humans., according to a blog post on Caltech's official website.

UPDATE Oct. 16, 2:50 PM EDT: SP-CUP camera processes two channels 3D movie

When people look around them, they perceive how some objects are closer than others. This depth perception happens because we have two eyes — and each one observes objects within their surroundings from a different angle. When the information from these two images is combined, they form a single, 3D image.

Wang says the SP-CUP camera works in the same way.

"The camera is in stereo now," said Wang. "We have one lens, but it functions as two halves that provide two views with an offset. Two channels mimic our eyes."

The computer running the SP-CUP camera transforms the data from two channels into a single, 3D movie.

UPDATE Oct. 16, 3:17 PM EDT: 3D imagery, polarization information could solve scientific problems

The SP-CUP can also see the polarization of light waves — going beyond the capacities of human eyes.

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Polarization of light is the direction light waves vibrate while traveling. For example, when a guitar string is pulled upwards and released, the string shows vertical vibration — if plucked sideways, the strings vibration moves horizontally. Typical light has waves capable of vibrating in every direction, according to the blog post on Caltech's website.

However, polarized light is altered in a way that makes its vibrations happen in the same direction. This can happen naturally, like when light reflects off of a surface — but it can also happen during artificial manipulation — when light waves move through polarizing filters.

To Wang, the SP-CUP's synthesis of high-speed 3D imagery along with the use of polarization information creates a powerful tool — with the capacity to help solve a wide spectrum of scientific problems. So while we can't expect the new camera to line department stores any time soon, it's good to know a new kind of 3D camera is advancing crucial scientific fields.

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