Making the invisible visible

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Making the invisible visible

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That’s exactly what researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are trying to do thanks to a new system that amplifies tiny motions captured pixel by pixel.

In the department of computer science, Neal Wadhwa, a graduate student in applied mathematics and computer science, is running an experiment with a wine glass. Vibrations produced by a speaker in the room make the glass vibrate – but this not visible to the naked eye.

Using what they call a “motion microscope”, the researchers see the wine glass in a whole new light. A laptop monitor displays a video of the glass as seen through the microscope.

“These are things that people have never seen before and we are making them visible. The motion microscope is a way to visualize small motions that are seemingly invisible to the naked eye in videos,” says Wadhwa.

A video is fed into a computer running an innovative software that tracks tiny changes. Those minute changes are then amplified and superimposed on to the original video. The results are striking.

Blood flow and heart rate can be visualized on a man’s face by tracking the seemingly invisible changes in skin tone.

The breathing rate of a new-born baby can be seen magnified as can the movement of an eye inside a socket.

“You can create a non-contact vital signs monitor so you don’t need to attach anything to a person and you will still be able to figure out their heart rate and respiration rate,” says Neal Wadhwa.

Outside the medical field, the researchers hope this “motion microscope” will be used as a new tool to inspect bridges and tunnels for irregular vibrations or structural damage. The idea is to open up a whole new window into a world constantly in motion.

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