Monday, March 04, 2013

This Is Going To Be Big: Eulerian Video Magnification Shows The Invisible

Screenshot from NY Times article
We tend to think of 'invisibility' as some magic trick that hides things we normally should  see, like Harry Potter's Cloak of Invisibility. 

But really, invisibility just means things that are beyond the range of our eyes to detect.  There are lots of things that we can't see.  From a promo for a BBC television show "What The Human Eye Can't See":
“The human eye is a remarkable piece of precision engineering, but all around us is an astonishing and beautiful world we cannot see. Some wonders are outside the visible spectrum, others are too fast, too slow, too small or too remote for our eyes and brains to interpret.”

Wavelength image from Universe by Freedman and Kaufmann, posted on NASA website

The chart to the right shows what a small range of colors the human eye can actually see. 

Throughout history humans have found or invented ways to see things the human eye couldn't see.  A simple example is a mirror, allowing people to see themselves.  More complex are microscopes, telescopes,  and X rays.

The New York Times article  "Scientists Uncover Invisible Motion in Video"
reports on a new process that finds tiny variations in color or motion that are too small for the human eye to detect.  The process then magnifies the variations so that they become visible to humans. 

The example in the video above (I couldn't find a way to embed the video, you'll have to go to the article to see it)  captures a very slight variation in the color of the baby's face - ever so slightly redder.  This variation is magnified 100 times so it looks bright red.  Then, bingo, you can see the baby's pulse.  They have another example of a baby breathing.  The actual breathing is barely visible, but when the movement is magnified, you can see it clearly.  There are other examples as well, but since I've been spending so much time with my new granddaughter, the baby examples resonate with me. 

Why is this big?

Any time you can see things that used to be invisible, there is a big potential to learn a lot more about the world we live in.  I'm sure there are millions of situations where there are variations in color or movement that humans don't see, but if we could see them, we would understand 'why' about many, many things.  This will allow us to see so many missing puzzle pieces.  Where we think there is no reaction, we now have the opportunity to see that there is.  We'll be able to detect minor changes sooner to alert us to events - something about to fall, catch fire, explode, spill - earlier.  The video suggests lots of medical uses.

And there will be ominous uses of this technology as well.  I'm sure that our faces give out lots of now invisible signals about how we feel or think that will be detectable in the future.  This can be put to good and evil use.

The researchers have made the code for using this method available so that anyone - with some, apparently, more than basic digital abilities - can experiment with this.  I predict using this process we will expand our knowledge of the world greatly and find many, many practical ways to use it to make our lives easier.  And there will be plenty of silly uses as well. 

Thanks to LL for the tip.

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