Can You See Me Now?

July 9, 2009

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed light-detecting fibers that act like a flexible camera when woven into a web.

Science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact, as evidenced by work being done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts). Researchers at MIT have developed light-detecting optoelectronic fibers that act like a flexible camera when woven into a web.

The fibers are less than a millimeter in diameter, and consist of layers of light-detecting materials, semiconductor material, metal electrodes, and a polymer insulator. Each individual fiber measures the intensity of the light illuminating it and converts it to an electrical signal. The fibers are designed to differentiate between light at different wavelengths. Thus, the "fiber mesh" that is created can measure the distribution of light intensity at different wavelengths across a broad area.

Remarkably, the researchers were able to use this fiber web to take a very basic picture of a smiley face. In the current work, they placed a smiley face between a light source and a small piece of fabric composed of these light-detecting fibers. The fabric was connected to an external amplifying current and a computer. The smiley face was illuminated with light at two different wavelengths, which generated a distinct pattern on the fabric web that was fed into a computer, and then a black-and-white image of the object appeared on the computer screen.

The current version of these fabrics is only able to image objects that are nearby, but the researchers are working to expand that capability and the quality of the images produced.