MIT app gives humans vision like a vampire

Enhancing color, motion makes the invisible obvious

In books and movies the supernaturally undead are often granted powers of sight, hearing and touch so far beyond the abilities of the still alive that they seem like magic.

They are, of course. Movie magic, if nothing else.

In the Vampire novels by Anne Rice, vampires can feel the beat of a human heart dozens of yards away, watch the pulse of blood under the skin, see dilating pupils open wide as banging windows in an empty house and sense the danger that elaborately unsupportable structures of words will collapse at any moment and bury the protagonists in piles of shattered verbiage.

No one has a way to escape a verb-slide, but researchers at MIT have built an application that can not only see the pulse beneath a person's skin, it can show the flush of each pulse wash across the face and eyes like a sudden blush.

The software is designed to amplify changes so tiny they are normally invisible, making it possible to see not only a rhythmic change like a pulse, but the effects immediately before and after in the same way a super slo-mo camera shows effects that pass too quickly to be perceived by human eyes.

The system, designed by researchers at Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), works like the equalizer in a stereo, according to the announcement from MIT. It boosts some frequencies of color and damping others to make the invisible effect more clearly visible.

It will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) Aug. 5-9 in Los Angeles.

Designers intended the system to enhance contactless monitoring of patients in hospitals and other medical environments in which the patient might be too fragile for penetrative or attached sensors.

Since they've begun presenting it, however, they've received suggestions for other applications as well.

They are considering how to expand the system to usefully enhance long-range surveillance, contactless lie detection, imaging of internal organs and other situations in which the most important functions might be the ones least visible – to human eyes, at least.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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