MIT researchers have improved a gel technology that can image microscopic features without expensive equipment, opening up applications in forensics, medicine, and other fields.
Developed by Edward Adelson, Micah Johnson, and colleagues, GelSight acquires surface textures and shapes by pressing a block of clear rubber onto them, revealing striking 3D details. It can even visualize a pulse when pressed on a wrist.
Originally presented in 2009, the technology has been improved to resolve features as small as 2 microns across and is being presented in a paper (PDF) at this week's Siggraph 2011 computer graphics conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
When an object is pressed against the clear rubber, its reflective skin on one side distorts to assume the shape of the object. The skin is coated with paint that contains flecks of metal that are smaller than the features they resolve.
Meanwhile, a camera images this distortion multiple times through the other side of the rubber, and algorithms process the data to produce 3D images. It works in real time, even if the object is moved around.
In handheld form, the technology yields 3D imagery almost instantly, doing without expensive gear such as confocal microscopes.
The device, which grew out of a project to create tactile sensors for robots, could be used to analyze fingerprints, bullet casings, product integrity, skin moles, and biometric features.
Check out the GelSight vid below, or this earlier one in which an Oreo cookie is imaged.