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Digital Holographs Let Firefighters See Through Smoke And Flame


When firefighters rush into a burning building, they’re equipped to deal with extreme temperatures. They’re not as equipped to locate the people they’re there to save through the smoke and fire. Researchers of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) in Italy are working on a new way to see through the chaos of a fire using holographic imaging. It’s officially the future.

Firefighters already have some cool infrared (IR) gadgets that can pierce through smoke. But the infrared radiation that the flames themselves emit often overwhelms their devices’ sensors, rendering them far less effective than they could be. Pietro Ferraro and his team at the Istituto Nazionale di Ottica offer a solution with their lens-free technique, which generates a digital holographic representation of the area.

Unlike visible light, beams of infrared light can pierce cleanly through smoke and fire. But they do reflect off objects, such as the contents of a room or people in danger. To pull off this trick, an infrared laser beam is projected and scattered into a room. The reflected light carries back the information needed to render a holographic image of the room and everything in it, sans smoke and fire, and can even capture people who may be in motion.

Now that the technology has been developed, the next challenge is to make it portable. Like all sweet new tech, the applications can be manifold. Saving lives in a burning building is a promising start, but the development team also likes the idea of using digital holography for engineering purposes, like studying aerospace composite structures. But they have their priorities.

Says Ferraro:

“Besides life-saving applications in fire and rescue, the potential to record dynamic scenes of a human body could have a variety of other biomedical uses including studying or monitoring breathing, cardiac beat detection and analysis, or measurement of body deformation due to various stresses during exercise. We are excited to further develop this technology and realize its application for saving and improving human life.”

While it’s disappointing that these lasers aren’t for cool ray guns yet, we can wait. We’ll even admit that saving lives is probably a better use for the technology. For now.

(via PhysOrg, images courtesy Pleroma and andrea.pacelli on Flickr)

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