Researchers at Duke University—which has quite a track record in this field—have built a lens-free imaging system, which uses metamaterials to create the aperture needed to take a picture. Then, through math wizardry, an image is generated as it gathers the information. This is different from a traditional, lensed camera, which gathers the image after it has been snapped. The idea could be built cheaply into vehicles in order to create imaging, says John Hunt, one of the graduate students behind the breakthrough.
The technology uses metamaterials, materials whose properties are purposefully designed rather than being mere chemistry (you probably know them as the stuff you find behind all that invisibility cloaking technology.) A thin strip of metamaterial, which has been mated with electronics and processing software, is used to create an aperture. Then, as the BBC puts it: "The aperture is used to focus different wavelengths of light in different parts of a scene onto a detector. The different frequencies in the scene are sampled sequentially." As gnarly science goes, this is more gnarly than Gnarls Barkley's gnarly little toenail.
So, the metamaterials create the aperture and that the tech used to read the image (created by the math, which reads the wavelengths of light at the scene, and the aperture) means that the image is created sooner than a traditional image. Which, taking a running guess at this, once you add the data of the image into a car's computer, it can make the split-second decision to do what it needs do to avoid the crash. And this is why the research team reckons it could eventually be incorporated into car bodies as a plausible anti-collision device for the automotive industry.
[Image by Flickr user SqueakyMarmot]