MIT Light-Detecting Fibers Create Niven's Webeye

MIT scientists have developed an optical system made up of a mesh of light-detecting fibers. The fiber constructs are able to measure the direction, intensity and phase of light without any traditional optical components.


(MIT light-detecting optic fibers)

Professor Yoel Fink of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Research Lab of Electronics, is the leader of the team that developed the light-detecting fibers. The fibers are much lighter in weight than traditional optical systems (including the human eye); by shaping the fibers in a sphere, a full spherical view can be obtained from a single system.

The fibers used in the webs are about 1 millimeter in diameter. They consist of a photoconductive glass core with metal electrodes that run along the length of the core, all surrounded by a transparent polymer insulator.

While one fiber on its own cannot detect the exact location of an incoming beam of light, when many fibers are arrayed in a web, their points of intersection provide the exact coordinates of the beam. A computer assimilates the data generated by the web and translates it for the user.
(MIT researchers create visionary optic fibers)

Researchers see many possibilities for potential uses of the fibers; applications range from improved space telescopes to clothing that provides situational awareness to soldiers. It may even be possible to develop clothing that sees for the visually impaired.

In Is There In Truth No Beauty?, an original Star Trek episode aired on October 18, 1968, Diana Muldaur plays a blind woman who wore a dress covered with a web of sensors that allowed her to see. She was perfect for her job - escorting the Medusan ambassador Kollos, who is so disturbing to view that no human can remain sane after glimpsing him.


(Dress that allows the blind to 'see')

However, I'd probably have to credit Larry Niven with a fairly close approximation to this idea in his webeye, a device that is described as looking like a spider web with a black spider at the center.

Chmeee eyed the fish. "Your luck was good," he approved. His eyes roved the ceiling and walls. He found what he sought: a glittering fractal spiderweb just under the great orange bulb at the apex of the dome.

Chmeee said, "We have a spy. I thought as much, but now we know it. The puppeteer placed cameras among us."
(Read more about Larry Niven's webeye)

Thanks to Tom James for submitting the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/24/2006)

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