MIT mods a Kinect camera to take reflection-free photos

It can filter out the glare from windows.

Photos taken through glass, say of the skyscrapers surrounding the one you're in, are often ruined by glare. That's why MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture Group is researching for ways to make a camera that can shoot clear photos through windows. The team developed a system that beams light onto whatever you want to shoot and measures the arrival times and the intensity of light reflected by objects, including glass. They used an ultrafast streak camera for the system's earlier iterations. But for this particular project, they used and modified a device with a depth sensor that's easy to find and buy: a Kinect camera.

Modifying the Kinect to be able to do what they want wasn't easy. The group had to join forces with Microsoft Research to make sure the camera beams specific frequencies of light and to develop an algorithm that can separate reflections from different depths. You can read the technical explanation behind their work on MIT's website, but you can see the results in the image above.

Paris Diderot University physics professor Laurent Daudet said he particularly enjoyed that the team used a consumer product for their work. "For this challenging problem," he added, "everyone would think that you'd need expensive, research-grade, bulky lab equipment. This is a very elegant and inspiring line of work." The system could lead to reasonably priced cameras with built-in anti-glare feature, but most likely not anytime soon.

A different team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory also worked with Google to develop an algorithm for reflection-free photos. Their method involves using different frames from a short video to separate obstructions (reflections, fences, etc.) from the actual object you want to capture.