Femto-Photography: One Step Closer to The Star Trek ‘Tricorder’

In the Science Fiction universe of Star Trek, future doctors use a sophisticated device called a “Tricorder”. This device allows physicians to look inside their patients without intrusive surgery, hazardous X-rays or bulky MRI machines.


A diagnostic tool like this could save thousands of lives. The good news is, we probably won’t have to wait until the year 2265.

Researchers are now working in a fascinating new field called Femto-Photography. It is photography at a trillion frames per second. At these kinds of speeds, it is possible to photograph individual packets of light as they move across a room or into an object. It turns out that when we shine light on something, such as a tomato, part of that light penetrates the tomato and reflects back out. Femto-Photography could use this effect to construct an internal image of a patient.

Featured in this fascinating Ted Talk, Ramesh Raskar shows Femto-Photography in action.


39 thoughts on “Femto-Photography: One Step Closer to The Star Trek ‘Tricorder’

  1. Mark

    I had seen an article on this technology earlier this month. To get this technology to a mass production point would be great for third world medical treatment where resources are tight.

    1. suegiplaye

      I love how much technology is advancing. I am astonished at how a Tricorder will be able to look inside a humans body without being intrusive. Will that mean that there will be no more need for ultrasound technicians? Very interesting.

  2. Lori Smith

    Huge fan of Star Trek so when I see stuff like this it makes me super excited. More and more of this technology that was once considered science fiction is becoming a reality.

  3. cinniminni

    i feel like medical science hasn’t really taken any great leaps forward in a long time, i mean, we are still using x-rays which have been around since like 1895, and everyone knows they are dangerous to our bodies. its about time for some new and innovative stuff to keep us healthy, heal us faster, and diagnose us properly the first time!

  4. Roberto

    This is such a great tool it helping make healthcare more accessible and effective for people. I can see why so many scientists are saying someone alive today will be the first person to live to 150.

  5. Shannon

    I’m old enough to have watched the original Star Trek before it was available only in reruns. So much of what the writers envisioned back then has come to be common place today, so why not the Tricorder too. This would be such a leap forward for medicine. I hope it becomes a reality sooner, rather than later.

  6. Cass M.

    Communicators were finally reality with flip cover cell phones but have long ago being replaced by smart phones. Tablet computer terminals we now have, but there are also holographic keyboards and mice which the Enterprise crew would find advanced. But until now, the Tricorder wasn’t within grasp. Hey, maybe the script writers for Star Trek were actually time travellers and were just doing what writers are taught to do while learning the trade, “write about what you know.”

    1. Dickens

      Script writers being time travelers? That would make a lot of sense why indeed. I never thought about that possibility Cass M. But hey, it’s just like what scientists mentioned about parallel universe right, if you can imagine it, then it must mean that there is an existing parallel universe to use where that thing you thought is happening. Whatever it is, I’m just glad that with Femto Photography, we’re one step closer on perfecting our medicinal technology to make a better world.

      1. Cass M.

        Dickens, thank you for replying to my comment. I read about someone’s theory that deja vu is actually an anomaly in the fabric that separates timelines. The writer theorized that when we experience deja vu it’s the result of our existence in an alternate timeline being slightly ahead of the one we inhabit, so when we reach that moment it feels as if we’re repeating something we’d already done. The writer went further to say that some people, past and present, have managed to harness these anomalies, people like Nostradamus, Leonardo de Vinci, Nicolas Tesla, without even knowing it. What they thought were visions or ideas were actually them tapping into their ability to circumvent the division of timelines and draw inspiration, ideas or enlightenment from the future of a parallel timelines. These people were time travellers of a sort, introducing futuristic technology to their present in the form of prophecies or inventions.

        1. richj8am30

          It is significant that individuals 15 to 25 report having much more occasions of feeling their internal clock’s history repeating itself. The most grounded neurotic relationship of deja vu is with temporal lobe epilepsy. Individuals with this type of epilepsy frequently report encountering this phenomena more regularly than the normal person.
          A long way from marking down the investigation of the paranormal phenomena , late speculations depicting a sensation that this has happened before the individual encounters it, as a sort of accident electro-chemical reaction in the cerebrum.

        2. richj8am30

          In some instances, I surmise that as a genuine essayist or screenplay writer, you might glimpse the future by racking your thoughts for conceivable outcomes and narrowing what is most likely to occur in a circumstance. Perplexing so as to be that most screenwriters are doubtlessly enlivened through inquiries that deal with with the issues in their period or lifespan. Then on the occasions that an event is most probable, the written work that they are bringing about may begin to appear to prophetic. This is ultimately an advanced form of intuition if you will, that has evolved through a writer’s own rallying of all the possibilities while eliminating the least likely to occur events, according to their own knowledge of current events and how they might future ones.

    2. suegiplaye

      I think that it is pretty incredible that Analysts are presently living up to expectations in an intriguing new field called Femto-Photography. It is photography at a trillion edges for each second. At these sorts of paces, it is conceivable to photo singular parcels of light as they move over a room or into an article.

  7. Walczak

    Truly that is fascinating! Just from X-ray you can develop some kind of skin cancer but with this Femto Photography it’s just light and it still enables doctors to see inside our body. Now that is a big leap for science, We have nano technology to help some healing process and now this. It seems we’re moving closer and closer to perfection of things.

  8. Justine R

    I think it is only a matter of time before an entire medical lab will be digitalised and miniaturized to the point it can fit into a hand held device. Best, it would be totally non invasive, meaning no need to take blood samples or do biopsies. It would be so cool if the device were to be called a tricorder, but probably that would be some Star Trek copyright infringement.

    1. richj8am30

      I do trust that this innovation is a gigantic stride in the right direction. The remaining issue with big medical industry is that there are an excess of individuals that might even now be banking on the more meddling or intrusive methodology and procedures we are currently attached to in medicine. Whichever way you are right, one great way that medical scientists are advancing is one use of nanotechnology in a solution as of now being produced or different substances to particular cellular restorative practices includes utilizing nanoparticles that temporally unlock and convey drugs, warmth and light to deteriorating cell structures within cancer patients.

  9. Miles

    And here I thought the tricorder was just a fantasy technology, but like so many things in Star Trek, they’re all based on real technology. If you think about it, the folding phone probably got the idea from the original Star Trek’s communication device and the ipad probably got the idea from the pads they’ve used on the Star Trek Next Generation series. At the risk of sounding geeky, you can say that Star Trek was much more than a mere TV show, as it was the inspiration for so many revolutionary gadgets.

  10. They Call Me Zee

    I watched Ramesh Raskar on TED Talk explaining that femto-photography was a new type of imaging operating at one trillion frames per second and that at such speed it could capture light as it moved. It’s hard to wrap my head around that because I work in a media using a frame frequency that at most is 72 images per second. I hope one day I get to work with femto-photography.

    1. richj8am30

      That is a brilliant thought. I am eager to witness how this innovation could revolutionize the film business on the whim that it were connected right. I imagine that there are astonishing advantages and in the event that anybody has the right thought they ought to chip away at the improvement of these techniques. I am certain whoever presents it first will be remunerated to no small degree.

  11. Ken C.

    I’d started to read an article about Femto-Photography. It was one of those technical ramblings that render readers comatose within a matter of minutes. It it had of mentioned it was the Star Trek Tricorder finally coming into being I would have probably finished it, as I did with your post.

  12. Jasmine2015

    I love the idea of using technology like this. The device could especially be useful when dealing with an infectious patient. It could also save money on unnecessary surgery.

  13. Liv6

    This would be such a better option for elderly or fragile patients who would otherwise die on the operating table as the doctors would intrusively attempt to discover any issues with their health. It would not only cut down on the number of surgically related deaths, but it would also vastly improve the efficiency of diagnostic tests. Props to the scientists who are working on this technology!

    1. richj8am30

      That is precisely the point that I am attempting to make however in the event that you know about how the business appears to thrive off of the exchange of organs from benefactors that have ended up expired amid surgical operations, then you realize that such innovation may stop the present flow of things. In any case, I trust that in the event that this strategy gets to be well known in the medicine world, it would be considerably helpful to elderly patients in the not so distant future, despite spite the odds that are against it.

  14. Freelancepreneur

    Actually, people have already invented that of the star trek tricorder, but it’s in a very primitive state to the point where it’s nothing like it was on the television show. This however, may push us in the right direction and really help us to grow in the medical field in an almost exponential rate as we will be able to diagnose problems faster, and focus more on medical advancement. I for one, hope this succeeds and we get something that surpasses even that of the star trek tricorder we have seen on TV! Just of course, as long as we can get the EMS medical program online too, and make sure to give them proper rights! Ha, 🙂

  15. turtledove

    This is a fascinating idea, and it really could save lives in many fields. I hope that this does come into practice relatively soon. It’s absolutely incredible how far technology has come in the last few years.

  16. michaelrydell

    Amazing how science and science fiction have see-sawed inspiration back and and forth to each other, as we propel ourselves to the future. What will they think of next?

  17. spaceboytaylor

    I think it’s awesome that while science fiction is based off of predicting real science in the future, and in turn, real science is influenced by that science fiction. I love the fact that shows like Star Trek aren’t feeling too far off from real life and I’m really excited to see more of this kind of tech being developed.

    1. richj8am30

      I trust that it is an instance of art impersonating life, the inverse or perhaps more. Tesla was discussing the blueprint of cellphones in 1926 and there is no doubt somebody of his mental capacity would have already constructed a working patent for his conveniently portable mobile phone as early as 1926. So, could it be that the majority of what we see on the silver screen has as of now become a reality? I believe that the notion that society is 25 years behind in conjunction with innovation that ceaselessly exist, preceding our insight into it, is correct.

  18. Coolbutlame

    I wonder what kind of technology would be used inside it. Would we go more of an X-ray route, or, by that time, will we have a style of see-through radio wave that would be more effective? That’s beside the point. I’m all in for invasive surgery, especially one that doesn’t require any kind of cutting.

    1. oportosanto

      I am guessing that the existing technology that allows “robots” to perform surgeries inside of us, will be the same technology that will allow that light to enter our body and make a map of us inside.

  19. loliveroliver

    Wow, this is great! Has there been any progress in this area? Fascinating how this is a 2-3 years old article and it still feels unreal.

    Some of the things presented in TED will be sci-fi for years to come!

  20. misskrystal1982

    I think we would be amazed at the things that are being created right now, behind the scenes. We don’t have a clue what is being created in labs around the world.
    Some of it may revolutionize the world as it is.

  21. Novelangel

    Absolutely, this would be an excellent diagnostic tool. Now all we need is non-invasive surgical techniques to go along with it and we’re all set. We have procedures now that are LESS invasive, but still require some cutting and stitching. If we could penetrate the body with some kind of healing ray where the surgery can take place without any cutting whatsoever, that would be perfect. This would be particularly helpful for some types of cancers that react to surgical invasion by growing out of control.

  22. judyd1

    Amazing! I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was a little girl, and have seen in my lifetime HUGE advances in technology, many of them trying to catch up to Gene Roddenberry’s imagination of what the future might be like.

    Some of them were pretty fanciful, and took decades for technology to develop the platforms whereon they could be utilized. But almost every single idea from the many Star Trek series has motivated some scientist, engineer, or inventor to make that idea come true.

    Even FTL speed is considered as being within the grasp of human ability. As recently as 2012, Harold White at Nasa was working on a WARP drive hypothesis. Engineers from NASA continue doing preliminary work on this technology right now. It’s just a matter of time.

  23. oportosanto

    Even if this article is dated from 2013, it’s the first time I am hearing about femto photography. The possibility to construct the internal image of a patient is priceless, so most likely this has been already incorporated in some of the existing technologies?

  24. rz3300

    This is really interesting. I always find it particularly interesting when they are able to take these basic concepts or basic principles of natures, like the light reflection here, and then expand on them to make these applicable and useful devices. It is always good to hear that it can save lives too, of course, and I just hope that it is not too expensive when it hits the market, but time will tell with that I suppose. Interesting stuff, and thanks for sharing.

  25. deanyd_17

    This would be great! Hopefully it’s not too terribly far off. The doctors in the small town I’m from aren’t exactly… great. One, at least, isn’t remotely good. Had a friend of mine go in twice after he fell hard on his wrist. Twice the doctor gave him tylenol and sent him away. The third time a different doctor saw him. He’d had a broken wrist for nearly a week. This cannot come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

  26. bigman

    Indeed this is fascinating. I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Trek’s tricorder was an inspiration for Femto-Photography. There is definitely a lot of possible applications for this technology not just in the practice of medicine. The non-intrusive nature of Femto-Photography should encourage more people to get themselves checked.

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