The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Motion microscope’ reveals movements too small for the human eye

The motion microscope amplifies seemingly invisible motion and could lead to a “non-contact vital signs monitor” and offer a new tool for engineers to gauge stresses on bridges and tunnels in real-time. (Video: Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Even when you're sitting still, your whole body is moving. And with new technology from MIT, that motion is getting blown up into creepy, visible footage of everything from the wiggling of your eyeballs inside your skull to the rippling of a pregnant woman's stomach as a baby moves inside.

By using an algorithm that magnifies minute changes in color and movement, researchers are able to extract basic vital signs like heart rate and breathing from any old video.

You can even use these algorithms to listen in on someone's conversation by keeping an eye on the objects around them. MIT researchers recently published a study in which they extracted intelligible audio by analyzing the movements of a nearby bag of chips. By magnifying its movements, they were able to reconstruct the soundwaves that were causing it to flutter imperceptibly.

A lot of the coolest examples of this video magnification come from people outside the research team. Lead researcher Michael Rubinstein has made the software totally public, so you can create magnified videos of your own -- and do with them what you will.

Find out more about this visual microscope and its potential applications in Rubinstein's recent TED talk on the subject: