Engineers have developed a new technology that will enable pilots to peer through fog and doctors to see more precisely into the human body without surgery.

Developed by Princeton engineers, the method relies on the surprising ability to clarify an image using rays of light that would typically make the image unrecognisable, such as those scattered by clouds, human tissue or murky water.

In their experiments, the researchers restored an obscured image into a clear pattern of numbers and lines. The process was akin to improving poor TV reception using the distorted, or "noisy", part of the broadcast signal.

“Normally, noise is considered a bad thing,” said Jason Fleischer, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Princeton University.

“But, sometimes noise and signal can interact and the energy from the noise can be used to amplify the signal. For weak signals, such as distant or dark images, actually adding noise can improve their quality.”

He said the ability to boost signals this way could potentially improve a broad range of signal technologies, including the sonograms doctors use to visualise foetuses and the radar systems pilots use to navigate through storms and turbulence, according to a Princeton release.

The method could also potentially be applied in technologies such as night vision goggles, inspection of underwater structures such as levies and bridge supports, and in steganography, the practice of masking signals for security purposes.

The findings appeared in the March issue of Nature Photonics.

More In: Sci-Tech