The technology takes inspiration from Star Trek.
The science fiction of Star Trek has been inspiring scientists for generations in ways big and small. As mentioned in the opening credits of both the original series and The Next Generation, one focus for the ships in Star Trek‘s Federation is “to seek out new life,” which can be easily done thanks to technology capable of remotely scanning an area for life forms. Scientists have now made steps toward recreating that technology in the form of a specialized camera called a TreePol spectropolarimeter.
All living organisms have what are known as chiral molecules, which can reflect, refract, or diffract light. The TreePol spectropolarimeter has lenses and receptors able to detect rotating light reflected by plants. TreePol is specifically designed to detect circularly polarized light, a type of electromagnetic wave that rotates either clockwise or counterclockwise, reflected from foliage.