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Chip could let smartphones see through walls -- and clothes

April 19, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • X-ray vision like Superman's could soon be available in your pocket.
X-ray vision like Superman's could soon be available in your pocket. (Warner Home Video )

In the not-too-distant future, your smartphone may be able to help you see through walls, cardboard boxes, paper and even clothing.

Scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas have designed an imaging chipthat measures invisible terahertz light waves that is small enough to fit on a smartphone and inexpensive enough that normal people could actually afford to buy one.

Terahertz waves can be detected through opaque surfaces such as paper, walls and clothing -- enabling a person with an accurate terahertz measuring device to see beyond what our visible eye can see. 

Some applications of this technology, which is still in development, include early detecting of skin cancer, finding studs hidden in walls, finding hidden cracks in vases and authenticating documents.

As for the creepy applications (such as seeing through clothes), rest assured that Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center for Excellence, who led this research, has considered them.

"The major concern for this technology is privacy, so we've made it that you need to place the imaging device very close to the object you are looking at," he said. "We are talking about a distance of 10 centimeters, so it would be very difficult for someone to sneak up on you and...you know."

Scientists have known about terahertz waves for a long time, but the devices that measured them were prohibitively expensive for most people, and also large and bulky.

O and his team's imaging chip, which was made with CMOS technology, is small and cheap.

"This is literally small enough that it can be placed on the back of the cellphone," he said.

Modified X-ray vision, here we come!

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