New research advances development of handheld T-Ray devices


April 22, 2012

"X-ray" vision may soon be possible on cell phones by tapping into the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum (Photo via Shutterstock)

"X-ray" vision may soon be possible on cell phones by tapping into the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum (Photo via Shutterstock)

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Those of us who envy Superman for his X-ray vision may soon get that ability - on our cell phones. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have reported a new approach to harnessing the potential of the terahertz band in portable devices.

The terahertz band sits between micro waves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum and can be used to see through objects such as walls, wood, plastics and paper.

The terahertz wavelength range hasn't been widely accessible for consumer devices until recently. New availability creates new applications however - earlier this year, we reported on how terahertz (or T-Ray) technology could make Star Trek-style tricorders a reality.

"We've created approaches that open a previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use and life-saving medical applications," said Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at University of Texas at Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence, in a statement.

The University of Texas' research centers around the use of CMOS (Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology to create a terahertz microchip. The approach also by-passes the need to use several lenses inside a device.

"CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips," Dr. O said on the University of Texas at Dallas website. "The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver in the back of a cell phone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects."

Dr. Kenneth O (left) worked with a team including Dae Yeon Kim

Images produced using this technology can replace X-rays with a less expensive method that might even reduce the risks of exposure previously experienced with X-rays. The technology might also be used to view more than just bones and related structures - researchers at the University of Texas say it can be used for imaging to detect cancer tumors, diagnosing disease through breath analysis, and monitoring air toxicity.

Because devices with "T-ray" imaging capabilities have the ability to see through most solid, opaque objects, this new technology has applications far beyond the medical field.

"Authentication of documents and currencies is the first application we are thinking of. You can also use this to see through walls to image wires and others," said Dr. O. "You could also use this inspect inside of items such as vase you are purchasing for defects that cannot be seen by eyes."

Dr. O said developing medical uses will take more time.

Terahertz imaging has its limitations. While it can penetrate fog and clouds, challenges occur when trying to penetrate metal and water. The Earth's atmosphere also absorbs terahertz radiation, limiting the range on which a terahertz imaging device can operate.

For now, that's not a big concern. The team plans to limit its uses to devices with a range of less than four inches (10 cm) to address privacy concerns. A device that can see through clothing, walls and other structures is after all, more invasive than the Backscatter scanners used at many airports.

Source: University of Texas at Dallas

About the Author
Enid Burns Enid began her freelance writing career reviewing video games after spending several hundred dollars upgrading a DOS-based machine to get Syndicate to run. Since then she's added coverage of mobile phones, consumer electronics and online advertising to her writing portfolio. Essentially, she's fascinated by shiny objects and making them light up. All articles by Enid Burns

Read a book without opening it!

Jim Parker

Uh-oh - think of the possibilities for the pervs - imagine standing in a crowded bus or subway and not realizing that the person standing up against you (as we all must do in the packed car) is actually recording your nether regions with his THz Blackberry...

Bob Fately

Bob: If someone has their blackberry 10 cm from my crotch, that's not exactly "discrete". Anyway, all they have to do is pass a criminal background check to work at TSA and watch people all day. At least this isn't ionizing radiation.

Besides, it seems like a lot of effort given what is already available on the internet. I'm glad this won't work on Grand Central Station scales, but I'm not any more worried about pervs on the subway than I was yesterday.

I wonder if I could use this to find paper jams in my printer though. That would be great.

Jim: I think whole books are out (imagine dissolving the book straight down to only ink), but this could increase the sales of metal briefcases to prevent corporate espionage. My big hope, though, would be to see this in dentists offices soon - if I am actually sick or hurt, I don't mind getting x-rays, but I would prefer not to if I'm only getting my teeth cleaned.

Charles Bosse

I think the privacy concerns may be overstated. Could such a device REALLY see through clothing without seeing through the skin? If you could eliminate just the clothing layer you'd have serious privacy concerns, but this most likely sees through everything, not just the first couple of millimeters...

Dave Andrews

Privacy is doomed anyway, and it's primary function is to enable people to plot against each other--often in criminal manners.

Secrecy is the best friend tyranny has next to fear.

Most if not all other 'privacy' concerns are cultural--and culture is in constant flux.

People have been using IR to 'see through' clothing for decades.

Only in a culture so sick that it fears to expose human skin could get concerned over this.

All anyone ever 'sees' is an image--and with the exception of congregating mobs llike paparazzi around a starlet, being seen isn't going to harm you.

Given the size of the newer HD 'spy' cameras, your privacy is mostly an illusion anyway.

For the most part, eliminating privacy has more benefits than disadvantages. Whole categories of crime become difficult or impossible to get away with, and while it's true that this would include a great many laws which are widely disobeyed and not supported by the people, that's encouragement to create a sane legal system--a system that doesn't try and force things into black or white, but accepts the need to evaluate cases on their individual evidence, rather than forcing things into one or the other box into which it will not fit.

Both sides can be wrong, or right or any gradation in between. But our legal system, by failing to deal with this, is guaranteed to produce injustice on a regular basis.

Charles Barnard

Might be a good finder for studwork in timber frame houses - one that actually works?

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