Image 1 - Smartphones May Soon Get X-Ray Like Vision
April 21, 2012

Smartphones May Soon Get X-Ray Like Vision

Lee Rannals for

A new technology may one day help the average Joe with a smartphone keep criminals at bay with x-ray vision like capabilities.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas are working on giving devices like smartphones the ability to see through walls.

Dr. Kenneth O, director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence and a professor of electrical engineering, and colleagues have designed an imager chip that taps into an unused range in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The terahertz band sits between the microwave band and infrared band, and until now has not been accessible for most consumer devices.

They developed a new approach that can create images with signals operating in the terahertz (THz) range without having to use several lenses inside a device, which lowers both cost and size.  The other advancement that makes the findings applicable for consumer devices is the technology used to create the microchip.

The terahertz spectrum can penetrate through cardboard, ceramics, clothing, masonry, paper, plastic, wood, fog and even clouds.  It is unable to see through metal or water though.

Dr. O told RedOrbit through email that ultimately his vision for this research is to demonstrate an imaging system in the back of a smartphone.

He said the combination of CMOS and terahertz means someone can put a chip and receiver on the back of a smartphone, turning it into a device that is able to see through walls.

People who have a smartphone in their pocket that is capable of seeing through walls would be able to use their device for a practical application like finding a stud in a wall.

Terahertz can be used for imaging to detect cancer tumors, diagnosing disease through breath analysis, and monitoring air toxicity.

"Authentication of documents, currencies and others could be the most immediate applications," Dr. O told RedOrbit. "By far, the medical imaging for cancerous cells will be the most important applications."

He said that devices like smartphones that are capable of reading on the terahertz spectrum could be developed in the next three to four years.

Dr. O and his team plan to build an entire working imaging system based on the CMOS terahertz system next.

The research was presented at the most recent International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC).