Peek Performance

This device uses high-frequency transceivers to mimic X-ray vision and see through walls, and it is small enough to hold in your hand.

Nick Bild
12 days agoSensors
This portable device lets you see through walls (📷: University of Texas at Dallas)

Have you ever wished that you could have X-ray vision like Superman? If so, you certainly are not alone. Just think of all the things one could do with such a super power — hanging heavy pictures would be a breeze if you could see the studs right through the wall. And why open your mail when you can read while it is still in the envelope? Physicians with X-ray vision would be very popular, as they would not need to waste their patients’ time by sending them off for medical imaging appointments.

In the real world, we may not be able to have X-ray vision in the same way Superman does, but technology can get us pretty close. Using various types of radiation, we have been peeking behind closed doors and inside the human body for well over a hundred years. However, the imaging machines that we use are typically on the large side, and also tend to require a fair amount of supporting equipment and a degree of expertise in the operators.

In order to summon this superhuman power on demand, the technology will need to be far more portable. A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and Seoul National University recently developed a device that can put X-ray vision in the palm of your hand, fulfilling this long-standing dream of ours. Their innovative work might one day even give smartphones the ability to see through walls.

Of course the team’s approach does not literally rely on X-rays. Needless to say, that would be a very bad idea as X-ray radiation is very damaging to humans and would be quite harmful. Instead, the technology utilizes an ultra-high frequency transceiver. In particular, a one by three array of 296 GHz complementary metal oxide semiconductor concurrent transceiver pixels has been combined with a low-noise amplifier, mixer, oscillator, and a differential gain stage to make up the core of the device. An E-shaped patch antenna further enhances the bandwidth of the system. A clever configuration of these components allows for reflection mode imaging of a target without the need for a lens.

Taken together, these unique design elements enable imaging in a very small form factor — each of the pixels is only about the size of a grain of sand. The device also has very good resolution, making it possible to image objects hidden behind walls or other obstructions with this tiny, handheld device.

Fortunately, there is little reason to worry about your privacy if this device were to become generally available. The system can only capture images from about one inch away (a future iteration is expected to be capable of working from five inches away), so criminals that want a look in your bag or wallet would not be able to do so without your notice. And for that matter, Peeping Toms would fare no better.

The team’s present achievement is the culmination of over two decades of work, and they are still continuing to refine their approach with the hope of deploying it in smartphones just like traditional cameras are today.

Nick Bild
R&D, creativity, and building the next big thing you never knew you wanted are my specialties.
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