Editor in Chief
- Dec 30, 2010
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- Austin, TX
It's fascinating to see how quickly technology proves that most science fiction is really just a prognostication for a science fact of the future. There is a new technology being developed that in a few years time could actually give your smartphone the ability to see through solid objects. Now, it would be tempting to call this technology "X-Ray Vision" but that would actually be literally incorrect. That's because the tech actually uses T-Rays instead of X-Rays, yet can result in the same effect.
T-Rays are a form of radiation that can penetrate materials such as plastics, wood and others, without the side effects associated with X-rays. Ali Hajimiri, a professor of electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology has developed a technique that uses a mass of thousands of transistors to produce a terahertz wave which can harmlessly pass through solid objects and develop a picture of what is underneath. Here's a quote with the details,
So-called T-rays have been used mostly in experiments in medical and dental imaging. Typically, the rays are created with bulky, expensive machines, which “see” using a single large beam that can image only a narrow area. Hajimiri, working with postdoctoral researcher Kaushik Sengupta, got thousands of tiny transistors to operate in concert, producing terahertz waves from a smaller package.
“Imagine if you have an army of ants, where you can individually control what each ant does,” Hajimiri says. “It’s more versatile than an elephant. You can program them to do different things.” In his design, the transistors work in unison, increasing the chip’s range of view so it could, for example, image the contents of a cardboard box.
Hajimiri came up with the idea about four years ago, after observing that the transistors on chips were getting smaller and weaker but also extremely inexpensive to produce. “Everybody is complaining that you can’t do anything because the transistors are becoming so puny,” he says. “That’s true, but I have something that works to my advantage: I have practically an unlimited amount of transistors,” which allows the chip to produce a stronger signal that’s easier to control.
The technology has “potential opportunities in a wide range of applications,” says Jim McGregor, the founder of Tirias Research, which follows the chip industry. Installed in a smartphone, the chip could be used to quickly scan packages at a post office for security threats or to find art hidden behind the paint on the walls of historic buildings. Unlike X-rays, which have such high energy they can change the chemistry of objects they enter, T-rays are relatively harmless, Hajimiri says. The chip’s functionality comes with a price, however. If people can see through walls, McGregor warns, “there’s going to be a whole bunch of red flags thrown up by people around privacy issues.”
As you can see, the premise is pretty amazing and could revolutionize medical and security technology. And what is even more amazing is that it would be relatively cheap to produce. Of course, this new tech opens up a whole new can of worms related to privacy issues. What do you think of this potentially disruptive new tech? Too cool or too scary?