Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas disclosed this week that they've developed an imager chip that could turn mobile phones into devices that can see through walls, wood, plastics, paper, and other objects.
Portions of the electromagnetic spectrum are already used for consumer devices. For example, microwaves are used to cook food, broadcast radio uses AM and FM waves, and infrared waves are used for seeing in the dark. For their purposes, the researchers used waves in the terahertz range.
Shown is the electromagnet spectrum, from radio waves used for FM and AM signals, to infrared waves used for remote controls, to gamma rays that kill cancer cells. A team at UT Dallas is focusing on the "terahertz band," which has not been accessible for most consumer devices.
Dr. Kenneth O, director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence and a professor of electrical engineering, left, worked with a team including Dae Yeon Kim, who was among the authors of the research report.
When signals on the terahertz band travel from your phone, they’ll bounce back — and that’s when the microchip comes in. The chips are manufactured using CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology, which is the basis of most of the electronic devices around you. A censor in the chip will pick up terahertz signals and then images can be created.
If terahertz-band signals can create images with fewer lenses — which would be the case with this technology — that means less money for lenses and a smaller camera. By using a CMOS sensor, the cost becomes even cheaper.
“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips,” said Dr. O. “The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.”