While the smartphone of today has become a pretty amazing sensor for discovering the real world, the smartphone of tomorrow may just give you the ability to have X-ray vision. That’s the potential implication of a breakthrough at the University of Texas, Dallas, where researchers say they have taken a big step closer to enabling a phone to see a short distance through wood, walls, plastics and other objects.
It comes down to the ability to bridge what’s called the terahertz gap in the infrared band. The terahertz band is largely unused because the band is too high for electronics and too low for light-based systems. But an engineering team at the University of Texas at Dallas has found a way to create images with signals in the terahertz band without having to use multiple lenses inside a device. Basically, they’re able to focus light without using a lot of big lenses and tons of electricity, which is required for existing terahertz scanners. Combined with CMOS technology, which is used in the manufacturing of many of the microchips found in consumer electronics, the researchers are able to create a chip and receiver combination that could work on the back of smartphones.
The researchers are limiting the range of the x-ray vision to just about four inches out of privacy concerns. So there won’t be any school-boy dreams of peering into the girls locker room. But even at that range, they say it could be useful for a number of applications, such as detecting tumors and diagnosing disease through breath analysis to simpler uses such as finding a stud in a wall or authenticating documents.
“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 UT Dallas, who is leading the project. “The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that could benefit us all.”
This is still going to take a while to become an actual product. But it’s an interesting look at how a smartphone could become even more endowed with cool futuristic features.