Smartphones could soon have X-ray vision

Imagine having a phone that allows you to see through walls. According to IEEE Xplore (via CBS News), a project that has been in the works for fifteen years continues to progress. The goal is to develop a chip that allows smartphone users to see through solid surfaces, similar to X-rays. But the latter is harmful to humans, so instead of actually using X-rays, the phone uses signals in the range of 200 GHz to 400 GHz.

So far, tests have shown that the technology can see through dust, dense fog and particles in the air that light cannot normally penetrate. In a more recent test, researchers were able to see through a cardboard sheet. Before we get too excited about this, the report notes that the technology still has a long way to go before smartphone users can see through walls and objects using gigahertz signals.

The technology is being developed at the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence, is one of the authors of a report detailing researchers’ latest developments. Dr. O said, “I don’t know if you remember the movie ‘Forrest Gump,’ but there’s a quote: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.’ But now? You’ll know.”

“The superheroes like Superman, that’s what we all grew up with,” said Dr. O. “To be able to see through things, X-ray vision was always exciting and inspiring.” The professor also notes, “You should be able to just scan normally as you would scan and capture the image easily.”

One of the problems with the currently available technology is that due to the large number of pixels, it takes hours to get an image looking through an object. But Dr. O says that, with the right amount of money, this technology could deliver instant images and be available for smartphones within a few years. He said: “The fundamental technology is there. I would really like to make it so that it is suitable for everyone.”

Ultimately, smartphones with these chips will be able to see inside envelopes and packages. Such devices can also be used by hospitals to monitor the hydration levels of patients. Currently, the technology requires that the object the phone is trying to see through is placed no more than an inch away from the device. This prevents a thief from standing far away from their target to secretly use the technology to look through someone’s suitcase or bag to discover personal information.