Inspired by Superman’s X-ray vision, a new tiny chip for mobile devices can take pictures of items inside packaging and behind walls

Scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas and Seoul National University have developed a new imaging chip inspired by Superman’s legendary X-ray vision.

This breakthrough technology is intended to enable mobile devices to detect and take photos of objects hidden in packaging or covered behind walls.

(Image : Dee from Pixabay)

New imager chip inspired by Superman

The chip is expected to revolutionize the capabilities of smartphones, enabling them to find structural elements such as studs, wooden beams or wires hidden in walls, as well as identify cracks in pipes or the contours of envelopes and the contents of packages.

Moreover, its potential extends to medical applications. The origins of this technology date back to a study conducted in 2022, in which researchers initially demonstrated its imaging capabilities.

Dr. Kenneth K. O., director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE) and Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, compared the technology to Superman’s X-ray vision, albeit without the harmful effects associated with X-rays.

The signals used range from 200 gigahertz to 400 gigahertz. In a press statement, Dr. Brian Ginsburg, director of RF/mmW and high-speed research at TI’s Kilby Labs, stated that 15 years of research that improved pixel performance by 100 million times, combined with digital signal processing techniques, paved the way to enable this imaging demonstration.

Ginsburg further noted that this breakthrough technology reveals potential imaging capabilities in the true THz range. Privacy issues were a major topic during the technology design phase.

Scientists ensured its suitability for close-range applications, approximately one inch from the target object. This design choice reduces the risk of unauthorized scanning because it requires proximity to the object being scanned.

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The Superman-inspired imager emits signals at a frequency of 300 GHz

The Superman-inspired image sensor emits signals in the 300 GHz range of millimeter wave electromagnetic frequencies.

According to the research team, these frequencies remain undetectable to the human eye and have been classified as safe for human exposure, which deviates from the potential health risks associated with X-ray technologies.

Dr. Wooyeol Choi, an assistant professor at Seoul National University and lead author of the latest paper, provided insight into the chip’s design. He said they created a chip without lenses and optics to fit into a mobile device.

According to Choi, pixels form or create images by detecting signals reflected from a target object. They measure approximately 0.5 mm square, which is comparable in size to a grain of sand.

Advances in image chip miniaturization for mobile devices are the result of nearly two decades of research by a team that includes students, researchers and collaborators associated with TxACE at UT Dallas.

The research team’s results were published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology.

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