New Research Could Mean Cellphones That Can See Through Walls

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Comic book hero superpowers may be one step closer to reality after the latest technological feats made by researchers at UT Dallas. They have designed an imager chip that could turn mobile phones into devices that can see through walls, wood, plastics, paper and other objects.

The team’s research linked two scientific advances. One involves tapping into an unused range in the electromagnetic spectrum. The other is a new microchip technology.

The electromagnetic spectrum characterizes wavelengths of energy. For example, radio waves for AM and FM signals, or microwaves used for cell phones or the infrared wavelength that makes night vision devices possible.

But the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, one of the wavelength ranges that falls between microwave and infrared, has not been accessible for most consumer devices.

“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 and director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence(TxACE). “The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that could benefit us all.”

Tapping the Terahertz Gap

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.

Using the new approach, images can be created with signals operating in the terahertz (THz) range without having to use several lenses inside a device. This could reduce overall size and cost.

The second advance that makes the findings applicable for consumer devices is the technology used to create the microchip. Chips manufactured using CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology form the basis of many consumer electronic devices used in daily life such as personal computers, smart phones, high definition TV and game consoles.

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