For years, the concept of x-ray vision—and their accompanying device of choice, the x-ray specs—has been the province of comic books. Whether as a feature of the superheroes of the day, or as a product advertised to its readers with much less overall effect, the concept has captured the imagination of many since its inception. But now, x-ray vision may no longer be the stuff of childish fancy with the development of a new kind of scanning device that could provide a similar effect.
The terahertz scanner, as it's currently being called, could soon allow a mobile phone's camera to see through a variety of substances including wood, plastics, human flesh, and even fabrics. The terahertz scanner, so named for the spectrum on which it operates located between infrared and microwave signals, could have a variety of useful functions. Some of its capabilities include allowing a smartphone to take the place of a stud finder in construction projects, detecting counterfeit currency, allowing a smartphone to serve as a kind of mobile medical platform that takes the place of MRI scanners or even full X-ray devices, and reducing the dangers and expenses of some medical procedures.
The terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum had gone unused in many applications previously, but this marks one of the first major new uses for the product. Even those with concerns about privacy, especially due to the capability of seeing through fabric, should find said concerns allayed as the researchers are working primarily on uses for the technology from a range of fewer than four inches between the target and the chip. That's not to say further uses couldn't be found, but they would be developed largely independently of full commercial releases.
The possibilities of a chip like this seeing wide use are extensive, and could do most anything from reducing the cost and time put in on construction projects to lowering health care costs. Their value in public safety would be impressive as well as suspicious packages for example could get at least a preliminary analysis from something as simple as a smartphone, providing useful information to first responders.
While there's no word yet as to when the terahertz chips will start seeing inclusion in smartphones and similar devices, the interest in such systems is clear. How their use will affect society at large, however, will bear careful watching.
Edited by Jamie Epstein