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Future Cellphones Could Pack Tech to See Through Walls

Back in 1998, Sony accidentally sold about 700,000 camcorders with lenses that use IR light to achieve a certain x-ray capability that can "see" through dark, thin clothing. While a similar feature never surfaced on the video camera and still camera market again, researchers believe they can go a step further and build imaging devices that are leverage terahertz electromagnetic waves to construct images.

Just like microwaves can be used for voice and data communication, like infrared waves can be used for night vision devices, terahertz waves can penetrate solid objects and identify objects behind them. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) claim that terahertz technology can be built it a CMOS chip that can be integrated into devices such as cell phones. However, the goal of such a product is not so much to achieve a voyeur-ish reputation as the Sony camcorder did.

The scientists have medical as well as emergency applications in mind. For example, the chip could be used to detect cancer tumors, or analyze air quality. To make sure that there are no privacy invasions, the chip in development will be limited to a range of four inches. However, if the technology works as promised, there is little reason to believe that products with greater ranges will be made available, for example for military applications. The UT Dallas scientists claim that the technology could also be used to accelerate data transmissions.

The UT Dallas team said that it is now planning to build an entire working imaging system based on its CMOS terahertz system.