by Madison Ruppert
April 20, 2012
As unbelievable as it sounds, researchers at the University of Texas at
Dallas have created an imager chip for mobile devices which would turn an
ordinary cell phone into something which can see through walls, wood,
plastics, paper, skin and other objects.
Using the terahertz (THz) band of the electromagnetic spectrum, the
wavelengths of which fall between the microwave and infrared bands, the chip
could signify a revolution in the surveillance capabilities of mobile phones
new chips like Broadcom’s BCM4752 which is
capable of providing ultra-precise location data.
Combine this with citizen spying applications and the techniques which
gently push people to conduct surveillance without them knowing what they’re
patents from Google which would allow them
to collect the data from such chips and the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s)
center and you have the penultimate surveillance state.
The research team connected two separate advances in science: the mostly
untapped terahertz frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum and
cutting edge microchip technology.
For those who are unfamiliar or need a refresher, the electromagnetic
spectrum makes up all wavelengths of electromagnetic energy from visible
light to radio waves to microwaves to infrared to ultraviolet and everything
Most consumer devices have yet to leverage the terahertz band, which means
that this could be truly revolutionary technology, although some like myself
might think that this revolution is not necessarily all that wonderful.
“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, an
electrical engineering professor at the University of Texas at Dallas as
well as the director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence.
“The terahertz range is full of unlimited
potential that could benefit us all,” he added, although I’m not quite
sure how allowing cell phones to see through walls and thus erase what
tiny shred of privacy we have left would benefit us all.
This technology would likely not even be as
expensive as one might expect. This is because the new approach would allow
images to be created with THz-range signals without the need for several
lenses or other expensive equipment within the device.
This would not only reduce cost, but also size, making the technology
something which we could realistically see in mobile phones in the future.
The University of Texas at Dallas
press release notes that the techniques
involved in the manufacturing of the microchip involved would also allow it
to be applied to consumer devices.
Chips utilizing the Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS)
technology, which forms the basis of a great deal of consumer electronics
like personal computers, mobile devices, high definition televisions, game
consoles, etc. would make this technology even more affordable.
“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make
lots of chips,” Dr. O said.
“The combination of CMOS and terahertz means
you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cell phone,
turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through
Thankfully, Dr. O seems to be, at least to a
certain extent, concerned with privacy.
This is evidenced by his team focusing on uses
in distances of four inches or less, although this does not mean, by any
means, that this technology could not be used at a greater distance when it
is undoubtedly used by the government and military.
Some of the more innocuous potential applications could range from turning
an ordinary phone into a stud finder or document authentication platform or
even a counterfeit currency detector.
Manufacturing companies could potentially use it in process control and with
more communication channels available in the THz range compared to the range
currently used for wireless communications, data could be more rapidly
transferred than the currently utilized frequency ranges allow.
There are even potential applications in healthcare fields, according to
It is possible that this type of imaging technology could be used to detect
cancerous tumors, breath analysis for disease diagnosis and even air
toxicity monitoring applications.
“There are all kinds of things you could be
able to do that we just haven’t yet thought about,” said Dr. O, who also
currently holds the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair.
The research team’s next move will be to create
an entire functioning imaging system which is based on the THz frequency
range leveraging CMOS chip technology.
This research is being supported by the Center for Circuit and Systems
Solutions (C2S2 Center) and carried out at the Texas Analog Center of
TxACE is funded by the Semiconducter Research Corporation (SRC), Texas
Instruments Inc., and the state of Texas through the Texas Emerging
Technology Fund, the University of Texas system and the University of Texas
This research was presented at the most recent meeting of the
International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC),
according to Homeland Security News Wire.
While there are indeed some very promising, positive applications for this
type of technology, there are also some grave concerns in terms of privacy,
which is a commodity we are quickly losing in today’s Big Brother