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Monday, May 22, 2023

A Focus on X-Ray Vision


A Focus on X-Ray Vision

By Samuel Greengard, Commissioned by CACM Staff, May 11, 2023

X-ray image of a person using their iPhone. 

"There are a vast array of real-world challenges X-ray vision can solve," said MIT's Fadel Adib, "including in manufacturing, warehousing, and even aiding people who are visually impaired."

Credit: What If Science Show

Enabling humans to see through physical objects has long been the stuff of science fiction novels, comic books, and films. While X-rays serve as a valuable tool for medical diagnosis and body scanners, and x-ray scanners are now widely deployed at airports for security, genuine X-ray vision could profoundly change the way we see the world.

In fact, scientists are on the path to making X-ray vision a reality. In February, a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) introduced an augmented reality (AR) headset that generates holograms to guide a person to hidden radio frequency (RF) tagged objects. The X-AR headset can direct a user to a hidden object within 9.8 centimeters, with about 99% accuracy.

"RFID and other methods are already used to locate objects, but adding augmented vision is transformative," according to Fadel Adib, an associate professor and founding director of the Signal Kinetics group at MIT. "There are a vast array of real-world challenges X-ray vision can solve, including in manufacturing, warehousing, and even aiding people who are visually impaired."

Beyond the Surface

X-ray technology, which has been around for well over a century, has mostly been relegated to specific tasks and places, such as a doctor's office or an airport luggage scanner. The Machines are typically large and cumbersome, and there are often concerns about the health effects of X-rays, a form of ionizing radiation that can damage DNA and potentially cause cancer in humans and animals.

Yet a wave of advancements, which include the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), are suddenly refocusing and reshaping the field. X-ray vision systems do not rely on conventional X-ray technology, harnessing instead other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to see through physical barriers.

For example, a Seattle company, ThruWave Inc., has developed an X-ray vision system that uses high-speed 3D millimeter wave (mmWave) imaging to peer into corrugated boxes, plastic totes, and other containers. It detects anomalies in manufactured goods, counts items inside sealed packages, detects missing or damaged items, and finds other issues without any negative impact to human tissue. The system is used by soft drink bottlers and other manufacturers to boost quality control.

"Integrating these types of sensors and systems into manufacturing processes offers benefits, whether it's related to quality control or finding objects hidden in environments where it is difficult to differentiate them," says Matt Reynolds, chief scientist and co-founder of ThruWave and an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Washington.

The MIT researchers hope to take to take X-ray vision to a deeper level. "An AR headset is ideal for finding objects in certain situations, such as a large warehouse with tens of thousands of often similar items," says Tara Boroushaki, a Ph.D. candidate who is part of the team. In addition, "X-Ray vision could aid in finding missing objects at home and it could help the visually impaired detect objects as they move around," she says.  ....'

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