Camera uses microwave signals to get into materials

Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a handheld camera that uses millimetre and microwave signals to non-intrusively look inside materials in real time.

It is claimed the technology could help medical professionals detect and monitor a variety of skin conditions, including cancer and burns. It also has the potential to help airport security staff reduce the number of passenger pat-downs.

‘In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customised to address many critical inspection needs, including detecting defects in thermal insulating materials that are found in spacecraft heat-insulating foam and tiles, space habitat structures, aircraft radomes and composite-strengthened concrete bridge members,’ said lead researcher Dr Reza Zoughi, Schlumberger distinguished professor of electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

According to a statement, the compact system can produce synthetically focused images of objects — at different planes in front of the camera — at speeds of up to 30 images per second. A laptop computer then collects the signal and displays the image in real time for review.

‘Unlike X-rays, microwaves are non-ionising and may only cause some heating effect,’ said Zoughi. ‘However, the high sensitivity and other characteristics of this camera enables it to operate at a low-power level.’

In 2007, Zoughi’s research group completed the first prototype and has spent the past three years decreasing its size, while improving its overall efficiency.

Currently, the camera operates in the transmission mode, meaning objects must pass between a transmitting source and its collector to be reviewed. The team is said to be working on designing and developing a one-sided version of it, which will make it operate in a similar way to a video camera.

‘Further down the road, we plan to develop a wideband camera capable of producing real-time 3D or holographic images,’ said Zoughi.