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Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are developing a camera based on the science similar to the type used in airport body scanners to detect everything from defects in aerospace vehicles or concrete bridges to skin cancer.
The research team, led by Reza Zoughi, of the Missouri S and T, has developed a patented handheld camera that uses millimeter and microwave signals to non-intrusively peek inside materials and structures in real time.
"In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized 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 Zoughi.
The technology could help medical professionals detect and monitor a variety of skin conditions in humans, including cancer and burns. It also has the potential to help Homeland Security personnel detect concealed contraband (such as weapons) or reduce the number of passenger pat downs at airports.
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. The entire system, powered by a battery similar to the size used in laptops, can run for several hours.
"Unlike X-rays, microwaves are non-ionizing and may only cause some heating effect. However, the high sensitivity and other characteristics of this camera enables it to operate at a low-power level," said Zoughi.
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 working on designing and developing a one-sided version of it, which will make it operate in a similar fashion to a video camera.