SAN FRANCISCO Security in airports and other sensitive areas may get a huge boost, thanks to a technology under development that is straight out of science fiction, said to be capable of looking through clothing to detect weapons and other dangerous items. But privacy advocatesand shy peoplemay have cause for alarm.
Millimeter-wave technology researchers at Northrop-Grumman Space Technology are developing a technology said to enable small cameras to look through clothing and other inert materials to detect weapons or other contraband. This technology, known as passive millimeter-wave (PMMW) technology, can also see through heavy clouds in order to perform aerial surveillance on bad weather days, according materials provided by the organizers of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). Northrop-Grumman researchers plan to present a paper on PMMW at ISSCC here in February 2007.
PMMW involves very-high-frequency amplifiers running at frequencies up to 300 gigahertz and detectors capable of sensing and processing picowatt power levels. Northrop-Grumman researchers plan to describe achieving a 2.5-decibel gain at 300 GHz, the highest-frequency active ICs ever reported, according to the ISSCC organizers. Operating at these frequencies required the use of indium-phosphide (InP) technology with 75- and 35-nanometer features sizes, as well as lenses and detectors capable of processing millimeter-wavelength radiation, according to the organizers.
The amplifiers used in PMMW are built with InP high-electron mobility transistors and are used in the front end of passive imaging cameras, according to advance copy promoting the Northrop-Grumman paper.
According to the materials presented by the ISSCC organizers, the technology offers only "somewhat-fuzzy" grayscale images. But privacy advocates may understandably balk at a technology that sees through clothing, especially with the potential through technology development of improving the quality of such images.
ISSCC organizers liken the technology to that used in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall, where passengers are screened electronically, through clothing, for weapons and other contraband.
Northrop-Grumman researchers are scheduled to present the PMMW paper during the ISSCC here the week of Feb. 12, 2007.