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Millimetre-wave technology sees through clothes

Posted: 29 Nov 2006     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Northrop-Grumman Space Technology  passive millimetre-wave technology  PMMW  Dylan McGrath 

Security in airports and other sensitive areas may get a huge boost with a technology under development said to be capable of looking through clothing to detect weapons and other dangerous items. But privacy advocates—and shy people—may have cause for alarm.

Millimetre-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 millimetre-wave (PMMW) technology, can also see through heavy clouds in order to perform aerial surveillance on bad weather days, according materials provided by the organisers of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). Northrop-Grumman researchers plan to present a paper on PMMW at ISSCC in February 2007.

PMMW involves very-high-frequency amplifiers running at frequencies up to 300GHz and detectors capable of sensing and processing picowatt power levels. Northrop-Grumman researchers plan to describe achieving a 2.5dB gain at 300GHz, the highest-frequency active ICs ever reported, according to the ISSCC organisers.

Operating at these frequencies required the use of indium-phosphide (InP) technology with 75- and 35nm features sizes, as well as lenses and detectors capable of processing millimetre-wavelength radiation, according to the organisers.

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 organisers, the technology offers only "somewhat-fuzzy" greyscale 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 organisers 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.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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