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MIT Invented A Camera That Can Read Closed Books (gizmodo.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a breakthrough that will appeal to both spies and those who work with priceless but frail historical documents, researchers at MIT have developed a camera that uses terahertz radiation to peer at the text on pages of a book, without it having to be open. Terahertz radiation falls somewhere between the microwave and infrared spectrums, and the research team, including Barmak Heshmat, Ramesh Raskar, and Albert Redo Sanchez from MIT, and Justin Romberg and Alireza Aghasi from Georgia Tech, chose that particular flavor of radiation because of how it reacts with different chemicals. Different chemicals produce a distinct frequency as they react with different terahertz frequencies, which can be measured and distinguished. In this instance, it allows the researchers to tell the different between ink and blank paper. Complex algorithms and software is required to translate the frequencies being bounced back to the camera, allowing it to distinguish letters on a page. But it also relies on how far the short bursts of terahertz radiation are traveling, by precisely timing how long it takes to reach the 20-micrometer-thick air gaps between pages of a book, it's able to calculate when it moves from page to page. The report adds, "the researchers feel their system could be a fantastic tool for museums or other facilities who want to explore and catalog historical documents, without actually having to touch or open them, and risk damage."
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MIT Invented A Camera That Can Read Closed Books

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  • by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:01PM (#52875723)
    You just know 13-year old boys are going to use this to look at the magazines in plastic wrappers.
    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:08PM (#52875757)

      You just know 13-year old boys are going to use this to look at the magazines in plastic wrappers.

      Well, at least that's more believable than the bullshit cover story of using this to catalog ancient textbooks.

      This will be used and abused as a spy tool, first and foremost. It's practically inevitable. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this technology disappears from headlines as quickly as it appeared.

      • In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this technology disappears from headlines as quickly as it appeared.

        Cue Isaac Asimov's The Dead Past.

      • Yes, no more tamperproof letters or packages.
      • If the intelligence agency has physical possession of something, they're almost certainly going to be able to open and read it. They've put a lot of work into that over the years.

        If the agency doesn't have physical possession, I'd suspect that using this technique requires too much equipment and time to be practical.

        The obvious use is to read things that can't be safely opened, like ancient scrolls and the like.

      • by doccus ( 2020662 )

        You just know 13-year old boys are going to use this to look at the magazines in plastic wrappers.

        Well, at least that's more believable than the bullshit cover story of using this to catalog ancient textbooks.

        This will be used and abused as a spy tool, first and foremost. It's practically inevitable. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this technology disappears from headlines as quickly as it appeared.

        ...And disappears from MIT ;-) And from public memory. ....Hey, what were we just talking about? Something to do with... books.. radios? I can't seem to remember.. Must not have been important then..!

    • You just know 13-year old boys are going to use this to look at the magazines in plastic wrappers.

      Magazines? When they have internet enable devices in their pockets. Have you ever googled tits or pussy or something without safe search? Some of the stuff you can get would put hustler to shame. Magazines, how quaint.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:05PM (#52875741)

    The real question is how long untl it is $1 to order a set of goggles with this technology out of the back of my vintage comic book without removing it from the plastic.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky was doing this years ago. I do believe he's from the MIT camp though.

    • by Dthief ( 1700318 )
      MIT has a great PR machine. Dont get me wrong, they do the most amazing things. But they make sure everyone knows what they are working on all the time. This is in its infancy, but this PR will likely help get more funding and interest to help make it into a niche tool, and far down the line a commercial product.
  • ... this could handily digitize 1 LOC.

    More seriously, this could be fantastic for opening up old archives and making searchable.

  • by dpidcoe ( 2606549 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:11PM (#52875765)
    The summary focuses on being able to see through pages, but how fast can it scan them? Assuming cost/complexity factors don't make it prohibitive, I could see something like this being used to rapidly digitize a printed book without having to pause to turn pages or slice the spine open to feed them individually through a scanner.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder how it would go with all of the manuscripts of ancient texts that were scrubbed over by monks and reused for Christian texts. It would be nice if you could rebuild a buried layer of text (there will have been ink residues left at some depth in the page) in this way.

      • Re:Other uses (Score:4, Interesting)

        by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Tuesday September 13, 2016 @08:47AM (#52878453)

        Different ink formulations, among other things. We take advantage of stuff like that even now to read many of these old palimpsests.

        This is just another arrow in the quiver, but it's an important one, since a lot of old texts are stuck together and frequently too brittle to separate. I'm thinking especially of the charred works recovered from the remains of the Library at Alexandria.

      • Depends on if they used BleachBit.

  • Could this technique be used to read the Herculaneum Papyri?

  • Other ideas (Score:5, Informative)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:16PM (#52875791) Journal
    Researchers use synchrotron to read ancient, burned scrolls from Rome 3/22/2016
    http://arstechnica.com/science... [arstechnica.com]
    "But now, a massive X-ray microscope at the European Radiation Synchrotron Facility has allowed researchers to see what was written on these ruined documents."
    More at http://www.bbc.com/news/scienc... [bbc.com] too.
  • Inherit the Stars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by localroger ( 258128 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:25PM (#52875841) Homepage
    This is exactly the machine that started James P. Hogan's Giants trilogy (although in SF it used neutrinos instead of terahertz waves). Now all we need is the lunar colonization program and ... OH SNAP.
  • Now we can judge a book through its cover.

  • besides the limitation of it only working with about 10 pages and they have to be somewhat transparent, i wonder how it will work with pages of overlapping text/ink, writing is usually on both sides of each page and hence no airgap to calculate depth.
  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @11:06PM (#52876531) Homepage

    "Fry and the Slurm Factory" with one of the great lines of the series:

    "Ow, my sperm!"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • They guys from the Hydraulic Press Channel should send them a book.

    "Try to read this, suckers!"

  • This sounds almost exactly like a gadget from Alias... Season 5, Episode 5, 'Out of the Box':

    "There is a tomographic camera right on the bottom there. It basically acts like an X-RAY or a CAT scan. It takes images layer by layer. See? Look at that. This will allow us to take images of the Desantis files... without ever having to remove them from their storage container."

    That episode aired in late 2005. Perhaps the writer should have patented it...

    Alias is still on Netflix until the 15th of this month, for w

  • One of the major potential uses for this technology is the ability to scan and OCR books. The current process requires either cutting the binding and then scanning each page one by one, or using error prone page flipping machines. Both are slow and expensive to operate. With this tech, one could conceivably take a single 3D image, and capture all of the pages in the book without ever opening it.
  • it allows the researchers to tell the different between ink and blank paper.

    But it can't tell the different between "different" and "difference."

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Tuesday September 13, 2016 @06:57AM (#52877819)
    I'm hoping they made sure all that energy can't do long-term damage to the book they scan.
    Still, it does remind me of what they did in Inherit The Stars.
  • Using this terahertz method, once you get deeper into the book the paper and print from previous pages get in the way.
    Here in the future we do things differently. We collide waves from two different directions that could permeate the paper and print unaffected, such that they intersect at the point of interest, and then emit some new wave with a characteristic dependent on the material in which they intersected (blank paper, air, or ink), which can also permeate the paper and print unaffected, and can be d

  • Well, I guess now we know how Superman's X-ray vision works. I remember at least a couple occasions where he stops reading a book thru a wall (or some such) because, in his own explanation, continued use of his X-ray power could overheat the book and set it on fire.

    Does make you wonder whether Empedocles and Plato [wikipedia.org] were from Krypton.

  • This is a new way to cook the books.
    --
    I believe a man should follow his dreams ... at a safe distance -- Joe Martin

  • This is going to be used by intelligence agencies to scan documents without having to look at individual pages.
  • Sci-Fi Author, James P. Hogan, used a device of this description in his trilogy, the Minervan Experiment, to view a 100,000 year old document so dessicated from exposure to the Moon's vacuum it could not be opened...

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