From personal security to custom clothing, better-fitting prosthetics to virtual reality video games—the list of potential applications for a new three-dimensional imaging technology developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory goes on and on.
"We're talking about different variations on the same theme," said Gary Morgan, commercialization manager for the holographic imaging technology that could be customized for different markets. "This technology can generate images of items that otherwise are hidden because they are inside, behind or beneath solid objects."
The imaging system was originally developed for the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies to detect plastic explosives and nonmetallic threats. It relies on nonharmful, ultrahigh-frequency radio waves with wavelengths on the order of one centimeter. These low-power waves can penetrate clothing and other nonmetallic objects.
"To put it simply, the system rapidly scans objects and sends reflected signals into a high-speed image processing computer," said Doug McMakin, an engineer who helped develop the technology. "The computer produces a high-resolution 3-D image from the data."
Researchers already have applied the technology to several other areas and are pursuing a number of new applications. They expect even more exciting applications to arise as commercialization moves forward.
Precise garment fitting: People could enter a kiosk in a shopping mall, fully clothed, and leave in a few moments with either a 3-D image of their body or a complete set of volumetric measurements on a disk. When combined with software that the Laboratory is developing for "fit-prediction" and "virtual try-on," the measurements would address the biggest drawbacks of e-commerce apparel sales—the inability to try on clothes or have confidence they will fit.
An end to one-size-fits-all: Accurate measurements of a person's size and shape could lead to custom-sized safety equipment such as helmets and harnesses where a good fit improves protection. Patients could order prosthetics without repeated trips to a doctor or manufacturer for fittings. Aircraft cockpits and seats and airbags in vehicles also could be customized.
A better look inside, behind and beneath: The ability to "look" through walls and floors—even when they're made of cement—offers significant advantages over alternative methods to locate and inspect piping or wiring. Ground-penetrating imaging also could be useful in locating buried pipes, tanks or barrels. The technology has potential for quality control in manufacturing and assembling nonmetallic components, including composite materials.
Meeting in cyberspace: Graphic images that represent real people could meet in an on-line environment for a "virtual conference." Each figure would accurately reflect a person's looks, gestures and facial expressions. Using the same approach, a realistic image could be inserted into personalized virtual reality video games and movies.
For the benefit of society: Plastic anti-personnel landmines could be located by imaging through dry sand.
A measure of stealth: A hand-held camera has been built with the imaging technology to assist ground crews in verifying an aircraft's stealth characteristics. It captures the plane's radar reflection, which determines the condition of radar-absorbing material that keeps aircrafts from being detected.
Because the wide range of potential applications stems from the same basic technology, Pacific Northwest is seeking strategic partners and investors from various markets to leverage their combined resources and share the risk for further development and productization.
"The idea is to advance the base technology and then license customized products to individual contributors for specific fields of use," Morgan said.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.