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Millimeter-Wave Technology Sees (Almost) All

December 26, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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Millimeter-wave scanners may constitute the hot new imaging modality, at least for industrial uses. German scientists have developed a scanner the size of a laser printer that can image all nonmetallic materials so precisely that it can distinguish between different types of rubber composites or chocolate fillings.

The device even has a cuddly name: SAMMI, short for Stand Alone MilliMeter wave Imager. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques in Wachtberg, Germany, developed (and named) SAMMI. He/she/it is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) square and 32 centimeters (about 13 inches) high, and weighs just 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds).

Helmut Essen, PhD, head of the institute’s millimeter-wave radar and high-frequency sensors department, described some of SAMMI’s capabilities:

The system detects wooden splinters lurking in diapers, air pockets in plastic, breaks in bars of marzipan, and foreign bodies in foodstuffs. It can even detect and monitor the dehydration process in plants and how severely they have been stressed by drought.

Dr. Essen was quoted in an institute news release.

Millimeter waves can make much finer differentiations than X-rays, and without ionizing radiation. As we mentioned earlier this month, some full-body airport scanners use the technology. SAMMI can detect the grain in the wooden handle of a knife—and whether the handle is hollow. The image appears in real time on a fold-out display.

The system currently operates at 78 GHz. The researchers plan to upgrade to frequencies of 2 THz. “Then,” said Dr. Essen, “we’ll be in a position not just to detect different structures but also to establish which type of plastic a product is made from. That’s not possible at the moment.”

SAMMI takes 60 seconds to scan an area 30 by 30 millimeters, so it can make only spot checks. The researchers envision faster versions examining every object rolling off an assembly line for flaws—and checking luggage and packages for powders or other suspicious materials.

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