MIT Researchers Have Created a Camera That Can Read Through Closed Books

Imagine a camera that can read top-down through closed book or novel. A team of five researchers from MIT and Georgia Tech have done just that. They have developed a camera that uses terahertz radiation to read the content of a closed book.

The researchers developed the camera based on terahertz radiation. For the uninitiated, terahertz radiation is also known as submillimeter radiation, terahertz waves, tremendously high frequency, T-rays or T-wave. Terahertz radiation is one of the bands of electromagnetic radiation that falls between microwaves and infrared light. One of its properties is that it can penetrate surfaces. Additionally, different materials absorb different terahertz radiation at various frequencies.

The MIT researchers have used the very quality of terahertz radiation to created a camera. This camera that emits terahertz radiation and then measures the time it gets a reflection and for which frequencies. This radiation passes through the book’s cover and is reflected and absorbed in pages, the air gaps between them, and the chemicals used to print the letters.

By knowing how terahertz radiation waves interact with air, researchers are able to distinguish between different pages of the book. The same for the letters’ chemicals. To translate the terahertz radiation data into a human interface, the researchers have also developed  software that can read imagery created by the camera and distinguish between overlaid letters, in case the camera reads and jumbles together characters from different pages.

“It’s actually kind of scary,” Barmak Heshmat, one of the researchers, says of this software. “A lot of websites have these letter certifications [captchas] to make sure you’re not a robot, and this algorithm can get through a lot of them.”

Currently, researchers say their camera can only scan books as deep as 20 pages, and read the letters on only the first nine. However, further research could help develop a better camera that can read to through huge tomes.

The application for this camera is tremendous. Imagine a really ancient manuscript from the Greek period. The ancient scrolls are so fragile that even touching them can render the priceless antique unusable. This camera can scan through such manuscripts without even touching them giving scientists and archeologists a whole new window to work on.

MIT says that The Metropolitan Museum in New York showed genuine interest in their discovery. Their invention could be used to read old manuscripts that Museum employees say are so frail, they’re afraid to touch.