MIT Researchers Make Superman’s Greatest Power A Reality

Researchers at MIT have developed an X-Ray vision headset similar to Superman's powers.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

henry cavill superman

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an X-ray vision headset. The device combines computer vision and wireless perception that automatically locates items located under a stack of papers or inside a box. Users are then guided to retrieve the object. The Superman-like device has many applications in retail, manufacturing, smart homes, and more.

But the X-ray vision headset does have its limitations. Detailed in a paper titled Augmenting Augmented Reality with Non-Line-of-Sight Perception, the gadget doesn’t work exactly like Superman’s Kryptonian powers. Known as X-AR, the device uses radio signals to locate items that are labeled with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

These objects appear as a hologram which allows users to locate the items faster. Speaking about the X-ray vision headset, MIT Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and senior author of the study, Fadel Adib, said the project aims to create an augmented reality system that allows people to see objects that are invisible.

When the X-ray vision device was tested in a warehouse- setting, it quickly found localized hidden items to within 9.8 centimeters. It also verified that users picked up the correct object with 96 percent accuracy. To create the gadget, researchers fitted an existing headset with an antenna to communicate with RFID tags.

Although RFID systems use several antennas located meters apart, researchers only needed one that could achieve a bandwidth strong enough to alert the tags. Co-author of the X-ray vision paper, Aline Eid, said the biggest challenge was designing an antenna that would fit on the headset. It needed to work without obscuring the cameras or obstructing its operations.

superman x-ray vision

“This matters a lot since we need to use all the specs on the visor,” Eid explained in the press release. So the team used a simple, lightweight loop antenna and gradually altered its width. They added gaps to boost bandwidth until they created the perfect X-ray vision device. Additionally, the antenna was optimized to send and receive signals when attached to the visor.

In its current form, the X-ray vision headset doesn’t have the range or speed for mainstream use. However, Fadel Adib is confident that it will be a significant step forward for AR technology in general. “There isn’t anything like this today,” he said.

Managing Director of Industry Research at Microsoft, Ranveer Chandra, also raved about the innovation possibilities, though he was not involved in the study. “This paper takes a significant step forward by making [X-ray vision] work in non-line-of-sight scenarios,” he said.

While it may seem a little underwhelming, the device could assist warehouse workers tasked with locating stored items. The X-ray vision headset can also be used in a manufacturing facility, helping technicians find assembly parts and tools.

Meanwhile, researchers are still working to refine their X-ray vision device by investigating if its visualization and interaction features can be enhanced by using WiFi. They also hope to extend the range of the antenna. As such, Adib noted that while the current work on the device is groundbreaking, there is also a potential for improvement.