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Researchers from Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University envision a new world in which hidden tags or watermarks will be embedded into everyday objects and revealed by scanners that take advantage of a little-used slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.

InfraStructs-ApplicatonsRobotThe researchers say the use of 3D printing techniques in combination with Terahertz imaging will open up new scenarios in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Inventory management, potentially replacing barcodes with an identification tag that can be hidden inside the object.
  • Video games, helping a game console recognize the position of a gamer’s weapon or shield, for example.
  • and everyday household applications, allowing a robot to quickly identify the objects in a room by detecting their hidden tags.

Their research project, dubbed InfraStructs, is detailed in a new paper published in conjunction with the ACM SIGGRAPH computer graphics and technology conference in Anaheim, Calif. The research was led by Karl Willis of Carnegie Mellon University, working as a Microsoft Research intern, alongside Microsoft researcher Andy Wilson.

Their paper shows how 3D printing can be used to embed hidden tags inside everyday physical objects. The information encoded in those tags can then be revealed using Terahertz imaging, which can see through materials including plastics commonly used by 3D printers.

“It’s a little analogous to how people are using bar codes … except for the fact that it doesn’t disrupt the visual appearance of the object,” Wilson explained in an interview.

One advantage of Terahertz scanning, the researchers note, is that it can see through everyday objects that other types of electromagnetic scanning can’t safely penetrate. Terahertz imaging has been a largely unexplored area of the electromagnetic spectrum, Wilson said, but it’s now becoming more practical with the emergence of more Terahertz imaging devices.

Apart from identifying the object, the technique can be used to determine the object’s position and orientation in relation to the Terahertz camera, by looking at the positioning of the hidden tag, which can be three-dimensional, as well.

Read the full research paper here: PDF. This is an example of Microsoft Research’s focus on basic research, and doesn’t necessarily signal any plans by the company to incorporate this technology into future products.

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