MIT researchers develop camera that can read books without opening them

You've almost surely heard the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover," but what if you could read a book through its cover? Because that's basically what researchers from MIT and Georgia Tech are able to do with a new imaging system that can read individual pages without opening the cover. In a new study published on Friday, the researchers detail their system that can read the text on a stack of up to nine pages without the need to flip through them.

While it sounds like X-ray vision, the technique is called terahertz radiation, where the imaging process can pass through layers of paper, but is reflected differently by ink. X-rays can't make this distinction, while ultrasound doesn't offer the same depth resolution. The different light reflections allows the imaging system to distinguish paper and ink, while air pockets measuring just 20-microns deep help it determine different pages.

While the technology is still in the early stages, the researchers have been able to identify the distances between the first 20 pages of a book, and recognize individual letters printed on the first nine. The goal now is to improve the system's accuracy, as well as the radiation source that would allow it to identify text beyond the first nine pages.

While it sounds like it would be much easier to just open a book to read it, the hope is that the system could be used analyze artifacts and antiques that could be damaged. The researchers note that the Metropolitan Museum in New York has expressed interest in using the technology to look inside books they don't want to physically touch. Similarly, the imaging system could be used on other objects, such as the layers of paint on a piece of art, or on archaeological materials that have been stacked tightly together.