'X-Ray Vision' Could Be the Next Superpower You Get With Augmented Reality

With Microsoft's HoloLens and a special application developed by MIT researchers, AR can be used to find hidden objects.

Jesse Orrall Senior Video Producer
Jesse Orrall (he/him/his) is a Senior Video Producer for CNET. He covers future tech, sustainability and the social impact of technology. He is co-host of CNET's "What The Future" series and Executive Producer of "Experts React." Aside from making videos, he's a certified SCUBA diver with a passion for music, films, history and ecology.
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Jesse Orrall
2 min read

X-ray vision might not be strictly for superheroes much longer, thanks to a new application of a familiar technology.

Augmented reality offers a layer of virtual content that usually goes on top of the picture of the world taken in by our eyes, but researchers at MIT are using AR to help us see beyond barriers in a kind of "X-ray vision" they're calling X-AR.


The flexible X-AR antenna on Microsoft's HoloLens.


X-AR is powered by a flexible antenna that adds a sort of "sixth sense" to the HoloLens, allowing it to locate specific objects that are outside the wearer's line of sight, as long as they're marked with a widely used item known as a radio frequency identification tag and less than 15 feet away.

The prototype of this system is built as an add-on to Microsoft's HoloLens, but researchers say it could be applied to other augmented reality headsets down the line.


X-AR being tested in a warehouse-like setting.


The research team developed their own HoloLens app that directs the wearer toward the desired object and alerts them whether or not the correct object has been picked up using the HoloLens' built-in hand tracking features.

Potential applications for this technology right now include use in warehouses, shipping, retail and other places where RFID tags are commonly used. However, researchers say the potential applications of this sort of technology goes much further -- including determining whether food is safe to eat, and aiding search and rescue efforts in the event of a disaster.

To watch X-AR in action and see our interview with members of the research team that created it, check out the video in this article.