Back To The Future: X Ray Glasses
You've probably seen the comic books with ads for X-Ray glasses or X-Ray Specs that promise to give the wearer amazing powers to see through solid objects like walls, and clothing ... girls clothing, naturally, since adolescent boys are the targeted audience. If you happened to be one of those who sent off for a pair with hard earned money saved from an allowance or paper route you were, no doubt, disappointed. Then again admit it, you've probably always been curious to know how they work, right?
Sorry to disappoint but, X-Ray Specs won't help you see through anything solid, let alone clothing. From the beginning the "glasses" have been a novelty product intended ONLY to create the illusion of seeing through solid objects. To see through walls and other things, you'll need something far more substantial and expensive. Something like, say, an x-ray machine.
Not surprisingly, the idea for X-Ray Specs is based on the 1895 discovery by William Röntgen of x-rays - a form of invisible, high frequency, electromagnetic radiation. To the average person, the invisible rays seemed mysterious and magical. But since they were widely used in medical applications, scientists and medical professionals possessed a good understanding. Meanwhile, the general public's ongoing cluelessness was compounded by misinformation propagated by popular movies and comic book superheroes like Superman, whose x-ray vision allowed him to see through just about anything.
X-Ray Specs were introduced as a gag item in the 1940s by the S.S. Adams Co., established in 1906 as the Cachoo Sneezing Powder Company and currently the "world's largest manufacturer of pranks and magic tricks." Along the way, S.S. Adams became known as the Ford (as in Henry Ford) of the practical joke industry for its innovation and as purveyors of kitsch and schlock exemplified by novelty products like joy buzzers and snake jam - an innocent-looking jar labeled raspberry jam from which a 30-inch coiled, fake snake abruptly emerged when opened.
You can still buy the glasses. They
usually consist of 1950s-style, heavy plastic frames of the type favored by
Superman's Clark Kent. The lenses are of layered cardboard bearing a
"mesmerizing" painted design, most often a spiral, though some feature
holograms and other designs. In the center of each lens is a
quarter-inch hole through which the wearer looks. Sandwiched between the
cardboard layers, and glued in place over the viewing hole is a feather.
It's the feather through which the viewer looks that creates the illusion. The closeness of the feather's fine vanes and barbs distorts the view of whatever is seen through the viewing holes. The wearer sees two slightly offset images that outline a darker, solid-appearing image where the two images overlap.
In recent years, technological advances have led to the development of personal viewing devices that have advanced the concept of XRay vision from the realm of amusement to reality.
Since 2006 Urban City Apparel of Louisville KY has been selling "XRay Vision Infrared Sun Glasses" featuring "military grade filters and injected chemicals" that allow the wearer to see into the infrared spectrum, and to even see through certain types of clothing... provided the Sun is bright enough. Several styles with list prices up to $3,000 are available and can be purchased for prices ranging from $75 to $500.
Like the original XRay Specs, these sun glasses are marketed as novelty items, albeit with a slightly different disclaimer: "Strictly sold as a novelty item for outdoor use only - No batteries required! Just add to high powered Sun lighting to unleash the power."
Actual XRay glasses that are available for purchase in the here and now were the subject of a story by my fellow Inventor Spot blogger John P. Barker at "I Can See Your Boobs; X-Ray Glasses Become a Reality".
These wonder XRay Glasses are an outgrowth of consumer product research by Sony, and is related to technologies used by those oh so friendly and helpful TSA agents at an airport near you. The device includes a palm-sized DVD recorder, is powered by a small power source, and produces a range of infrared light. Reflected imagery is viewable (and recordable) by the person wearing the glasses. Sounds pretty harmless, right? Perhaps, until you consider that many bathing suits are made of "breathable" cotton easily penetrated by UV rays to allow the wearer to achieve a more natural, all-over tan. Cool, scary, and at around $2,400 a pop, costly.
Like almost all consumer product evolution, however, increased consumer demand is generally accompanied by increased sales and, over time, lower prices. Consequently, the cost is likely to come down dramatically over the course of the next few years.
And while new and more costly, whiz-bang products like XRay Vision Infrared Sun Glasses and XRay Glasses represent a quantum leap over what was once little more than a gimmick, they have generated renewed interest in the original gag product.
Answers.com, Genii Magazine/Magicpedia, Inspired Geek.com, Made How.com, My Eyes Pop.com, Wikipedia.org, Wizzley.com