We know that X-Ray vision has been a dream in science fiction for decades. The ability of seeing through walls has captured the imagination of everyone who’s ever wondered whether such a technology would ever exist. However, researchers at MIT have come one step closer to science fiction.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed software that uses radio signals to envision humans through walls. Or, any living thing for that matter. Led by Professor Dina Katabi, the technology can track humans, even those not the same room, using a form of WiFi.
Research on this technology started in 2012 by studying wireless communication signals for computer vision. Called RF Capture, wireless signals which bounce off of human bodies are analyzed. This allows the software to ‘see’ an object very clearly, including identifying an individual, his location and even hand movements.
“At first we were just interested. Can you use wireless signals to detect what is happening in occluded spaces, behind a wall, couch…something like that. It turned out that we were able to detect that. And when we figured out we could detect that, we started asking more advanced questions: Could we use it to detect exactly how people are moving in a space if they are behind a wall?” said Katabi.
When the device is powered on, signals are shown on the screen which allow a person to be monitored on a real-time basis, shown as a red dot. The technology can also measure heart rate and breathing.
Katabi says the technology can be used to assist healthcare providers track the movement of elderly people and children. If some unfortunate incident occurs, the device can send a text alert to the caretaker. Also, the technology can assist law enforcement and the defense industry. And yes, the individual will not have to strap on any additional equipment in order for the device to work.
“Think of it just like cameras, except that it’s not a camera. It is a sensor that can monitor people and allow you to control devices just by pointing at them,” said Fadel Adib, researcher at MIT.
To supplement this further, a group of researchers from CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab) at MIT created a company, called Emerald, which is going to release a version in 2017 for $250-$300. The researchers are looking to improve the device by making it smaller, and by allowing users to operate the device through a smartphone.
Although the system presents many privacy issues, the researchers were smart enough to already take these into account. “The user interface will be friendly for setting it up and using it at home, but it will be very hard to use it to track someone just by pointing it at their wall. Think of it this way; your smartphone already has wireless signals that can traverse walls, but how many people can use these signals to actually see through walls? The reason people can’t do that is that the user interface does not expose this information.”