New Technology Uses Wi-Fi Signals To See Through Walls

MIT's RF Capture Technology. Youtube/MITCSAIL

A group of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has proven that science really can overcome all barriers – literally – by developing a new technology that can "see" through walls.

The technology, called RF Capture, emits wireless signals that pass through walls and reflect off people or objects on the other side, before being picked up again by the device and converted into an image. While the researchers behind the project insist that they are only just beginning to consider the ways in which the technology may be applied, a number of potential uses are already being explored. For instance, earlier this year the team – led by MIT's Wireless Center director Dina Katabi and PhD student Fadel Adib – was invited to the White House to present an eldercare system called Emerald, which uses similar technology to track a person’s movement through different rooms. While doing so, it monitors changes in heart rate and breathing in order to determine when a medical emergency has occurred, before automatically notifying the relevant authorities.

Emerald was developed using WiTrack, the precursor to RF Capture, which transmits low-power radio waves, roughly 100 times smaller than Wi-Fi signals. According to Adib, this enables WiTrack to be considerably more accurate than its predecessor, WiVi, which operated using Wi-Fi signals. The technology was first presented in 2013, provoking excitement over the possibility of developing video games that could detect users’ movements even in when they are in other rooms.

 

 

With the development of RF Capture, however, the stakes have been raised once again, as the technology is now able to differentiate between 15 different people standing on the other side of a wall, with an accuracy rate of 90%. Speaking ahead of the SIGGRAPH Asia Conference this week – to which the team has submitted a paper presenting its new development – Adib explained that the technology could have wide-ranging implications once it is perfected. For instance, it may enable filmmakers to do away with sensors and markers when converting live action into computer animation. On a more mundane level, the technology could also be used to track people’s movements through their homes in order to appropriately adjust temperature levels in different rooms.

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