MIT Researchers Are Using New Tech To Look Through Walls

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Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to use wireless signals to get an accurate silhouettes of people on the other side of a wall.

You’re still a long ways from becoming a superhero

Anyone who bought comic books as far back as the 1940s, has been promised X-Ray vision, while that dream remains far from becoming a reality researchers are seemingly getting a bit closer.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists have developed a machine that sends wireless signals (even through walls) cascading against a person out of sight. From there the signals are returned to the device offering a silhouette of a person that once the image is built looks a bit like an image derived from heat-seeking sensors.

Apparently, parts of the process that functions similarly to Microsoft’s recently unveiled Kinect (which allows gamers to use both gestures and body movements to play) have been developed or worked on by Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab for nearly a decade.

In a study and findings set to be presented in November at the SIGGRAPH Asia conference, the device can now trace movement of both an entire silhouette or a specific body part like a hand or a foot.

The research is presently being led by student Fadel Adib and has the ability to tell up to 15 people apart from one another with a degree of accuracy over 90%.

What are the MIT device’s practical applications?

Firstly, the smart home could become a reality quicker. Appliances that read our gestures have been promised for some time with companies like Google’s Nest and Samsung leading the way. But neither of those companies have ever gone on record suggesting that they have developed a technology that would start your washing machine with a gesture from the other side of your home.

If the technology were made reliable enough, firefighters could conceivably state with confidence that a burning building was empty rather than risking life and limb entering an unstable and already dangerous structure. The group of MIT students and researchers have already spun off their device with something called Emerald that they hope could help caregivers monitor a care facility for accidents or falls.

“We’re working to turn this technology into an in-home device that can call 911 if it detects that a family member has fallen unconscious,” said researcher Dina Katabi, director of the MIT Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing. “You could also imagine it being used to operate your lights and TVs, or to adjust your heating by monitoring where you are in the house.”

Preliminary reports by researchers ahead of the Asian conference suggest that a new wireless signal will be used that uses less power than Wi-Fi as we know it while not interfering with said Wi-Fi or wireless devices.

Just like this year’s hover-boards, the device is limited

The resolution is just not there yet for it to be practical in the discussed applications as well as others.

Second, the device does not scan a person in their entirety, rather it builds a silhouette gradually as someone walks towards the device repeatedly.

However, any limitations outlined here are things that the MIT team believes it can overcome over time. The “failures” in its present device “can be addressed as our understanding of wireless reflections in the context of computer graphics and vision evolves,” according to director Katabi.

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About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at theflask@gmail.com

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