Researchers use Wi-Fi signals to see through walls

x-ray vision

If you could have any super power in the world, which one would it be? Would you want to shoot lasers out of your eyes? Perhaps you’d prefer the ability to read a person’s thoughts? Or maybe seeing through walls would be more your thing.

If you answered the latter of the three, you may be able to get your wish sooner than you think. Dina Katabi, a professor for MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, along with graduate student Fadel Adib, are working on a means to do just that, using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. 

The technology, which Katabi has dubbed Wi-Vi, works sort of like sonar; using the device the two created, they can send out two nearly identical, modified wireless signals which are then reflected by the presence of any human body and bounced back. When the signals hit a static object, like a wall, they’re canceled out. “If the person moves behind the wall,” explained Adib, “all reflections from static objects are canceled out, and the only thing registered by the device is the moving human.” Once the device has canceled out all static objects, it can then focus on tracking the moving object. 

So it may not be exactly like having X-Ray vision, but it’s pretty darn cool. And there’s practical use for it. This sort of technology could help speed up rescue efforts for anyone trapped in the rubble of a building after a damaging earthquake, for example. It could be used as a safety precaution for anyone nervous about walking alone at night. And Katabi says that it could even could be used for gesture-based controlling, whether it’s shutting off the lights or playing a video game. 

Katabi plans to formally introduce the technology this August at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong. How long it will take before this technology starts being used has yet to be determined, but it’s already gotten the attention of Microsoft, as a possible means of stepping up its gaming abilities.

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