MIT Researchers Create A Way To See Through Walls: Wi-Vi

Using WiFi to “see through walls” and track people when they’re moving could be a new feature on your next smartphone, if MIT researchers have their way, with a low-cost method of tracking relying on the wireless connectivity.  Researchers at MIT felt that a stranger having access to your wireless network wasn't scary enough, so they developed a way for someone to use Wi-Fi signals as a sort of x-ray vision to track a person's movements in another room. This project is known as Wi-Vi.

Borrowing similar techniques as used with radar and sonar, the Wi-Vi system—as the researchers have called it—sends out a pair of inverse wireless signals as pings. When they hit something stationary, they cancel each other out, but when an object is in motion it creates an offset between the signals that can be processed to determine where and how fast it's moving.

A person’s movement is tracked based on changes in distance from the receiver. The longer it takes for the reflected signal to make it back to the receiver, the farther away the person is. The system then generates a graph of their position over time. It is not a literal image of the person, but it can be used to infer if they are walking, running or something else. Zero movement registers as a flat line, but minor movements are easily picked up.

Low-power WiFi signal tracks movement, even behind walls
Although sonar and radar are nowhere near new, they’re also expensive to add to a mobile device. In contrast, Wi-Vi relies on off-the-shelf hardware, simply 2.4GHz WiFi radios. That opens the door to integrating it into regular smartphones, which invariably already feature wireless support.

The MIT team behind the project have some big ambitions for Wi-Vi. The scanning technology could be used by law enforcement and emergency services personnel, to identify hiding suspects, potential hazards, and people trapped in wreckage or rubble. It could also have a role in smart homes, being used to track movement and activity to control lighting, heating, and other environmental features, or perhaps move A/V content around to follow the listener.


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Write by: RC - Monday, July 1, 2013

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