MIT works to make X-ray vision a reality

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — X-ray vision, a comic book fantasy for decades, is becoming a reality in a lab at MIT.

See Full Article

A group of researchers led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dina Katabi has developed software that uses variations in radio signals to recognize human silhouettes through walls and track their movements.

Researchers say the technology will be able to help health care providers and families keep closer tabs on toddlers and the elderly, and it could be a new strategic tool for law enforcement and the military.

"Think of it just like cameras, except that it's not a camera," said Fadel Adib, a researcher on the MIT team developing the device.

"It's a sensor that can monitor people and allow you to control devices just by pointing at them," he said.

Work began in 2012 to determine how wireless signals could be used to "see" what's happening in another room, said Katabi, who directs the MIT Wireless Center.

"At first we were just interested ... can you at all use wireless signals to detect what's happening in occluded spaces, behind a wall, couch, something like that," Katabi said.

"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?"

The device displays the signal on a screen, where the person's movements can be tracked in real time. It depicts the target as a red dot moving around the room, occupying a chair and speeding up or slowing down.

The wireless signals used to track a person's motions also can measure the individual's breathing and heart rate — and potentially identify the person based on the shape of his or her skeleton, said researcher Zach Kabelac.

"The person won't be wearing anything on them, and the person it's tracking doesn't even need to know the device is there," Kabelac said.

"If something unfortunate happens to them, like a fall, the device will contact the caregiver that they chose to alert" by generating a text message or an email, he added.

That makes health care applications especially interesting, Katabi said. But she also sees military and law enforcement possibilities — particularly in hostage situations.

"You don't want to send the police inside without knowing where the people are standing or where the hostages are," she said. "If there is someone with a gun, where they are standing?"

A company set up to market the technology, now dubbed Emerald, will spin out of the MIT lab next year, with a goal of marketing the device early in 2017, and it's expected to sell for $250-$300, Adib said. The team is working to make the device smaller and to develop an interface that will let users configure it through a smartphone app, Katabi added.

The technology raises questions about privacy rights and intrusion, and Adib said the team gave serious thought to those implications.

"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," he said.

"Think of it this way: Your cellphone 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."

-----

Associated Press writer William J. Kole in Boston contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • RBC joining global tech giants in setting up lab in AI-friendly Montreal

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Canada's largest bank is joining global tech giants in setting up a research lab in Montreal to take advantage of the city's growing artificial intelligence expertise. The Royal Bank of Canada will open a Borealis AI lab in the new year, joining labs in Toronto and Edmonton. Source
  • Archeologists find Roman shipwrecks off Egypt's north coast

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAIRO -- Egypt says archaeologists have discovered three sunken shipwrecks dating back more than 2,000 years to Roman times off the coast of the city of Alexandria. Tuesday's statement from Mostafa Waziri, the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, says the discovery was made in collaboration with the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology. Source
  • UofT prof documents ancient practice of carving churches out of rock

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ten years ago Michael Gervers visited an ancient church cut into the side of a cliff in a remote region of Ethiopia. The history professor with the University of Toronto had been hunting down antiquities as part of his research on Christian artifacts when locals took him to the area. Source
  • Cigar-shaped asteroid is a visitor from beyond the solar system

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A rocky cigar-shaped object detected in space last month came from another solar system, astronomers said Monday as they confirmed an unprecedented observation. The discovery may provide clues as to how other solar systems formed, said the researchers, who published their study in the British journal Nature. Source
  • Autonomous ships on the horizon for Great Lakes

    Tech & Science CBC News
    One day the freighter you see coming up the Detroit River might not have a crew aboard. The day of autonomous ships is soon dawning. A Norwegian company will be launching a container vessel next year that it expects will not only navigate a river in Norway fully autonomously by 2020, but be battery powered as well. Source
  • Bali volcano spews ash and cloud, alert not raised

    Tech & Science CTV News
    JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali spewed ash and smoke Tuesday, but authorities said its alert level remained unchanged. National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the minor eruption began at about 5 p.m. Source
  • Fatbergs to fuel: London's blockage-busting battle in the sewers

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In London's 19th-century sewers, crews in coveralls are waging a 21st-century battle. They're blasting away a monster that feeds on grease and garbage, and its name reflects the beast's potency for revulsion: Fatberg. The monstrosity — a foul-smelling, congealed mass of grease, oil, fat and garbage — is born innocently enough. Source
  • Marine mammals fight for salmon in Pacific Northwest

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Harbour seals, sea lions and some fish-eating killer whales have been rebounding along the Northeast Pacific Ocean in recent decades. But that boom has come with a trade-off: they're devouring more of the salmon prized by a unique but fragile population of endangered orcas. Source
  • Mars theory gets dusted: Streaks may be sand, not water

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A new study suggests that dark streaks on Mars represent flowing sand -- not water. Monday's news throws cold water on 2015 research that indicated that lines on some Martian slopes were signs of water currently on the planet. Source
  • Streaks on Mars likely flowing sand, not water, new research suggests

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new study suggests that dark streaks on Mars are signs of flowing sand — not water. Monday's news throws cold water on 2015 research that indicated these recurring slope lines were signs of water currently on Mars. Source