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

  • Driverless hover-taxi makes first 'concept' flight in Dubai

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Dubai has edged closer to its goal of launching a pioneering hover-taxi service, with the authorities announcing a successful "concept" flight was made on Monday without passengers. Safety features for the two-seater air taxi include emergency parachutes and nine independent battery systems, according to Dubai's Road and Transport Authority (RTA). Source
  • 'Fatberg' found in Baltimore sewer system after overflow

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BALTIMORE -- A massive "fatberg" made up of congealed fat, wet wipes and other waste has been named as the culprit in a sewer overflow in Baltimore. The overflow discharged about 1.2 million gallons of sewage into the Jones Fall stream last week. Source
  • Multiple challenges remain to Fukushima nuclear cleanup

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOKYO -- Japan's government approved a revised road map Tuesday to clean up the radioactive mess left at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after it was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Source
  • 'Critter shelf' project aims to help wildlife cross NY roads

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BOONVILLE, N.Y. -- The New York state Department of Transportation and The Nature Conservancy are testing a new "critter shelf" installed in a highway culvert to help wildlife cross safely. The structure was installed this summer inside a 138-foot-long, 14-foot-tall culvert south of Boonville, in central New York. Source
  • Japan's Fukushima cleanup plan delays removal of fuel rods

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOKYO -- Japan's government on Tuesday approved a revision of its 30-to-40-year plan to decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant, delaying by three more years the removal of radioactive fuel rods stored at two of the three reactors damaged in the 2011 disaster. Source
  • WhatsApp service disrupted in China as censorship tightens

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- The encrypted messaging service WhatsApp suffered intermittent disruptions in China on Tuesday as communist authorities tightened censorship ahead of a major ruling party meeting. Attempts to set up new WhatsApp accounts on some cellphones were met with network error messages. Source
  • Russia threatens to block Facebook next year

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MOSCOW -- Russia's communications watchdog has threatened to block the access to Facebook next year if the company does not store its data locally. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that they will work to "make Facebook comply with the law" on personal data, which obliges foreign companies to store it in Russia. Source
  • Russia threatens to block Facebook over data storage

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MOSCOW -- In its latest attempt to wrest control of the Internet, Russia's communications agency on Tuesday threatened to block access to Facebook if the company refuses to store its data locally. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that they will work to "make Facebook comply with the law" on personal data, which obliges foreign companies to store it in Russia. Source
  • Twitter explains why Trump North Korea tweet wasn't removed

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Twitter is citing "newsworthiness" and the public interest as reasons why it didn't remove U.S. President Donald Trump's declaration in a tweet that North Korean leaders may not "be around much longer." Trump tweeted Saturday: "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. Source
  • Uber to announce it's leaving Quebec due to stricter government rules

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Just days after the company warned it may leave the province, Radio-Canada has confirmed Uber will cease operations in Quebec. Last week, an Uber statement said "new and challenging" provincial regulations "significantly threaten" the company's ability to continue operating. Source