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.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Here's how to protect your privacy on Facebook

    Tech & Science CTV News
    As Facebook takes heat after it was disclosed that a U.K.-based company improperly obtained data from 50 million users, now’s a great time to look over your Facebook account’s privacy settings. But first, some background. Source
  • Alberta suspends caribou protection plan, asks for assistance from Ottawa

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Alberta is suspending portions of its draft plan to protect threatened woodland caribou, saying more research needs to be done and that Ottawa needs to help out. Environment Minister Shannon Phillips told the house Monday that the province is acting on concerns about the economic impacts of the protection plan. Source
  • BlackBerry says new software bridge to Microsoft products will increase security

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BlackBerry Ltd. is launching a new way to enhance the security of commonly-used Microsoft Corp. cloud and mobility software in response to increased customer awareness of the need to protect sensitive information. The two companies jointly announced Monday that they've collaborated on a software bridge between Microsoft's suite of applications and BlackBerry's highly-secure operating environment for enterprises. Source
  • Uber halts self-driving test in Toronto after Arizona pedestrian death

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Uber said Monday it has paused its testing of autonomous cars, including in Toronto, after a pedestrian fatality overnight in Tempe, Ariz. A spokesperson for Uber Canada confirmed the company has halted tests in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto. Source
  • Notorious Russian online troll farm also took swipes at Canadian targets

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The same Russian online troll farm that meddled in the U.S. presidential election has also taken swipes at Canadian targets, including the country's oil infrastructure and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Evidence is embedded in data made publicly available through investigations in the United States, where congressional probes have been examining Russian information campaigns following the 2016 presidential election. Source
  • Cigar-shaped interstellar visitor likely came from 2-star system

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Our interstellar visitor last fall likely came from a two-star system. That's the latest from astronomers who were amazed by the mysterious cigar-shaped object, detected as it passed through our inner solar system. Source
  • 5G wireless telecommunication corridor slated for Ontario, Quebec

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec are partnering with some of the world's digital heavyweights to usher in the next generation of wireless technology. A $400-million, public-private investment will create a 5G wireless corridor through Canada's two largest provinces, which will support the growing network of physical devices, vehicles and other objects that are increasingly communicating directly with each other. Source
  • Robots break new ground in construction industry

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- As a teenager working for his dad's construction business, Noah Ready-Campbell dreamed that robots could take over the dirty, tedious parts of his job, such as digging and levelling soil for building projects. Source
  • Century-old shipwreck found in Lake Erie, 8 died in sinking

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- Shipwreck hunters say they've discovered the remains of a steamer that sank in Lake Erie over a century ago and left eight people dead. The National Museum of the Great Lakes says the wreck is several miles off the Ohio shore near Lorain, about 48 kilometres west of Cleveland. Source
  • Alberta First Nation fears for bison herd if mega oilsands mine opens

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Dene elder Roy Ladouceur's voice grows quiet as his eyes settle on a cellphone photo of a bison slaughtered by poachers. The animal from the Ronald Lake herd, which grazes in the boreal forest between Fort McMurray and the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, has been decapitated, its body left to waste away in blood-splattered snow. Source