WiFi Signals That Track People Through Walls Could Replace Wearables


MIT’s motion monitoring system that detects movement through walls could transform law enforcement, disaster relief, gaming and more.

Vashti Hallissey
  • 23 june 2014

Imagine your movements are being tracked by a wireless technology so powerful that it can work through walls and closed doors. It monitors your heart rate and breathing without you having to touch anything, and it would even be able to differentiate you from other people.

This could be bad news for burglars but good news for the rest of us, as it has the potential to transform the way we track health, monitor babies, catch criminals and play games.

It may sound like something from a sci-fi Big Brother, but it’s a reality thanks to the latest work from MIT’s Wireless Centre, hosted in the Computer Science and Artificial intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). A team, including professor of electrical engineering and computer science Dina Katabi, have created a system that monitors peoples’ movements using a wireless signal with the power of X-ray vision.

The system transmits a low-power WiFi signal and uses the reflections that bounce back to track motion. It can monitor tiny movements every second, such as the rise and fall of a person’s chest, determining heart rate with 99% accuracy. The system is able to differentiate between up to four people and even if you’re in a closed room or hiding behind a wall, the signal will still reach you.

The idea behind CSAIL’s wireless technology is to create an affordable way for people to measure their vital signs and those of their family. Previous wireless systems have been bulky and involved expensive radar technology only available to the military. This system is portable, low-power and accessible to the public.

Could this wireless technology spell the end of wearables? Health tracking devices such as Jawbone‘s UP, Pavlok and the Sprouting Monitor are all the rage but CSAIL’s motion tracking system provides some their key advantages without having to wear anything. The team are now working on ways for the system to recognise gestures, silhouettes and emotions, so that in the future it may be able to monitor both movements and moods.

This system has the potential to save lives as well as to track personal health. It could be used to detect survivors in search and rescue operations or to help police officers avoid an ambush by alerting them to criminals within a building.

It could also make gaming a lot more fun as it would free players from the screen. Users wouldn’t have to stand in front of a console and its camera any more because the wireless signal would be able to detect them wherever they were.

You can find out more about how CSAIL’s wireless technology works here:

And how it could be used as a baby monitor here:

[h/t] MIT

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