Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a creative new use for Wi-Fi that, as they describe in a recently released statement, can transform a person in a home or office environment into a sort-of Superman.
The wireless signals we're talking about don't give them the ability to punch through steel or shoot lasers from their eyes, but they do grant anyone a kind of X-ray vision that gives them the ability to see through the various walls and objects within their wireless environment.
You can probably guess how this system works, but here's the short version: "Wi-Vi," as the MIT researchers dub it, is kind of like radar imaging, in that the system uses a low-powered Wi-Fi signal to track where human beings happen to be in a particular space based on how the wireless signal bounces off them.
The tricky part? Getting a method that allows researchers to discern when said wireless signal has bounced off a squishy human instead of, say, a desk or a plant.
"To do this, the system uses two transmit antennas and a single receiver. The two antennas transmit almost identical signals, except that the signal from the second receiver is the inverse of the first. As a result, the two signals interfere with each other in such a way as to cancel each other out. Since any static objects that the signals hit — including the wall — create identical reflections, they too are cancelled out by this nulling effect," reads MIT's statement.
MIT's device uses a single receiver to track people as they move through a particular space – giving the system the capacity to evaluate a person's distance from said receiver as a function of how long a particular signal takes to bounce back to the device.
Two caveats with the technology, however: MIT's description of "X-ray vision" is a bit misleading, in the sense that it's not as if a person staring at a computer monitor, can view the actual shape and form of a person as they travel around a particular space. While that sounds like a bit of a bummer for those expecting more of a sci-fi-themed version of the technology, Wi-Vi does allow a person with a handheld device to detect movement, which gives the technology numerous practical applications.
"Wi-Vi, being presented at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong in August, could be used to help search-and-rescue teams to find survivors trapped in rubble after an earthquake, say, or to allow police officers to identify the number and movement of criminals within a building to avoid walking into an ambush," reads MIT's release.