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A few months ago, I remember seeing a story about how a new microwave device could see through rubble to detect the beating heart of people trapped under a collapsed building. I immediately thought, wow that’s a good thing … ohhhh, wait a minute. Seeing through rubble; isn’t that the same as seeing through walls?
And here comes the dark side.
The enhancement of Wi-Fi is being labeled WiTrack. It marks a further development upon a discovery by MIT researchers back in June that they had called Wi-Vi. At the time, researchers were able to use dual signals to detect the general location of moving objects behind walls, but not an exact image.
WiTrack employs radio signals to pinpoint a person’s location more accurately. An MIT press release highlights the explanation of professor Dina Katabi and her graduate student Fadel Adib which illustrates the significant difference between Wi-Vi and WiTrack:
WiTrack operates by tracking specialized radio signals reflected off a person’s body to pinpoint location and movement. The system uses multiple antennas: one for transmitting signals and three for receiving. The system then builds a geometric model of the user’s location by transmitting signals between the antennas and using the reflections off a person’s body to estimate the distance between the antennas and the user. WiTrack is able to locate motion with significantly increased accuracy, as opposed to tracking devices that rely on wireless signals, according to Adib.
“Because of the limited bandwidth, you cannot get very high location accuracy using WiFi signals,” Adib says. “WiTrack transmits a very low-power radio signal, 100 times smaller than WiFi and 1,000 times smaller than what your cell phone can transmit. But the signal is structured in a particular way to measure the time from when the signal was transmitted until the reflections come back. WiTrack has a geometric model that maps reflection delays to the exact location of the person. The model can also eliminate reflections off walls and furniture to allow us to focus on tracking human motion.”
Here is a video demonstration of how this operates:
As if on cue, we are presented with the enormous benefits of this low-cost technology, while being given none of the potential negatives. In the video, we see the convenience element that would fit into the various applications of smart homes and the Internet of Things. Secondly, are video games, which would take the somewhat cumbersome Wii to entirely new levels. And leave it to MIT to pimp the two most military-oriented games on the market that would benefit:
Imagine playing a video game like Call of Duty or Battlefield and having the ability to lead your virtual army unit while moving freely throughout your house.
Yes, imagine further acclimating America’s youth to become even more involved in the realism that has become violent gaming based on military campaigns.
But for the real sales pitch, we have to look at disaster relief and personal safety, which is precisely what the rollout of the microwave device cited above set out to highlight.
Here is what was said about Wi-Vi a few months ago:
Researchers think the Wi-Vi system could also be used to find survivors in destroyed buildings or count and track criminals. Compared to previous military-oriented tracking systems, Wi-Vi is cheap, compact and lightweight, which makes it practical for consumer uses such as personal safety. Researchers now hope to improve the technology so it can work with denser walls over longer ranges. (emphasis added)
Or how about personal protection from WiTrack?
It could also be used as a personal safety device, Katabi says: “If you are walking at night and you have the feeling that someone is following you, then you could use it to check if there is someone behind the fence or behind a corner.” (Source)
Even though the new system is a huge advancement over Wi-Vi, Extreme Tech sees the applications as limited in their current form, but offers encouragement to those who look forward to future developments of this double-edged sword:
Still, even if WiTrack in its current incarnation isn’t that useful for gaming or other fine interface control, there are still plenty of other uses. Having a computer track you around your house, without the need for some kind of wearable beacon, could lead towards some very cool use cases — lights and devices that turn on when you enter a room, and turn off when you leave. WiTrack could be invaluable for detecting when old people fall over — a scenario that currently requires elderly patients to wear sensors, or have cameras track them. There are military uses for seeing through walls, of course. (Source) [emphasis added]
The electronic tracking and Internet surveillance that we all have been enduring at the hands of the NSA and their corporate partners pales in comparison to the real-world, real-time tracking that seems to be on the horizon beyond the virtual matrix.
As tech site GIGAOM opined with tongue in cheek to introduce one of their articles on the topic: This technology will “ruin hide and seek forever.”