U develops system to see through walls

By By Deborah Rafferty

By Deborah Rafferty

If the Joker was ever hiding in a building waiting to blow up boatloads of people, U scientists could now use a preliminary version of Batman’s sonar technology to find him.

Joey Wilson, a graduate student in electrical engineering, along with Neal Patwari, assistant professor in the U department of electrical and computer engineering, developed a tracking system that Wilson said “can see through walls.”

“It’s a way of creating images and tracking images through radio frequencies,” said Sarang Joshi, associate professor of bioengineering, who also worked on the project. “We can image what is happening behind walls.”

The devices they created transmit radio waves that are small enough to move through walls. When people move within the building surrounded by these devices, their bodies disturb the radio signal, allowing whoever is operating the system to pinpoint their locations.

It’s just like in “The Dark Knight” when Batman turned all of Gotham’s cell phones into sonar devices to pinpoint where in the city the Joker was hiding, and subsequently scanned his hideout for the location of all hostages, henchmen and SWAT teams inside8212;except the researcher’s radio signals wouldn’t have to rely on phones, or any other tracking devices.

“There are a lot of tracking devices that exist, but most require you to carry a device or have an identification system to help locate you,” Wilson said. “There is a need to help you locate someone who is not carrying a device.”

“The Dark Knight” scenario is actually one way the researchers think this technology could be used. Law enforcement could benefit from this technology, Joshi said. In a hostage situation, this device could be used to locate where hostages are being held inside a building. It could also help law enforcement figure out the best and safest locations to enter a building, or if it is not safe to enter at all, Joshi said.

Health care workers could use this system to monitor senior citizens within their homes. The health care workers could know when the senior citizens get out of bed, move around the house and be able to locate them if there was trouble, Wilson said. This system could also be used within businesses if they wanted to save on heating. The device could report the number of people within the building to the heating system, which would then adjust the temperature depending on that number, Wilson said.

The main complaint Wilson receives about his system regards the perceived invasion of privacy, to which he said that cameras are already in place in most of these areas. However, this device does not show the faces of those in the surveyed areas. This system provides security without the invasion of being on a camera, Wilson said.

“This is not a final system,” Wilson said. “The next step is to find the right funding to develop the next steps (to prepare) it for commercial form.”

Wilson has created a start-up company, Xandem, to help gain better funding to further his research. He said this system has limitations, which is to be expected in new technology. In the future, he said he wishes to improve the resolution of the images produced. At present, the system works easily with only one person. However, adding multiple people makes it more difficult to differentiate between them, another aspect he would like to improve in future systems, Wilson said.

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