Could drones get X-ray vision through Wi-Fi?

Radio signals that see through walls might end up on drones

Researchers have developed mobile robots that can use Wi-Fi signals to effectively "see through" walls. It's raising the possibility of flying drones using the technology to see inside buildings.

Led by Yasamin Mostofi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, the group at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) has shown how the radio signals sent and received by a pair of wheeled robots can provide information about what lies behind concrete walls even when the objects do not move.

Depending on their properties, objects behind a wall will attenuate the radio signals. As the robots make multiple passes around on either side of a walled-off area, one robot measures signals broadcast by the other.

Differences in signal strength can reflect the presence of hidden objects, according to the researchers, who formulated a wave-propagation model for the project.

The approach, which has a targeted resolution of 2 centimeters, can show the location and shape of hidden objects, and has the potential to classify them as wood, metal or human.

Researchers at MIT previously developed a similar X-ray-style technology using Wi-Fi signals that they called Wi-Vi, but it's designed to track moving objects or people. Mostofi's group wants to be able to get a view of what lies behind thick walls made of brick or concrete.

"We have been interested in truly seeing through walls, meaning seeing every square inch on the other side with high accuracy, figuring out where all the objects are, as well as their geometry and material type, without any prior knowledge," Mostofi wrote in an email.

"With Wi-Fi signals everywhere, it is very important to understand what they can naturally tell us about our environment. Also, with robots/drones becoming more and more part of our near-future society, it is just natural to see what the automation of this process can do."

Drones have already been mooted as vehicles for providing Wi-Fi to remote areas as well as potential rogue access points that can steal data from wireless networks.

Mostofi's group is now experimenting with a commercial aerial drone to see how well it can perform the X-ray feat. Multiple drones could be used to scan a concealed area, Mostofi said, or the receiver could be a ground-based robot or fixed node.

"In principle, this should also give us a nice 3D view, because you can change the height, as opposed to 2D imaging," she said.

The UCSB system could be used for applications including search and rescue, detecting potential home intruders before entering a house or as health-monitoring systems for elderly patients.

One limitation of the technology is that as the area to be scanned gets more cluttered or larger, the accuracy of the imaging can go down, Mostofi said.

She and collaborators plan to work on improving the approach before it can be commercialized, which would depend on the application and the degree of accuracy needed.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags roboticsUniversity of CaliforniaSanta Barbara

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?