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 Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Santa BarbararoboticsUniversity of California

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

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

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?