Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Boston, MA, United States (4E) – Although in its infancy, a surprising technology makes it possible to “see” persons on the other side of a wall and tell what they’re doing.
This technology called “RF Pose” was developed by a team of researchers and students at MIT. RF Pose is an intelligent radar-like technology that accurately tracks a person hidden by a wall or inside a room.
It can tell if the person it sees is walking, sitting, standing or even waving. It can also identify individuals from a known group with a success rate of 83 percent. RF Pose doesn’t display the actual image of the person it’s looking at but a stick-like representation of this person somewhat similar to a crude cartoon figure.
The technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret radio wave data. Previous versions of the technology could detect a person’s silhouette behind a wall, but this is the first time it’s been possible to closely track and identify people.
“We’ve seen that monitoring patients’ walking speed and ability to do basic activities on their own gives health care providers a window into their lives that they didn’t have before, which could be meaningful for a whole range of diseases,” said Dina Katabi, a computer scientist at MIT and leader of the group.
The heart and soul of RF-Pose is a laptop-sized radio transmitter. The radio waves it transmits pass through walls but are reflected by human bodies because of their high water content. Computer algorithms analyze the reflected waves, homing in on the head, hands, feet and other key body parts to produce moving stick figures on a screen.
Katabi and her team trained RF-Pose by giving it photographs of people, as well as the crude images created by the reflected radio waves. RF-Posed eventually learned to produce a stick figure whenever its radio signals indicated the presence of a person.
Researchers are looking to use RF Pose to monitor the elderly or sick, as well as for other applications such as healthcare, law enforcement, search and rescue. The tech, however, raises privacy concerns, such as unwanted surveillance of persons who gave no permission for the technology to be used against them. Katabi acknowledged these concerns and said the team has developed a countermeasure.
“Particularly in the current climate, this is an important question,” said Katabi. “We have developed mechanisms to block the use of the technology, and it anonymizes and encrypts the data.”
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