Futurism | New Tech Uses WiFi and Holograms to Let You “See” Through Walls

In Brief

German scientists from the Technical University of Munich have developed an imaging technology that uses Wi-Fi signals to construct 3D hologram images. This could be used to assist in search and rescue operations after disasters.

A Whole New View

If you’ve played any of the recent Batman video games, you’re probably already familiar with his ability to scan through walls using one of the many gadgets he has at his disposal. In real life, German scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) may have developed a technology that could give you a similar Batman-esque skill. What makes it even cooler? Basically all it takes is a Wi-Fi signal.

“It can basically scan a room with someone’s Wi-Fi transmission,” Philipp Holl said, speaking to Business Insider. Holl and TUM professor Friedemann Reinhard developed the concept behind the technology and published their findings in the journal Physical Review Letters.

It’s surprisingly simple, exploiting Wi-Fi’s ability to pass through walls. Using two antennas, they record a Wi-Fi field around a particular room. The antennas capture the intensity and the phase of the Wi-Fi field both from its source spot and the places it bounces off from. The result is a holographic image of the room that, while it’s not yet vivid, proves that the concept works in practice rather than just theory.

Life-Saving Tech

The ability to see through walls might be a little unsettling at first, as it could open up potential privacy exploitation issues. “Of course, this raises privacy questions. After all, to a certain degree even encrypted signals transmit an image of their surroundings to the outside world,” Reinhard said in a press release from TUM, “However, it is rather unlikely that this process will be used for the view into foreign bedrooms in the near future. For that, you would need to go around the building with a large antenna, which would hardly go unnoticed. There are simpler ways available.”

The tech could also have many beneficial — if not life-saving — applications. Apart from the potential to be used by spy agencies for legitimate operations requiring the scanning of buildings, it could also be an asset to rescue operations after a disaster such as an earthquake or an avalanche. The antennas could be placed in a truck and then driven around the rubble or debris are to survey and look for survivors.

“These antennas don’t need to be big. They can be very small, like the ones in a smartphone,” Holl said, meaning they could be easily wielded even in the smallest, most remote, spaces.

Further research, such as on the transparency of specific materials, is needed to refine the technology. But it’s exciting to think that superhero technology could come to life in such a way, especially with potentially life-saving applications.

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