New MIT radar technology lets you see through walls

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New radar technology created at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory grants users the ability to see through walls. The tech is being developed with military applications in mind, although it could see action by emergency response teams and others in the future.

Human sight is possible because waves of visible light bounce off objects and return to our eyes’ retinas. Traditional radars work similarly in that they send out radio waves that bounce off targets and are again picked up by the radar’s receivers. But just as it’s virtually impossible for humans to see through walls since there isn’t enough light penetrating the obstacle, radars have faced the same set of difficulties, until now.

The new device from MIT contains two rows of antenna; eight receives on top and 13 transmitters below as well as some computing equipment, all mounted on a movable cart. When activated, the wall blocks out 99.4 percent of the waves, allowing only .6 percent to pass. When the waves hit the target, they must again go back through the wall and lose another 99.4 percent before reaching the radar’s receivers on the original side.

According to project leader Gregory Charvat, signal loss isn’t the biggest hurdle the technology faces. The main challenge has been creating a radar that is fast, offers good resolution and has adequate range.

“If you’re in a high-risk combat situation, you don’t want one image every 20 minutes, and you don’t want to have to stand right next to a potentially dangerous building,” Charvat says.

MIT’s radar has an effective range of up to 60 feet away from a wall and provides a real-time picture of movement behind the wall via a video feed at 10.8 frames per second. Due to processing algorithms, the radar can only detect moving objects such as humans or animals. Moving targets on the screen are seen as blobs, much like a heat map would show. The team is working to further refine the system to convert the blobs into a clear symbol to make the radar more user friendly.

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