MIT researchers devise see-through-wall technology
MIT researchers Gregory Charvat, left, and John Peabody have devised radar technology that can "see" through walls.
October 18th, 2011
05:10 PM ET

MIT researchers devise see-through-wall technology

Through the use of microwaves, MIT researchers have devised technology to see through walls in real time.

The radar array system, created by Gregory Charvat and John Peabody at the university's Lincoln Laboratory, sends microwave signals that bounce off objects and ultimately return radar images to a screen. The waves can even penetrate concrete walls.

Charvat said Tuesday that the project has been in the works for a while.

“It originally started out as my dissertation, where I developed a very slow prototype,” he said. “When I moved to Lincoln Lab, I teamed up with another colleague (Peabody) who was working with technology used for imaging human tissue” in medical environments such as hospitals.

Almost all of the microwaves - 99.4% - bounce off the first object they encounter, like a wall, while only 0.6% make it through to the object on the other side, creating an admittedly weak signal, Charvat said.

X-ray would be perfect for this application, but "it's ionizing radiation," too dangerous, he said. "We use microwave technology that’s about as powerful as a cellular phone, so it’s very weak. So, microwaves work. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done."

The system creates a real-time image at the speed of 10.8 frames a second, according to the MIT website.

But the system has its limits. It can penetrate only a little more than half a foot.

“Eight inches is all we’ve been able to do,” Charvat said. Visibility “may be able to be increased by more transit power or lowering the frequency. The lower you go in frequency, the better it is, but it becomes a resolution issue."

But the technology could be a boon for the military, he said. "It can basically tell if there may be a threat inside of a building without having to go inside there. It’s for increasing the situational awareness of the urban war fighter."

But privacy advocates say that is exactly why they are wary of it.

Kade Crockford, privacy rights coordinator for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said she was "extremely concerned" about technology that could make spying easier, especially with the inevitable application of its use against an urban populace.

ACLU of Massachusetts spokesman Chris Ott, in an e-mail, referenced the use of military technology being potentially co-opted for use against civilians as an increasing threat to liberty.

“Technology is developing at a rate that far surpasses Congress’ ability or willingness to adapt our laws to ensure that ordinary people are protected from the vast new powers these tools provide to the government," Crockford said. "This is an alarming trend, and this case is a perfect example of it. We urge lawmakers to get ahead of the curve to protect our privacy before it is too late.”

Charvat, for his part, said he didn't see any other application for the system other than military. “I can’t really think of any civilian use. Maybe it could be used in reconnaissance robots, for navigation for them, but it would be a totally different application.”

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Filed under: Technology • U.S.
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    I can imagine there are a few useful apps for this, once they get it so it's not cost-prohibitive.

    Our Ruffie...always one step ahead of the perv crowd...

    October 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    I'm going to start covering my junk with aluminum foil.

    October 18, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chrissy

    lmfao @ jeff frank, you are way more funny than i initially thought! Hope your family is doing well 2day. As for this article...One sure does wonder about the big brother aspect of it, & they certainly dont have much knack for attending 2 their business.

    October 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chrissy

    and scottish mama where have you been? I want you to know it was not me that posted that crap about your team. 🙂 if the tigers couldnt make it im glad your team did, and im so tired of the dueling dummies posting under my name.

    October 18, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. leeintulsa

    That's MR. Peabody to you, and they don't make war machines, they make wayback machines.. They should redo that one with the new animation.

    October 18, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banaay©

    @Jefe Frank:

    So you *know* what happens with foil and microwaves?
    Do you *want* your jeff frank to blow up?
    Your lovely wife may disagree.
    How is she, btw?

    October 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. arben ceka

    This technology is already iin place from long time ago and what the young scientists are talking about is only a means of propaganda.Think about the tip of iceberg and you will understand what is going on.Maybe this is a message for the enemies of the democratic world.

    October 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    CNN – Check it out. Eastern Ohio. Man that collects zoo type animals has been killed. Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs, Bears and a wide assortment of animals escaped, and are rampaging Ohio at this hour.

    October 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Just reading it now. George Orwell predicted this.

      October 19, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Hilarious –

      "They said bears and wolves were among 25 animals that had been shot and killed and there were multiple sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway.
      "These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa," Sheriff Matt Lutz warned at a press conference. "

      Wolves in Africa? Sheriff Lutz isn't the brightest light on the Christmas tree, is he.

      Read more:

      October 19, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Ah, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
    I was humming that theme song to my babygirl today.
    How strange is that?
    Boris Baddenov...oh, my.

    October 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    @Jefe Frank:

    Are they near you?
    Don't mess with Mother Nature!

    October 18, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    Yeah, she's drawn that way!

    October 18, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    Those are cubby holes for the lab techs to put their backpacks and lunch bags when they come to work.

    October 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    She ain't no Betty Rubble, but she's OK.

    October 19, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. wabbit

    I'm betting these machines would sell well outside the girl's locker room in any high school.

    October 19, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Patinator


      November 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Moses

      Please have a seat over here

      November 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. fernace

    We already have this technology, it's called GLASS! You can see right through it! Lol! Ok, I don't wanna take anything away from geniuses (geni-i?) hard at work, but we need to see through walls why!? Are telescopes in highrise buildings not enough? I agree with Mmmm, time to line the walls with popcorn & please people whatever you do heed banasys words, no tinfoil on your heads or your...head! The ramafications will be catastrophic! Ps. Y'all are too funny on this thread, I've been laughing since I finished the article! Bunch of comedians in the hizz-ouse!! 😉

    October 19, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • S1N

      Did you even read the article, moron? One of its intended uses is military intelligence. Being able to see inside a building is a BIG plus in combat.

      October 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
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