When people hear about X-Ray Vision they think of offensive TSA agents that are using body scanners for their own personal pleasures. Somehow a pat down becomes less obtrusive. When I think of X-Ray Vision, I am brought back to Superman I and his early flirtations with Lois Lane, I think you know what I am talking about. Beyond teenage pranks, X-Ray Vision could seriously help rescuers, soldiers, and first responders save lives.
Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara have harnessed Superman’s power in robots by leveraging WIFI. Essentially the machines work in pairs, with one broadcasting wireless transmissions and another (positioned on the opposite end) measuring them. Since walls and objects reduce signal strength, the receiver can distinguish between empty and occupied spaces to create an accurate map of the area. These aren’t the first robots that I have seen that can peer through concrete, but the Cougar20-H surveillance robot that emerged years ago uses a number of sensors, whereas UCSB’s creation depends solely on WiFi.
In the future, the researchers believe the technology can be used for search and rescue (it’ll certainly be very useful in rescuing people out of collapsed buildings after earthquakes), to determine the occupancy level of a location and as a helper for archaeological digs. Also, these robots can potentially be outfitted with technology that can classify the object (if it’s human, or what it’s made of if it’s not) they’re seeing through walls. The UCSB team, which has been working on this project for years, has just released the above video of the robots in action.
- Search and rescue, and surveillance.
- Occupancy detection in a home.
- Classification of what an object is made of behind a wall.
- Archaeological digs without needing to dig underground.
- Real world robotic networks to perform tasks such as object mapping for humans.
- Detecting home intruders before they enter your house.
For example, when the robots passed around a square concrete structure, out of sight of one another, they were able to work out what was inside – and could even identify a human. This was done by measuring the drop in signal strength as the transmission passed through the walls and other objects. By measuring this drop the robots could create a visual map of what they thought they were seeing in about 100 seconds. And the researchers say the results were satisfyingly accurate, with errors of no more than two inches (5cm).
One robot transmits a Wi-Fi signal and the other receives it. Doing this the robots can work out what objects are between them. Here the left figure shows the area of interest that is completely unknown, while on the right is shown the map the robots made using the technique compared to the actual map
The technique can even be used to discern different types of objects beyond walls including multiple objects (shown), or also to find people beyond walls. This could be used to find people in collapsed buildings or spot intruders before they enter your home
“Our approach enables seeing a completely-unknown area (with details) through thick walls by using only Wi-Fi signals,” the team writes on their website. This technology can be implemented on any Wi-Fi-enabled gadget. “We have furthermore shown how to use this in a robotic setting to give see-through vision to robots.”
While some modern unmanned robots use laser scanners to see what is in front of them, they are unable to see through objects or walls in the vicinity. The researchers say that their new technique could be a revolution in robotic movements and enable a host of new capabilities for unmanned robots.
Robotic mapping now expands beyond the visual, but the areas in between planes, which now surpasses (non-hero) humans 20/20 sight. Just call it Superbot!