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Defense Department wants to perform real-time biometric identification through walls

Defense Department wants to perform real-time biometric identification through walls

The U.S. Army is looking for products and technologies that enable soldiers to see through walls, floors and ceilings to positively identify individuals using biometrics and in real time.

It is not the first time that a government agency, domestic or otherwise, has sought ways to pick out people through solid structures, but it might be the most ambitious wish list of capabilities. The Defense Department issued a request for information January 29 that might make Superman blush and a civil libertarian take up arms.

The Army’s vision is to put a tablet in a soldier’s hands that gives them a 360-degree view through dense vegetation, common construction materials and dirt to identify threats, hiding places, animals, obstructions — you name it. At the same time, the Army wants to be able to differentiate between humans and people, and spot objects as deliberately hard to detect as trip wires.

The system behind the tablet must be portable by a single soldier and operate on batteries.

It should operate literally on top of, say, a hidden weapons cache and from “a long standoff range,” according to the notice. The system should be able to be mounted on air and ground drones, as well.

Six years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice tested and evaluated through-the-wall-sensors from three vendors: L-3 Communications (now L3Harris Technologies), Camero-Tech Ltd. (owned by South Korean telco SK Group) and Akela Inc. Both L-3 and Camero-Tech contributed commercial products. Akela showed a prototype.

L3Harris continues to sell the Range-R device it demonstrated to the government. It is a handheld stepped-frequency continuous-wave radar system operating as a Doppler motion detector to discern people through walls. The federal government restricts the export of Range-Rs under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Camero-Tech today makes radio-frequency devices that see through walls using ultra-wide-band imaging technologies based on micro-power pulse radar to display renderings in three-dimension simulations. As with L3Harris, Camero-Tech’s products are based on technology displayed to the Justice Department.

It is not clear if Akela, whose sparse website pushes related technology, subsequently created a commercial product based on technology it demonstrated. The company makes a software-defined radar-sensor module that boasts a stand-off distance of up to 30 meters.

None of these three vendors specify how fine are the details that can be discerned with their products. None claim to be able to use their devices to positively identify someone behind an obstruction with biometrics.

In 2018, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said they had developed a neural network capable of using WiFi radio signals to estimate human poses through walls. The result is low-fidelity bubble images and stick figures. It is possible that gait recognition could be used to identify people this way, but as anyone knows, WiFi signals are not the heartiest of mediums.

In 2012, a similar WiFi-radio system, though without artificial intelligence or machine learning, was prototyped by researchers at the University College London. That system was interesting in that it did not shoot radio waves and read the echoes. It passively measured the ricochets WiFi signals already being played about a home for computer use.

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