Engineer sees through-the-wall surveillance as a net good — and very possible

Categories Biometric R&D  |  Biometrics News  |  Surveillance

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An industry insider’s view of today’s surveillance and rescue systems that see through walls, published last week, will offer hope to some and a new source of fear to others.

Aly Fathy, a professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee, writes in an article in The Conversation, that scientists are developing tools that are expected to see through walls with facial recognition detail.

The advances are coming thanks to federal funding and by advances in radar sensors, algorithms, computer processing, millimeter wave wireless systems and wideband circuits. Together, they might deliver new levels of resolution and, almost as important, near-real time video.

Radar system sensitivity is growing, and that enables receivers to pick up softer reflected electromagnetic waves reflecting off solid objects on the other side of walls. Faster computer processors are digesting the incoming gouts of data. Better algorithms are translating the data into useful images for human interpretation, and in theory, maybe biometric matching.

Expensive and hard to deploy millimeter-wave wireless, which is the backbone of these tools, is evolving into a technology priced and configured for more mainstream and mobile roles, according to Fathy.

Although he opens his technology explainer with the tantalizing prospect of being able to see through rubble to find people buried in an earthquake, the electrical engineer’s work is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security.

The article offers no timelines and is cagey about what is reality and what is merely possible. Fathy delves into frothy speculation, saying the technology might be able to go beyond the already heady promise of facial recognition through walls to measure heartbeats and respiration, again without setting expectations accordingly.

Of course, expectations might be beside the point right now as the U.S. military (and, without a doubt, the intelligence community) pushes for these systems. If the research proves out, even partially, government spending on it will be substantial, speeding the day when the functions are merely a phone app.

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