Pentagon awards millions in contracts for new cameras to see through walls

I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t doing a movie review for the next action hero film, but this is apparently real. The military is investing R&D money into some technology which was previously reserved for Superman and cheap plastic novelty glasses that you ordered out of the back of Mad Magazine. We’re apparently getting near the point where soldiers will be able to see through walls, a feature which could certainly come in handy in urban combat situations. And it’s closer to reality than you might think. (NextGov)

The Pentagon’s research and development agency has made a critical first step in a program that could give soldiers the ability to see through physical barriers.

According to postings on FedBizOpps, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded the University of Minnesota and the University of Central Florida at least $1 million each for a program called Revolutionary Enhancement of Visibility by Exploiting Active Light-fields, or REVEAL. (DARPA did not immediately respond to Nextgov’s request for more details about awardees.)

The program aims to tap into the information stored in photons — light particles — to get hints as to what objects or threats might be surrounding a viewer, according to a May blog post describing the project.

This is normally the part of the column where I’d begin carping about the government frivolously blowing more of our money, but I have to admit that this is some seriously cool technology. (And a bargain basement deal at a couple of million dollars if it works.) After a short bit of searching I ran across some of the more geek oriented material on the subject and it’s not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, they’ve already been working on it at MIT for a while now. If you project radio signals through a wall and there’s something on the other side (including a person) a small portion of them will be reflected back through the wall toward you. With enough computer goodness parsing the data in the background you can translate that into an image. (Popular Science)

RF-Capture works like this: The device contains a wireless transmitter that relays a radio signal. Then, the device’s receivers pick up the signal reflected back by the hidden body. With the data, an algorithm can then determine the silhouette of the body on the other side. And the device is also able to distinguish between different people (up to 15 different people, with 90 percent accuracy), and track motion and posture.

Particularly if the figures are moving around you could supposedly get a good idea as to which objects were human forms, which ones were moving and which ones were crouched down, sitting or standing. Returning to the urban warfare scenario, that could be incredibly useful when trying to clear out a building. But before you start thinking of home applications involving the ladies’ locker room, the images simply aren’t that realistic. It’s more the sense of a person beyond the wall rather than a photograph.

To provide a more graphic demonstration, here’s a brief video from MIT of what they’ve been working on.

Yes, it looks like a group of blue and orange blobs, but they’re human shaped blobs. We may have to wait a few more decades for the actual x-ray glasses.


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