Holographic Wi-Fi visually maps environments

Hologram-driven Wi-Fi visualization can help rescuers find life-sustaining cavities in collapsed buildings, as well as track objects on a factory production line

Holographic Wi-Fi visually maps environments

Wi-Fi’s explosive growth is gaining even more momentum.

Recently the Wi-Fi Alliance launched a certified program for “meter-level accuracy for indoor device location data” using its technology. Now, that location add-on tool is about to be joined by a kind of three-dimensional, Wi-Fi-derived holographic imaging. Both use the ubiquitous Wi-Fi data network we’ve come to know and love.

Holographic Wi-Fi is a way to create three-dimensional images of spaces. It’s achieved by coupling Wi-Fi radio with graphical holograms.

+ Also on Network World: Wi-Fi expanding to indoor location services +

Some uses for the technology could be tracking products as they’re manufactured and move along in the production process, as well as searching for victims buried in collapsed buildings, say researchers from the Technical University of Munich who are developing the system.

The gadget, still in development, works by creating illuminated patterns from the microwave radiation that’s delivered by a standard Wi-Fi access point or router. A fixed-location antenna and one mobile antenna perform the actual mapping of the space. That’s then converted into an image-processed, projected hologram.

It’s “as if our eyes could see microwave radiation,” says Friedemann Reinhard, director of the Emmy Noether Research Group for Quantum Sensors at the Walter Schottky Institute of TU Munich, in the team’s press release.

Spatial representation created by the Wi-Fi and hologram can be augmented through camera images, too, the scientists say.

“Information extracted from the microwave images can be embedded into the camera image of a smart phone,” the researchers explain in the release. It could be used like that to look for a tagged, lost item, for example.

TU Munich’s tool isn’t the first time microwave radiation has been used to create images of spaces, such as factories. But before, large chunks of bandwidth were needed, the team explains. This new method uses lowly residential-style Wi-Fi hardware functioning in the usual 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The researchers even say they might ultimately be able to make it work with more transportable Bluetooth or wireless phones.

Seeing through walls

I’ve written about an unrelated RADAR-like use for Wi-Fi before. That system, too, sees three-dimensionally and lets the user see movement, even through walls—the changing frequencies of the radio waves are reflected off moving objects. That spy-friendly kit doesn’t incorporate holographic three-dimensional imaging, however.

Notably, both inventions do allow viewing through walls—the walls are invisible to the radio waves. That raises privacy concerns and has prompted the TU Munich researchers to start to explore ways to resolve that thorny issue.

The group says there is very little research on the transparency of materials as they pertain to this kind of thing: “Development of paint or wallpaper translucent to microwaves for privacy protection” is one area the researchers say needs to be worked on in parallel. “Transparent materials could be deployed in factory halls to allow parts to be tracked, [though].”

In addition to the spatial tracking of objects in a factory production process, the TU Munich researchers say their tool could be used in search-and-rescue disaster assistance. They reckon they will be able to provide first responders with an on-the-fly visual representation of the inside of collapsed buildings or avalanches.

That would allow excavations to take place with knowledge of “heavy objects and use cavities in the rubble” to more easily and quickly locate victims, they say.

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