There is a lot of hype about Wearables right now, but recent setbacks, such as FitBit’s recall earlier this year, prove the technology does not always support the hype surrounding it. Combatting this concern, MIT professors and grad students developed a wireless system that does not require a wearable transmitter and could be a new wave in health and other applications.

What does the technology do?

When a person is near a wireless signal, their motions modulate that signal. With wearable technology, an RF transmitter sends the wireless signal to an RF transceiver. With WiZ, however, an RF transceiver receives the modulated signal even without an RF transmitter. MIT researchers applied that principle to WiZ, which accurately extracts information from the environment and tracks moving bodies without a transmitter on the person.

While once limited to motions at least 10 cm in size, WiZ is capable of detecting millimeter-sized movements, including small breaths and heartbeats. The WiZ signal also travels through solid objects to allow for motion, breathing, and heart rate monitoring from the other side of a door or wall.

The technology can track the movements of up to four people in the same room or three people in a different room. WiZ can also localize up to five people in the same room and four on the other side of a wall based on tracking their breathing motions.

For now, it senses movements, vital signs, and hand gestures, but this technology could also detect emotion in the future. As researchers hone its scope of detection, WiZ could predict emotions based on the biological factors that accompany them, such as a faster heart rate when someone is excited.

Who can use this technology?

This versatile technology lends itself to a wide range of uses. These are just some of the useful and practical ways this technology could be implemented.

  • Medical Teams: As a breathing and heart rate monitor, hospitals and caretakers would benefit, as they could monitor patients and loved ones while tending to other patients and tasks.
  • Parents: Similarly, parents can use WiZ as a futuristic baby monitor that senses a baby’s vitals and movements from the other room. If the baby’s breathing slows, for example, that could be a sign of deep sleep as opposed to quicker breathing while the baby is still awake.
  • Emergency Services: First responders could use this technology to find people trapped under wreckage following a disaster if they are breathing but cannot move or make noises to alert first responders where they are. Law enforcement and the military may use WiZ to scope out locations they plan to enter to prevent an ambush, or police could monitor prisoners in jail.
  • Gamers:  This technology could allow video game companies to create systems and games where players don’t need a camera system or wearable device to accurately detect their movements, which improves the virtual reality experience.

All new technologies have their opportunities and drawbacks, and this Wi-Fi system steps in line with the rest. This technology proves that Wi-Fi is a powerful force that, when used correctly, can achieve more—with little need of wearables or other transceivers—than previously thought possible.

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