back to article Boffins demo 'through-walls' people tracker

Boffins in Utah have developed a method of detecting and tracking human bodies through building walls. The method is called radio tomographic imaging (RTI) and doesn't involve any need for the people being tracked to wear any tag or chip. It works by surrounding the area to be monitored with a perimeter of wireless-network …


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  1. Kent Brockman

    thats fine but...

    what happens when the hostages are on the 10th floor or the 20th, or the 30th....

    or for that matter, the bad guys keep a watch out the windows and shoot the poor guy setting up his gear at a suspiciously close range...

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Anyone else like me...

    ...hoping the tracking system would suddenly show hundreds of other contacts ?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    and another thing...

    I'd like to see it handle a group of 5 or 10 people - it will get very confused as to how many bodies there are and where they are when there is a big seething mass -

    Also, aren't most hostages told to lie down on the floor!

    @Kent Brockman - you forgot to add basements! and steel framed buildings

    In summary then, Ok for hostage situations not in a basement or any floor other than ground, where the hostage takers cant see of shoot the setup team and there are only a few people in the building who aren't lying down or huddled together, and the walls are probably not steel-framed...narrows it down a bit - but I am still impressed

  4. Meg 1


    So terrorists just turn a microwave on and laugh as the detectors think theres 100's of thousands of people moving around in the building?

  5. Elmer Phud

    that's fine but . . .2

    Going from carefully placed little boxes on sticks to little boxes to be chucked around by cops etc. seems to me to be a bit of a leap of faith. One set-up requires accuracy, the other would be a scattering of devices that would then need calibrating to take in to acount different signal strength caused not ecatcly accurate scattering. Then there is the matter of other obstacles that, while not moving, could mask or confuse the dectectors.

    @Kent -- they'd need extra-long sticks. or drop them down from the roof. No-one would notice all the cables.

  6. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: thats fine but...

    Congratulations! You've just justified a nice, fat piece of Pork for someone to build autonomous flying Wifi tranceivers that can automatically take station around the nth floor of a building and report their mutual signal strengths back to a controlling location.

    You should have kept quiet and flogged the idea to <insert name of military/industrial globocorp>, but it's in the public domain now. Shame really, s'gotta be worth the odd million of anyone's defence budget that.

  7. Jeff Deacon
    Big Brother

    Different Technology, but someone else got there first!

    Just have a look at American Science and Engineering Inc's Z-Backscatter technology, and the other devices they have. No need for carefully calibrated transmitters.

    Have a browse around while you are there. The see through your clothes scanner has been "privacy enhanced" since they first developed it. Originally the image on the web site showed all the wrinkles and creases under the subject's clothes! I'd expect that it still will to those with "a need to know".

  8. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Need more

    Accuracy. +/- 3 feet might be enough in large floor plan American homes but no good elsewhere in the world. I too would want to see it peer through double brick or concrete block walls with even that accuracy.

    Besides if you know you are being monitored you can just make one of the hostages move about like a hostage taker would to confuse the cops. No need for jamming tech if they can't tell who is who.

  9. jon 72
    Thumb Down

    Old tech new spin

    I spy an old theramin circuit, or rather several in this case

    plenty of security fences can be found with a single wire version running along them

  10. EnricoSuarve

    Meanwhile in other news...

    During a tense hostage situation, police in Sacramento County today irradiated 15 civilians when they set their RTI transmitters to ‘simmer’. One particularly distressed old-timer objected strongly to the use of the new tech, stating “My heart pacemaker ticker-me-bob’s all skittery now.”

    Officers have declined to comment as to why they did not just talk to disgruntled postal worker Chuck Davies who had armed himself with a toasting fork earlier in the day; although it is widely believed they had become bored of “tazing bro’s” and according to eye witnesses were like “kids with a new toy.”

    Davies is currently awaiting questioning in County Memorial Hospital recovering from multiple gun shots, taser burns and cooked gonads.

  11. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Down


    I'd be more impressed if it was a concrete wall rather than wood or brick.....

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    If you think it's possible to play a theramin (jon 72) from the other side of a brick wall...

    ... I'm not going to be coming to see your band play any time soon now!

  13. leesiegel

    One of the walls IS concree

    Watch the video. One of the walls IS concrete.

    And the name of our university of the University of Utah, not the quaint "Utah Uni" the Register so loves to use,

  14. Anonymous Coward

    will this work

    With the stacks and boxes of books around the house? What about that big moving refridgerator? if there's no movement that you can discern, how do you know?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @Elmer Phudd

    A solution would be to have them map out where they are with respect to a trio of sensors- these would provide the "base point". The Police would just blast them up onto a wall in the style of those sticky-bombs in the Dark Knight film; the base station would contain the computing hardware required to create a 3D map of the sensor's locations relative to the base station. One "Master" base station + "slave" base stations could be thrown up to allow multiple sides of buildings to be scanned without worrying about the interference of the building in the middle; you'd not even need to know the relative positions of the base stations- you could just have some user-defined "anchor" points- set in software- that tied the two datasets together.

    This is a fantastic idea and could be developed into quite an interesting product. Swipe sensor on base station to associate them with each other and attach adhesive, fire at wall, repeat for other sensors, use control software to map out the locations of the sensors (hit "calib" button to make the base station report ALL- even non-associated- sensors that it can see so you can get anchor points), press big red "GO!" button.

    A mere 5 or 10 minutes after the support van arrived you've got a map showing the number and location of the various people inside the target area.

  16. Matt Hawkins

    Prime Directives

    This is old news. Robocop could do this.

    Although admittedly that was in the near future.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Tough crowd, you lot

    I'd call it a proof of concept, and say that what they've done is farily impressive.

    1. Take cheap COTS radios.

    2. Build working model to prove idea with a simple, unambiguous demo.

    3. Profit?

    I reckon they'll be developing a much fancier one of these, and being paid more to do it, in very short order. All while you lot are still taking cheap shots from the peanut gallery.

  18. wv9e


    Oh joy.. Ham radio operators have been doing this for years already......

  19. Ken Hagan Gold badge


    "And the name of our university of the University of Utah, not the quaint "Utah Uni" the Register so loves to use,"

    If you're objecting to "uni", then you should know that it is pretty standard parlance in the UK and carries no pejorative tones. If there's some distinction between "Utah University" and "University of Utah", then again that would be a mystery to 99% of the UK population. I see no quaintness here, but I'm mindful of the old dictum that the quickest way to learn is to post incorrect information.

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