How to see through walls

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Breaking Down the Walls


In the 2008 movie Iron Man, fictional MIT alumnus Tony Stark develops a suit of armor equipped with superhuman strength, flight, and an array of weapons. But it looks like real-life MIT researchers have one-upped Stark, thanks to new radar technology that will allow U.S. troops in combat to see through walls.

In recent tests held at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, the radar successfully showed humans moving behind solid concrete, which could give the military a powerful advantage in urban combat situations. In the video below, the Lincoln Lab team shows how the radar can detect images moving behind solid concrete and cinder-block walls.

The researchers’ device combines two rows of antenna — eight receiving elements on top, 13 transmitting ones below — with computing equipment connected to a movable cart. Rather than using visible light to look through walls, which is ineffective, or x-ray, which is too dangerous, the radar system uses microwave technology about as powerful as a traditional cellular phone.

From ExtremeTech:

Basically, it works just like a normal radar system: 44 antennae send out S-band microwaves (2-4GHz, about 10cm peak to peak). Most of these microwaves — 99.4% — bounce off the solid concrete wall. The 0.6% that make it through bounce off any objects on the other side, and then come back through the wall, losing another 99.4% of the waves. By the time the microwaves return to the array, the signal is just 0.0025% of its original strength.

While the system does have limits – it can’t detect beyond walls eight inches thick – the Lincoln Labs team envisions a radar unit mounted on a military vehicle and providing real-time video through walls as far as 60 feet away at a rate of 10.8 frames per second.

This technology has potential beyond military implications – such as police or emergency-response teams – but the team’s current focus is giving the U.S. military an immense advantage in combat situations.

Project Leader Gregory Charvat told Fox News:

“If you’re in a high-risk combat situation, you don’t want one image every 20 minutes, and you don’t want to have to stand right next to a potentially dangerous building.”

“This is meant for the urban war fighter … those situations where it’s very stressful and it’d be great to know what’s behind that wall.”


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