Experimental MIT Technology Uses Microwaves to Create X-Ray Vision

Experimental equipment developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers uses a microwave radar system to see movement through walls.

The new technology emulates the way the human eye sees. The spectrum of visible light reflects off of objects and into our eyes for processing; in the same fashion, researchers tried microwaves, which manage to pass through solid objects in large enough quantities to be picked up by the radar system.

Getting a picture wasn’t the only task though. The purpose of the project was to achieve picture and range capabilities necessary for military uses.

For that, the team of scientists turned to S-band waves, a particular part of the microwave band electromagnetic spectrum, and the same waves NASA uses to talk to shuttle pilots and space stations.

The waves are only about as powerful as a cell phone, so they must be coupled with signal amplifiers. With the boost, the technology can be used on concrete walls up to 60 feet away, for walls up to eight inches thick, and shows blobs representing human beings at 10.8 frames per second.

S-band waves were also chosen because of their size. Longer waves would have meant bigger receivers needed to detect them.

According to Gregory Charvat, the study leader and technical staff at MIT, this technology was designed primarily for military application.

"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," Dr. Charvat said.

Currently, the radar system takes the form of a bunch of antennae in two rows, containing eight receiving elements above 13 transmitting ones. Attached to these is computer equipment, and then the machinery is mounted onto a metal pushcart.

This cumbersome device could seem like a hindrance in a military battle zone, but ideally, Charvat sees the device fixed onto military vehicles.

“If you’re in a high-risk combat situation… you don’t want to have to stand right next to a potentially dangerous building,” Charvat said.

For now, the technology can only see moving things through walls.

This could still be a possibility for military use, as even humans standing still move somewhat.