It's like the beginnings of every HUD radar you've ever seen, but real.
Although we've had tech capable of "seeing" through walls for some time now (Eagle motion scanners, for example), nobody has ever managed to create a machine that can properly detect human shapes and movement in real time behind solid walls without irradiating everybody in its immediate vicinity. Now, however, a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has solved the problem by using radar technology to build an array which can "see" through solid walls in real time without giving anybody cancer.
Created by Gregory Charvat and John Peabody, the array fires microwaves at the target wall which bounce back to form a radar image on the array's screen. While upwards of 99% of the waves are absorbed by the concrete, the tiny percentage that does pass through and return to the array provides enough information to allow the users to see how many people are behind the wall, where they are, and whether or not they're moving.
Though this kind of capability is likely to worry privacy advocates everywhere, Charvat insists that the array will be at its most useful in combat situations. "It can basically tell if there may be a threat inside of a building without having to go inside there," he said. "It's for increasing the situational awareness of the urban war fighter."
The system isn't perfect, however. The image that appears on the array's screen isn't very clear, and the weakness of the signal means that the array can only penetrate eight inches of concrete. "We use microwave technology that's about as powerful as a cellular phone, so it's very weak," said Charvat. "[Visibility] may be able to be increased by more transit power or lowering the frequency. The lower you go in frequency, the better it is, but it becomes a resolution issue."
With that in mind, it is worth noting how young this technology is (the array is still hooked up to a gaming PC, after all). With the levels of attention (and funding) that are likely to follow a development like this, it would be reasonable to expect that the array will be refined and improved in the not-too-distant future. As Charvat noted, the military will probably be very interested in the various homes the array could find for itself on the battlefield. Still, it's hard not to think of Deus Ex: Human Revolution references at this point; are we headed for a future where machines can actually see through walls in real time? Will the military, police or other organizations be able to map out who's in your house and where at range? Most importantly, will the images be all golden and glittery and cool? Given the pace of current developments, we probably won't have to wait that long to find out.