Category Archives: Communications

Urban X-Rays: Wi-Fi for Spatial Scanning

Many of us in cities increasingly depend on Wi-Fi connectivity for communication as we go about our every day lives. However, beyond providing for our mobile and wireless communication needs, the intentional or directed use of Wi-Fi also provides new possibilities for urban sensing.

In this video professor Yasamin Mostofi from the University of California discusses research into the scanning or x-ray of built structures using a combination of drones and Wi-Fi transceivers. By transmitting a Wi-Fi signal from a drone on one side of a structure, and using a drone on the opposite side to receive and measure the strength of that signal it is possible to build up a 3D image of the structure and its contents. This methodology has great potential in areas like structural monitoring for the built environment, archaeological surveying, and even emergency response as outlined on the 3D Through-Wall Imaging project page.

Particularly with regard to emergency response one can easily imagine the value of being able to identify people trapped or hiding within a structure. Indeed Mostofi’s group are have also researched the potential these techniques provide for monitoring of humans in their Head Counting with WiFI project as demonstrated with the next video.

What is striking is that this technique enables individuals to be counted without themselves needing a Wi-Fi enabled device. Several potential uses are proposed which are particularly relevant to urban environments:

For instance, heating and cooling of a building can be better optimized based on learning the concentration of the people over the building. Emergency evacuation can also benefit from an estimation of the level of occupancy. Finally, stores can benefit from counting the number of shoppers for better business planning.

Given that WiFi networks are available in many buildings, we envision that they can provide a new way for occupancy estimation, in addition to cameras and other sensing mechanisms. In particular, its potential for counting behind walls can be a nice complement to existing vision-based methods.

I’m fascinated by the way experiments like this reveal the hidden potentials already latent within many of our cities. The roll out of citywide Wi-Fi infrastructure provides the material support for an otherwise invisible electromagnetic environment designers Dunne & Raby have called ‘Hertzian Space’. By finding new ways to sense the dynamics of this space, cities can tap in to these resources and exploit new potentialities, hopefully for the benefit of both the city and its inhabitants.

Thanks to Geo Awesomeness for posting the drone story here.