Next-Gen Video Games Will See Through Walls

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 11 2013 5:15 PM

Next-Gen Video Games Will See Through Walls

451303001
Someday, these kids will consider this technology quaint.

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for Microsoft

Today’s video game industry is all about immersion. Gamers want like-real graphics, endorphin-inducing soundtracks, celebrity voice-overs, decision-based gameplay, destructible environments, and AI that adapts. And while the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect have allowed us to get off the couch and use our bodies as controllers, current technology obviously has its limits. But what if your whole house was a playable environment?

That’s the promise of a new technology out of MIT. Using radio waves, researchers there have created an antennae system called WiTrack that can map the movements of a human in the next room.

Advertisement

When I talked to Dina Katabi, co-director of MIT’s Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing, she explained that the goal was to create a system designed for everyday people. WiTrack’s radio signal is just 1 percent as strong as WiFi and 0.1 percent of your smartphone’s signal, yet it can track movements with surprising accuracy—within the width of a human hand.

Katabi and her team—which includes students Fadel Adib and Zach Kebelac as well as fellow MIT professor Robert Miller—believe the technology could one day be layered into existing motion-gaming technology to create a more immersive experience.

“Xbox Kinect uses infrared, which does not traverse walls, so if you’re ducking behind a couch it will lose you because it doesn’t see you anymore,” Katabi said. “With this technology, you’ll one day be able to use the furniture and walls around you to avoid being shot. You’re still part of the game, it can track you.”

WiTrack uses just one antenna that transmits radio waves and three receiver antennae to receive the waves that bounce back. Computer algorithms interpret the information and use it to create 3-D projections of what it picks up in the span of just 75 milliseconds. Best of all, you needn’t hold or wear anything special—the WiTrack simply knows you’re there.

Unfortunately for gamers, the WiTrack is still in early phases and can currently track only one human at a time, but the team is confident this problem can be worked out as the technology progresses. (This is probably less unfortunate for whoever’s using the bathroom when you decide to play Call of Duty.) Even with its current limitations, it’s pretty wild to watch the WiTrack respond to commands given by a human in another room. You can see the device at work in the video below where a test subject turns out lights with a flick of the wrist like he’s using Dumbledore’s Deluminator.

Obviously, any relatively low-cost, low-energy device that can see through walls raises concerns of privacy. Enterprising hackers have already done all sorts of crazy stuff with the Kinect, so who knows what we can expect if the WiTrack were to go public. (Folks at Microsoft have shown interest in the technology, according to Katabi.)  

Perhaps it’ll come as some small consolation that Katabi says they’ve already developed blocking signals as a countermeasure. Though if I know gaming companies, you’ll have to pay extra for that.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.