Next-Gen Video Games Will See Through Walls

Future Tense
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.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 22 2014 1:01 PM The Surprisingly Xenophobic Origins of Wonder Bread
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.