December 17, 2013


As much as I love technology, it does not always love me back. I am terrible when it comes to new gadgets, especially things that break away from the norm. Take the Nintendo Wii, for example. I never could get used to the design of the controls or their interface. I played a boxing game with a roommate, actually trying to box, and got beaten pretty thoroughly by him just flicking his wrists. We have a Kinect hooked up, and have for several months now, and despite a multitude of attempts, I cannot get the thing to register me. The fact that the latest generation of consoles all include something akin to this system, and many of them are making it integral to most of their games, is not doing much for me in swaying me away from PC gaming, but that does not make the incredible advances that are being made in video gaming any less fascinating. I love video games, and I am highly supportive of anything that could work to make them more immersive.

Enter the WiTrack, a brand new invention that could enhance the responsiveness of systems like the Kinect or the WiiU by several fold. Developed by Dina Katabi’s research group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), the WiTrack works by targeting specialized radio signals that it reflects off of a person’s body to pinpoint their location and movements. Not only is it able to locate and follow a persons’ movements with a much greater degree of accuracy than what is used now in motion sensitive gaming, once locked on, it can even do so through obstructions like walls. Yes, it can see you through a wall. Creepy? A little, but also really incredible. The system uses multiple antennas in order to accomplish this. One is for transmitting and the other three are for receiving. Using these, the system is able to build a geometric model of the subject by transmitting signals between the antennas and using the signals it bounces off of the body to estimate the distance between the various antennas and the user. The ability of the WiTrack to perform such highly accurate motion reading without expending enormous amounts of computing power is said to be a promising new development in motion-tracking technology according to Victor Bahl, a principal researcher and director of mobility and networking research at Microsoft Research. Currently, the team is working on advancing this incredible new system so that it can track more than one person at a time, which would make it perfect for co-op gaming. They believe that the WiTrack will be easily adapted to commercial settings as it is neither expensive to produce and could be easily miniaturized from what they have now.

Of course, possibilities for a system like the WiTrack have much further reaching applications than just video games. Imagine its use with tracking elderly patients at high risk of falling. While presently used fall detection technology requires the use of continuously worn senors or for them to install sensors in their home, which is highly invasive, the WiTrack does not require either and would be able to detect a fall with an incredible degree of accuracy. Improving video game technology and potentially saving lives, what could be better than that?

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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