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Fadel Adib

, 25

Inventor

Emily Cole

Here’s how you can use Wi-Fi to track people moving around in other rooms.

“I was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, in 1989. At the time, there was much political violence. The Lebanese civil war ended a year later. Unfortunately, the postwar stability did not last long. When I went to the American University of Beirut, I remember we used to have assassinations or bombings almost every week. When I came to MIT as a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, the first thing that shocked me was that I could focus all the time on research. 

“In one of our projects, we were just making our Wi-Fi faster by maximizing throughput between nodes. Every once in a while, the system would get messed up, and we would stop getting good results. We realized that there was some person walking in the hallway, and that person’s walking was basically changing the channel. 

“If I shine a wireless signal at the wall, a huge amount of this signal is going to reflect off the wall. A tiny part of that signal will traverse the wall, reflect off anything that’s behind it, and then come back. We realized that we can sense motion using these wireless signals, and that’s how we started working on seeing through walls.

“You can track people as they move. You can monitor multiple people’s heart rates and breathing. Retail stores that want to understand how people are moving in their stores can track when a person reaches out for a product, looks at it, and puts it back. The police could track if there’s a person behind a wall. One of the applications we’re thinking of: can you monitor the heart rate of a fetus in the mother’s womb without touching the body in any way? 

“When I went home to Lebanon and I was talking to my grandmother about it, she was like, ‘So, for example, can I put it over here in my living room, and if I fall in the bedroom or in the bathroom, it’s going to going to detect my fall and send an SMS to one of my children? Please, make this a product and put it here.’” 

—as told to Suzanne Jacobs

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