Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

Newsflash! Scientists Can Use WiFi to Count Your Breaths and Spy on You

DiscoblogBy Veronique GreenwoodSeptember 28, 2011 10:57 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

wireless.jpg

I sense a disturbance in the Force...

Swimming through a sea of wireless radio waves is de rigeur these days (in fact, you have to move to West Virginia if you think you're allergic to them

). But your body leaves a wake in that sea, and watching it can let observers count your breaths per minute, says a researcher who surrounded himself with twenty wireless units to test the idea

. Cute, right? But it also means someone on the sidewalk can tell from disturbances in the wireless where you are in your house, and track you as you move from room to room. A little less cute. The paper, which hasn't been published yet and is available on the ArXiv

, looked to see whether the wireless wake the authors had noticed in previous experiments could be used a medical setting to keep tabs on surgical patients, who occasionally stop breathing after procedures under general anesthesia. Computer scientist Neal Patwari lay in a hospital bed surrounded by transmitters on the same frequency as WiFi and found that after 30 seconds of calibration, the setup could estimate his breaths per minute with an error of just 0.3 breaths. Current methods of breath monitoring are already very reliable, though, according to an outside engineer interviewed by New Scientist

. But the phenomenon could have use in surveillance. Especially since the team has previously found that a body's disruption of wireless waves is detectable through walls

, making it possible to track people's movements from outside. It had seemed that keeping still might foil outside observers, but given that a breath appears to be enough movement to be detectable, that escape is no longer possible. Yay?

Image courtesy of kaoticsnow / flickr

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In