MIT using radio waves to monitor patients' health through walls

The technology is already used in over 200 homes with healthy people, as well as patients with various conditions.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
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Dina Katabi

Dina Katabi

Screenshot by Marrian Zhou/CNET

A high-tech box can now read your health conditions wirelessly.

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a device that can monitor your health using radio signals and machine learning, even through walls.

MIT's Dina Katabi built the gadget to track breathing, heart rate, sleep, gait and more as you live your life at home, according to the MIT Technology Review. Katabi spoke this week at the publication's EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The gadget looks like a box and works like a Wi-Fi router; the low-power wireless signals reflect off nearby people's bodies and carry information back to the box, the MIT tech review said. The box analyzes the information and offers up health data. The device senses your movements, even if you're just breathing, by recording changes in the electromagnetic field around you.

The device has been installed in over 200 homes, the review said, to monitor healthy individuals as well as people with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, depression and pulmonary conditions. Katabi has co-founded a startup, Emerald Innovations, to make the device commercially available. She's also provided the device to biotech and pharmaceutical firms for research purposes.

One advantage the device offers is that it can monitor a person's sleep stages at home, which is different than having research subjects sleep in a lab, Katabi told the MIT review.

Using machine learning -- a branch of artificial intelligence where the computer automatically identifies patterns based on a database -- the gadget can distinguish you from other people by having you do a series of movements during the setup process. Data collected by the device is encrypted and limited to certain designated recipients, according to the MIT report.

Katabi didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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