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Portable radar devices see through walls and report what's inside

4 min read

It's one of the classic movie plots: the bad guys--foiled in their attempt to grab piles of cash or some priceless artifact and make a speedy getaway--have taken hostages. The police hatch a plan to covertly enter the building and capture the criminals, and the hero almost always chooses just the right air duct that will let him spy on the captors before he springs into action. But in real life, where such heroic gambits are often deemed too risky, researchers have been working on radar that can "see" through walls, so police can know where hostages are congregated or soldiers can tell where the enemy is lying in wait. Two devices that meet demanding criteria are on the market, and one has been adapted for use by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Some conventional radar can penetrate walls, but it cannot distinguish objects just ahead, it emits far too much power to be safe for operators, and it requires equipment about the size of a lab bench. Advances in digital signal processors and microwave integrated circuits have made it possible to fit a complete microwave system in a box the size of two encyclopedia volumes. Now, through-the-wall radar devices that are lightweight, portable, and able to focus up to 20 or 30 meters ahead are available to municipalities and law enforcement agencies. Two such devices are RadarVision, built by Time Domain Corp., of Huntsville, Ala., and the Prism 100, from Cambridge Consultants Ltd., in Cambridge, England. Both rely on ultrawideband, a fairly new technology known mainly as a promising high-speed, low-power radio communications transmission technique.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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