Privacy: Radar sensors build 3D pictures without cameras
Vayyar uses radio waves to build a 3d image of environments, so privacy is never a concern

Privacy: Radar sensors build 3D pictures without cameras

Tel Aviv startup Vayyar Imaging is developing radar sensing for residential and commercial environments.

The technology can accurately build a picture of 3D spaces in real time, whether that’s for monitoring activity in the office or home, or for providing information on movement in sensitive installations. See the video, below, for a demonstration of the technology.

So what’s behind the move?

The privacy problem

An obvious issue facing smart home pioneers and companies developing tracking and imaging capabilities is privacy. The human face is the ultimate piece of personally identifiable information (PID), which is why facial recognition systems are a growth area, particularly in China.

All of that data – much of which can be used to directly identify individuals – can and will be acted upon, stored, and analysed in one form or another.

But in some locations, eyes and ears – electronic or otherwise – simply aren’t appropriate. Bathrooms in an elderly care home or school, a doctor’s surgery, the changing rooms of a public swimming pool, or the fitting room of a clothes shop, are just some of the many possible examples. People may also wish to maintain their privacy in their own homes.

In these locations, being able to detect movement or life signs might be necessary for security or safety reasons, but being able to actually see people’s faces and bodies would be a gross intrusion of their privacy. Not every security system needs to identify who a person is or gather data about them.

So it’s clear that, for some applications, a better balance needs to be found between keeping people safe, providing peace of mind to carers, businesses, and homeowners, and respecting the privacy of those who may already be vulnerable, or feel insecure.

Most smart home solutions, such as video cameras, meet only half of those requirements. And since data security breaches are inevitable, personal data protection is another factor: it’s only a matter of time before biometrics or other personal information could slip into the wrong hands.

With that in mind, Israeli startup Vayyar is developing sensor technology that goes above and beyond the situational data gathered by conventional means, but without putting individuals’ privacy at risk.

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Vayyar’s radar technology

Vayyar’s sensors work by emitting multiple low power radio frequency waves. Once these sensors detect an object, Vayyar’s software creates a 3D image of what’s going on inside the environment, allowing the user to quickly assess the situation at hand.

Vayyar’s sensors transmit multiple signals based on radio frequency. Every time the electromagnetic wave encounters different materials, it causes a reflection that is collected by Vayyar’s sensors. From those reflections, Vayyar’s software creates a 3D image of the anomalies in the objects being scanned.

The sensors can operate through walls, smoke and steam, detecting movements as minute as a person breathing, claims the company. The technology has so far been applied to develop privacy-focused smart home solutions, but it’s clear that its potential applications go far beyond that.

Moving forward with SoftBank

In December last year, Vayyar signed a deal with SoftBank to collaborate on IoT innovation. Together, the two companies are developing applications for public transport, construction, and elderly care by combining SoftBank’s AI with Vayyar’s sensor technology.

Vayyar says, “Our mission is to help people worldwide improve their health, safety, and quality of life – in a variety of ways. Some consumers may see us in their physician’s office; others may use our sensors to help monitor elderly family members in a way that respects and preserves their privacy, and others may use our in-wall imaging device to map what’s inside their walls for a home improvement projects.”

“In every application, we aim for our sensors to make everyone’s lives easier and safer.”

Internet of Business says

This seems to be a smart solution, in every sense. In these selfie-obsessed, camera-populated times, it is easy to assume that the camera is the answer to everything. But a great many people don’t feel comfortable in front of a lens, and even more people have every right to expect that their privacy will be respected.

The partnership with SoftBank is interesting. Among other things, SoftBank has built and acquired a huge presence in robotics, with its majority stake in France’s Aldebaran Robotics (originator of the NAO, Pepper, and Romeo humanoids) and its 2017 acquisition of Boston Dynamics – maker of the internet’s favourite door-opening robot dogs.

Robots have been said to be the eyes, ears, and hands of the internet, but this can be a concern in itself. With robots in care homes, hospitals, shops, and schools, a robot’s camera eyes are an often-overlooked privacy and security concern. In some applications, having an alternative type of sensor may be more appropriate, either as an option, or as a default.

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