Scientists have created a tool to equip objects like smartphones and laptops with a bat-like sense of their surroundings.
A machine-learning algorithm developed by experts at the University of Glasgow can measure echoes and sounds to generate images and create the shape, size and layout of the immediate environment.
Researchers say it could help keep buildings intruder-proof without the need for traditional CCTV, track the movements of vulnerable patients in nursing homes, and even track the rise and fall of a patient’s chest to alert health staff to changes in breathing.
The tool, similar to a bat using echolocation to hunt and navigate, could be installed potentially on any device with microphone and speakers or radio antennae.
The research, “3D imaging from multipath temporal echoes”, is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Dr Alex Turpin and Dr Valentin Kapitany, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science and School of Physics and Astronomy, are the lead authors of the paper.
Dr Turpin said: “Echolocation in animals is a remarkable ability, and science has managed to recreate the ability to generate three-dimensional images from reflected echoes in a number of different ways, like Radar and LiDAR.
“What sets this research apart from other systems is that, firstly, it requires data from just a single input – the microphone or the antenna – to create three-dimensional images. Secondly, we believe that the algorithm we’ve developed could turn any device with either of those pieces of kit into an echolocation device.
“That means that the cost of this kind of 3D imaging could be greatly reduced, opening up many new applications.
“It’s clear that there is a lot of potential here for sensing the world in new ways, and we’re keen to continue exploring the possibilities of generating more high-resolution images in the future.”
The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) provided funding for the project.