Researchers devise new method to use Wi-Fi for head counts

9 June 2015, 2:56 pm EDT By Don Melanson Tech Times
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A team of researchers from the University of California - Santa Barbara has found a way to count people using Wi-Fi, without relying on mobile devices. An example of the setup (left) in an outdoor setting and (right) in an indoor setting. In each case, the received power measurements of a Wi-Fi card are used to estimate the total number of people. The TX is a D-link WBR1310 wireless router and the RX is an Atheros ar5006x WiFi card.  ( UC - Santa Barbara )

The more pervasive Wi-Fi gets, the more uses we seem to find for it. The latest case in point: a team of researchers from UC Santa Barbara - who have already used Wi-Fi to let robots see through walls - have now found a way to use Wi-Fi to estimate the number of people in a given space. What's more, they're able to do so without depending on people actually carrying Wi-Fi devices.

Instead, as Professor Yasamin Mostofi explained in a news release, they rely only on analyzing the power measurements that are received by a Wi-Fi link - in the case of their experiment, two Wi-Fi cards placed at opposite ends of a target area. By measuring the changes in the signal when people walk through the area, they're able to estimate the number of people in the space. And, according to the researchers, they're able to do so with a high degree of accuracy, both indoors and out.

Given how widely Wi-Fi is used these days, the researchers see no shortage of potential applications for the head-counting method, from counting the number of people in a building and adjusting the heating or air conditioning accordingly, to estimating the number of shoppers in a store for business planning purposes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mostofi also says that her group plans to combine this new effort with their aforementioned research into imaging objects and people through walls, suggesting that Wi-Fi could soon not just be ever-present, but all-seeing as well.

Check out the video below for more on the experiment.

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