There is a spy gadget, which you may have seen in movies and TV shows, that can be used to pick up what the occupants of a room are saying by looking at the vibrations of a window. It’s a real thing, and works by bouncing a laser off of the window and then measuring the tiny changes in intensity present in the reflection. Now, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are using the same technology to create a system for tracking specific activities throughout an entire room.
Vibrosight has two major components: the laser transmitter and receiver, and passive retroreflective tags than are placed on appliances and surfaces. The laser is mounted on a small movable turret that can readjust its aim to point at any of the tags in a room. The user just needs to place those tags on specific objects or surfaces. Vibrosight will scan the room to find the tags, and then it will continuously rotate through each tag. When it aims at a tag, it detects the reflected light and monitors for any variation caused by activity.
If a tag were placed on a dishwasher, for example, Vibrosight can determine whether it’s currently running or not. The same is true for a wide range of appliances, and machine learning is used to determine their current state. Tags can also be stuck to surfaces, and Vibrosight can detect activity on those surfaces, such as someone chopping vegetables on a countertop. Interactivity is also possible; a tag could be placed on a washing machine, and if the user gives a couple of taps, Vibrosight will notify them when it has finished running. It’s a complex system, but one that could potentially turn an entire room into one comprehensive IoT system.