Researchers have developed a WiFi-based gesture recognition system lets you control connected devices through walls.

WiSee system lets you control an entire house with gesture recognition


The way we interact with our electronic equipment is changing all the time. Typing on a computer keyboard and using a mouse are being gradually replaced by more sense-based interactivity. What is being termed ‘perceptual computing’ is now coming on stream. This technology allows us to send commands to electronic devices through our senses –i.e. by touch, voice and movement. Most of the systems on the market today, such as  Microsoft’s Kinect and Leap Motion, use sensors to register movement. Such systems cannot be used just anywhere and require special installation. Moreover, you have to be directly in front of your Kinect to make it work. However, a group of researchers from the University of Washington have now developed a new system, called WiSee, designed to enable people to command and control equipment via WiFi. This system, which is still at the prototype stage, will allow you to turn on or off any ‘connected’ machine with simple gestures, even if it is situated on the other side of a wall or at the other end of your apartment.

Gesture recognition based on Wifi signals

Most gesture recognition systems require extensive installations, and are therefore often very difficult to set up in a relatively spacious area, as the sensors or cameras need to be positioned precisely. Moreover, devices using embedded technology, such as Google Glass, are limited by what the user is willing to wear on a continuous basis. By contrast, WiSee provides very simple functionality which does not require any special equipment or infrastructure. It works with the user’s movement and detects changes in the WiFi frequency when people move or walk around within in a given space. The inventors have announced that at the moment WiSee is able to respond to a set of nine vertical or horizontal gestures, and can distinguish intentional command gestures from the user’s natural movements as s/he moves normally around the apartment. Last but not least, using a series of antennas, WiSee is able to pick up the gestures of up to five users. One antenna is assigned to each person and reacts to his/her movements.

Controlling equipment throughout the home

When we think of a ‘connected’ house, we usually have in mind systems akin to Nest (smart thermostats), but WiSee offers a much wider range of possibilities. As a WiFi signal can pass through walls, it allows you to send commands to equipment located in other rooms. WiSee also has the advantage that it is able to work everywhere and needs relatively few signal sources. In a University publication*, the inventors explain that a user would, for example, be able to “control the music volume while showering, or change the song playing on a music system installed in the living room while cooking, or turn up the thermostat while in bed.” WiSee can be used with any internet enabled device, whether a laptop or a tablet etc. In addition, WiSee would appear to be suited to family use. The team have tested their invention in both a two-bedroom apartment and an office environment. Out of the 900 gestures performed by the test group, the system recognized 94% - a highly promising result.


*Whole-Home Gesture Recognition Using Wireless Signals – Working Draft; by Qifan Pu, Sidhant Gupta, Shyamnath Gollakota, and Shwetak Patel; University of Washington.