WiFi Sensing vs. Radar: Coverage, Cost, and Connectedness

Radar has been used by governments and technology companies for decades, detecting the movements of people and objects. Originally developed for military use during World War II, the applications of radar technology have expanded dramatically over time – you can now find radar used in modern vehicles, in train tunnels, in mining, and in traffic monitoring.

However, in recent years, engineers have developed technology that distinguishes itself from radar: WiFi Sensing. The inventor of WiFi Sensing, Origin CEO Dr. Ray Liu, has worked on radar projects and first encountered the potential of WiFi when solving multipath issues within a submarine for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

WiFi Sensing uses existing WiFi waves to detect and analyze movement. In the future, it will replace the use of radar in certain environments.

Though radar and WiFi Sensing are similar, they are not the same. What makes them different? How do they stack up against each other? Read on for a full comparison.

Coverage

Radar technology is line-of-sight, meaning it can’t see through walls or wrap around corners to cover multiple rooms. Though this is fine in select applications, it means that the technology’s capabilities are limited by frequent blind spots. WiFi Sensing has far fewer (if any) blind spots, increasing scope of coverage.

WiFi is ubiquitous in our modern age, and WiFi Sensing can provide presence detection coverage anywhere equipped with WiFi – a home, a building, a car, etc.

Additionally, radar’s coverage is in a “cone” shape – the highest level of accuracy is closest to the device, decreasing the farther away you get. This becomes especially problematic in healthcare and elderly monitoring settings. When using radar technology for fall detection, someone would have to fall in front of the device for it to successfully detect the fall. In contrast, WiFi Sensing accurately detects movement (including falls) from anywhere within the monitored environment – no matter how close a person is to the device.

WiFi Sensing also has reduced detection latency compared to many radar systems, able to quickly sense and analyze movement, providing highly accurate real-time updates.

Cost Effectiveness

Because Radar is line-of-sight, you need more devices to cover an area than you would if utilizing WiFi Sensing. More devices mean higher costs – which can be out of many end users’ budgets whether they are individual homeowners or business leaders. In senior living facilities or at-home senior monitoring environments, it is expected to have at least one device in the bedroom, bathroom, and living room. On Amazon, radar fall detection devices can cost $250 each, making it $750 for a consumer to minimally cover their home.

Within the automotive industry, manufacturers would need 2-3 radar devices to accurately cover three rows of seating, footwells, and trunk. These can cost as much as $30/each, which is a large expense on a manufacturer’s BOM (bill of materials) costs. The WiFi Sensing technology being introduced by Origin in new vehicles uses the existing WiFi devices that most newly manufactured cars have today, requiring just a few additional low-cost antennas to extend coverage.

Active radar systems require dedicated antennas and transceivers that can be complicated and expensive. Since many IoT (internet of things) devices are already WiFi-enabled, installation relies much more heavily on software rather than hardware, which can save users money.

Additionally, WiFi Sensing technology is often easier to install than radar, with DIY installation options available, thus reducing or eliminating steep installation fees.

Interconnectedness and Interoperability

Unlike radar, WiFi Sensing systems run on access points (APs) and can utilize the existing IoT devices connected to the APs as virtual sensors. This promotes a greater interoperability with existing smart home devices and offers more coverage within an environment.

WiFi Sensing can connect to smart devices to control thermostats, lighting, security systems, and more, all without compromising network performance. With cost effectiveness in mind, the technology is also being directly and seamlessly integrated into hardware that serves a dual purpose (such as smart plugs and light bulbs).

When the next IEEE 802.11bf WiFi standard is adopted, WiFi Sensing’s compatibility and interoperability with WiFi devices will increase dramatically.

Algorithms

A core advantage of WiFi Sensing is its ability to analyze even minor movements such as breathing, providing far more detailed context and information about what is happening and why. Through powerful AI engines and machine learning, WiFi Sensing algorithms improve the depth of understanding in given environments. For example, within an in-home elderly monitoring setting, the algorithms will learn if an individual spends a longer than average time in the bathroom, and will not send an emergency alert unless that time is exceeded.

Future Applications

Radar may have a long history, but many believe that WiFi Sensing is the future.

Due to its strategic advantages, WiFi Sensing could replace radar’s use within the aging in place, elderly monitoring, and automotive industries. For aging in place applications, WiFi Sensing provides more coverage and context into movements within a home, offering more peace of mind to caregivers and their loved ones. In the automotive market, WiFi Sensing can be seamlessly added into a car’s design at less cost to the manufacturer while offering greater reliability for the user.

WiFi Sensing systems come equipped with over-the-air update capabilities, ensuring that homes and cars always have the most up-to-date features, continually evolving through AI engines as time goes on.

Regardless of their differences, radar and WiFi Sensing will continue to influence our health, safety, and lives. The technologies will continue to advance, improving our world.

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