MEDICAL RESEARCH

Researchers use wireless signals to recognize emotions

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One of these days, the walls may know when you’re happy, sad, stressed or angry by using an experimental device unveiled Tuesday by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that uses wireless signals to recognize emotions through subtle changes in breathing and heartbeat.

Computer scientist Dina Katabi and her colleagues at the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab developed a radar system for vital signs that uses reflected radio signals to track movements, moods and behavior, with potential applications for smart homes, offices and hospitals.

They posted their new research online Tuesday and plan to present their test results next month at a mobile-computing conference in New York.

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These wireless signals—a thousand times less powerful than conventional Wi-Fi—are designed to bounce off anyone within range, capturing variations in vital signs that can be analyzed quickly by a computer algorithm able to detect emotional states, the researchers said. To distinguish one mood from another, their system measures patterns of respiration, cardiac rhythms, and minute variations in the length of each individual heartbeat.

“All of us share so much in how our emotions affect our vital signs,” said Dr. Katabi. “We get an accuracy that is so high that we can look at individual heartbeats at the order of milliseconds.”

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