During his time in East Lansing, MSU alumnus Gregory Charvat began tinkering with a device that had superhuman powers — the ability to “see” through concrete walls.
After earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from MSU, what began as a prototype in Charvat’s garage has become a reality.
Charvat, now a technical staff member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, was the lead researcher on a project that created a device that uses microwaves to detect moving targets through opaque walls from up to 60 feet away.
“It’s turned into a much bigger project than I had anticipated,” he said.
The original prototype, which was made in Charvat’s former East Lansing garage as part of his doctoral dissertation in 2007, prompted his research team at MIT to create a more sophisticated model — with the help of internal research development funds. After introducing the idea to his colleagues in 2009, they began working to create a model that can work in an operationally relevant environment.
“I took a big risk because I believed in it,” Charvat said. “And I think it has really paid off.”
The device the team created is eight and a half feet long with an array of 21 antennas.
It emits low power microwave signals in the direction of the target, and since the wall absorbs only a small fraction of those signals, the majority are sent back toward the device. The small amount of energy that actually makes it through the wall bounces off of the moving targets and returns back to the device’s receivers, producing real-time images of what lies beyond the wall.
The moving pictures are then digitized in the form of a video at the rate of approximately 11 frames per second, he said.
Although not greatly detailed, Charvat describes the video images as a “bird’s-eye view” of what lies on the other side of the wall.
During his time studying electrical engineering at MSU, Charvat said he taught himself how to develop radar imaging sensors during his spare time.
“I went completely nuts and got totally absorbed in my research and experiments … nothing else mattered,” he said. “I worked like crazy and developed a model — the rest was history.”
If all works out as planned, Charvat said the device. Gregory L. Charvat Projects/A Low-Power Radar Imaging System.html will be used for military applications and will be useful especially in “urban battlefields.” He said the technology also could be applied for other purposes including emergency search and rescue and automotive collision response situations.
Graduate student Nikki Salerno said the device could be very useful in military applications.
“I think innovation in the military is necessary because it can save our men’s lives,” Salerno said. “I think if used in the proper way it could be very influential.”
Leo Kempel, associate dean for research in MSU’s College of Engineering and Charvat’s doctoral adviser, said he is very proud of Charvat’s success in the field, adding that he resembled a “mad scientist.”
“Greg is a good example of the kind of students that we have here at MSU,” Kempel said. “He has always been an overachiever.”
Now, Charvat said he will work on improving the device while teaching MIT courses dealing with radar engineering.