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Superman dreams come true

8 September 2015
Childhood dreams are full of superheroes but how many of these dreams come true?

Xiaopeng Wang, PhD research candidate at the University of Sydney’s School of Electrical and Information Engineering is close to realising his dream of being like Superman, having X-ray vision and saving peoples’ lives.

Wang’s super hero dreams led him to the telecommunication research group at the University where he is part of a team developing a device with capabilities to see through the walls of collapsed buildings or piles of rubble.

The 25-year-old who grew up in a village outside Beijing overlooking the Great Wall of China says:

“I suppose I have had a little bit of heroism in me since I was a kid. I wanted to be Superman, with super powers to protect the innocent, fight against crime and save lives.”

I envied Superman’s X-ray eyes the most! I thought his ability to see through walls would have great value in the real world

After successful trials of a large scale version of the team’s device, Wang is now working on a smaller model of his prototype.

“To achieve the ‘x-ray vision’, we used Electromagnetic (EM) waves, which are the same thing that give us the radio and Wi-Fi. Some kinds of the EM waves can go through a wall and send back the information relating to the object hidden behind it,” said Wang.

“We can then process the waves to retrieve the information we want. We then reshape the wave so people can tell the shape of the object it has captured.”

Dr Zihuai Lin, Wang’s PhD supervisors says his device has the potential to be used broadly in natural disasters, emergencies, such as the recent Tianjin Tanggu explosion and the Nepalese earthquake.

“When people get buried under collapsed buildings, a device such as this one could pinpoint the precise location of the survivor and definitely speed up the rescue mission,” says Dr Lin.

Before he embarked on his research journey, Wang was a devotee of video gaming. He admits to spending hours and hours playing games such as War of Warcraft, Counter Strike or Call of Duty.  His immersive gaming experience also gave him some inspirational ideas for his research.

“In those virtual reality games, you use a gadget to probe inside architectural structures or buildings, either to win a fierce battle or rescue a teammate,” he says. “I thought this is what I want to achieve in reality.”

However Wang has had a much greater sense of satisfaction achieving his research goals than accomplishing his gaming tasks. “This is reality,” he says.


Victoria Hollick

Media and Public Relations Adviser
  • Level 5 School of Information Technologies Building J12

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