Dynamic Metasurface Antennas for Detecting Human Presence

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Durham, North Carolina
Project Term:
06/06/2018 - 12/05/2020

Technology Description:

Duke University will develop a residential sensor system that uses a dynamic meta-surface radar antenna design to determine occupancy in residential buildings. Traditional line-of-sight movement sensors suffer from high error rates. To increase accuracy, the Duke team will develop a sensor that monitors electromagnetic waveforms that are scattered both directly and indirectly off a person, eliminating the need for a direct line-of-sight between the sensor and the person. The sensor hardware continuously generates distinct microwave patterns to probe all corners of the house. Once a person enters a room, their motion changes the scattering statistics of the environment, which is used to establish real-time room occupancy. These characteristics are then analyzed using machine-learning techniques to establish human presence. The radar antenna can quickly sample an area and this information can be used to distinguish humans with the sensitivity to detect even stationary human’s micro movements such as breathing. Further, the system operates at microwave frequencies, ensuring minimal concern for human safety. The proposed sensor does not require an internet connection or communication links, ensuring minimal security and privacy concerns. If successful, the system promises detection of occupants and near-zero false negative rate without any complex user interactions.

Potential Impact:

If successful, SENSOR projects will dramatically reduce the amount of energy needed to effectively heat, cool, and ventilate buildings without sacrificing occupant comfort.


Lower electricity consumption by buildings eases strain on the grid, helping to improve resilience and reduce demand during peak hours, when the threat of blackouts is greatest.


Using significantly less energy could help reduce emissions attributed to power generation. In addition, improved interior air quality could help prevent negative effects on human health.


Buildings will require less energy to operate, reducing heating, cooling, and ventilation costs for businesses and families. In addition, better controlled ventilation may lead to improved indoor air quality (ensured by an accurate occupant count, and validated via widespread CO2 detection) may lead to improved worker productivity and academic performance.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Marina Sofos
Project Contact:
David Smith
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