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Vayyar sensors can see through walls and help detect breast cancer

Erin Black

When Vayyar first developed its tiny sensors, it was on a mission to give doctors a low-cost alternative to mammograms, and a way to see malignant growths in human tissue without making patients physically uncomfortable.

The start-up, based in Tel Aviv, is still working on that medical technology. But it has also found plenty of new uses for its sensors — like in self-driving vehicles, smart construction and agricultural equipment, and home security monitors.

Vayyar's sensors are technically MIMO radars on a chip. Smaller than a quarter, they detect radio waves, and therefore the presence and movement of people, across a ten meter area.

Because they don't rely on light and optics, like cameras do, they can "see" through walls, smoke and darkness.

Vayyar CEO Raviv Melamed, formerly a VP at Intel, told CNBC: "Let's say I want to know if my elderly parent or my child fell down. If I put something in their room or in the bathroom that is camera-based, that's violating their privacy. Besides that, in the home in general there are lots of obstacles a camera cannot see around. We have solved that using radar and software."

The start-up demonstrated its first consumer product, the Vayyar home security monitor, at CES in Las Vegas this past week. The device can tell users who is in their house, and where, then send an alert to their phone if a person suddenly falls or if their breathing stops while they're sleeping. It can detect breathing from about three to four meters away from a person without touching, or recording video or sound.

The company believes its Vayyar monitors will be a popular alternative to "nanny cams" and other video-based security cameras, and could be used by hospitals, hotels and senior communities where privacy is tantamount — but so is security.

Vayyar has raised $79 million in venture funding to-date, and is partnering with Softbank to develop new products that have integrated its sensors.