A group of Canberra university students is experimenting with a piece of technology invented to see inside walls to instead look through them, with potentially life-saving benefits.
"We're trying to put a whole bunch of things together that I don't think were meant to go together," Edward McCarthy laughs.
The University of Canberra student is half-joking as he explains the progress he and fellow students Adam Hoad and Daniel Mustaine have made in just 12 weeks.
But the research could one day revolutionise the way emergency services go about evacuating and rescuing people from burning buildings, helping first responders pinpoint each casualty's location before entering the room where they are trapped.
The students are using a Walabot, which is a wireless sensor device invented for tradespeople or do-it-yourself enthusiasts to look between walls for wires, studs and pipes.
They've taken the technology a step further, creating a robot that also includes a lightweight Raspberry Pi mobile computer and two standard laptops.
The device can be driven around remotely using a keyboard and used to look through walls, using radio frequency signals to detect and monitor movement.
It feeds information back to connected computers in multiple forms, including the coordinates of anything it detects moving and a heat map that shows the distance from the device of any targets.
Only 12 weeks into the students' study, the technology is still in its infancy and further research is needed before it can be applied to real-world scenarios.
Already, though, the students have been able to pick up targets who are within six metres of the walls they are scanning through using only a cheap, consumer-grade sensor.
The equipment currently being tested cannot pick up anything through metal surfaces, and needs to be re calibrated every time it moves. But it had a 100 per cent success rate scanning for targets hidden by brick, wood, gyprock and glass. The students believe that with a few tweaks and upgrades, it will eventually be ready to create a safer and more efficient way of working for emergency services.
One idea is to mount the technology and a camera to a drone that could be piloted through buildings, making it easier to get through multi-storey structures and removing the need for a person to enter an unsafe building until the best plan of attack for a rescue is clear.
"We've been focusing on the fire escape, but [it could also be used] in most natural disasters, like earthquakes," Mr Mustaine said.
"It's to speed up scouring a building and getting first responders in there, and the people in there out."
As Mr Hoad added, it was a lot easier for workers in an emergency situation to get from point A to point B - in this case a casualty - if they knew where point B was.
The Emergency Services Agency did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would be interested in possibly using the technology in the future.