If you’ve ever been out and about when your phone battery is running low, a new development may give you hope – just possibly not for a few years.
Shyam Gollakota, assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, demonstrated to the EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco a way to power devices using wi-fi signals.
Before you get your hopes up too high, the current version of Wi-Fi Backscatter is currently only able to power items requiring tiny amounts of power such as motion detectors or temperature sensors, and they need to be less than eight metres away from the router. That said, the team’s experiments also indicate that background or ambient communications such as TV and cellular traffic could also be used, immediately opening up the possibilities for future developments, especially in powering the ‘Internet of Things’.
The team overcame what was one of the earlier problems with such set-ups, namely that too much interference was caused, slowing up the networks. The team adopted an approach where they swapped between different channels in the 2.4 GHz band.
Shyam Gollakota and the team are very positive about how their new developments could be harnessed to help the ‘Internet of Things’ really take off:
RF-powered devices hold the promise to realize a pervasive vision of the ‘Internet of Things’ where devices may be embedded into everyday objects and can achieve computation, sensing, and communication, all without the need to ever plug them in or maintain batteries.
We present Wi-Fi Backscatter, a novel communication system that bridges RF-powered devices with the Internet. We show that it is possible to reuse existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity to RF-powered devices. We show the feasibility of our approach by building a hardware prototype and demonstrating the first communication link between an RF-powered device and commodity Wi-Fi devices. We run experiments with off-the-shelf Wi-Fi devices and achieve communication rates of up to 1 kbps and ranges of up to 2.1 m. We believe that this new capability is critical for the commercial adoption of RF-powered Internet of Things.
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