We all know that Wi-Fi is pretty ubiquitous. You use it at home, in coffee shops, certain fast food joints, hotels, the list goes on and on. Now imagine a device that foregoes having a battery, and is instead powered by Wi-Fi. Sounds pretty fantastic, right? Well the technology is still in its infancy, but a team from the University of Washington has taken the first steps towards that goal, by creating the first Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are powered solely by Wi-Fi.
Internet of Things
First we need to understand what Internet of Things is. IoT is the concept that people, animals, or objects are given unique tags that allow the transfer of data in a network without the need for any kind of human input. It’s essentially automation. A good example might be a heart-monitor sensor that sends an email to your doctor if you are having any kind of heart problems. Or sensors in your car that notify a loved one when you have reached a particular destination. Take Google’s Nest for instance. It is an internet connected thermostat that adjusts according to the current temperature and your preference for temperature for a particular time of the day. Eventually IoT is expected to provide more than just machine-to-machine communication, but for now, that is what it is most closely associated with.
While this is a great first step, it is wise to keep current expectations realistic. Presently, the tags can transmit about 1kbs at a range of 7 feet. By today’s standards this is incredibly slow, but the thing to keep in mind here, is that it is being powered by nothing more than Wi-Fi. The ceiling for the potential of this technology is very high.
How Does It Work?
The researchers’ developed an ultra-low powered tag. These tags look for signals in the air from the ubee ddw365 router to a wireless device. Consuming very minimal power, data is encoded by changing the wireless signal very minimally, but enough that it is read by the wireless device as incoming data. You can read more here. They are calling it the Wi-Fi backscatter tag. The hope is to eventually increase its range by up to 65 feet.
If we consider what this technology might look like in 40 years, it becomes awe inspiring. Can you imagine having this technology incorporated into your phone? Charging it just by being within Wi-Fi range? Considering the fact that Wi-Fi is practically everywhere we go today, means that you would very rarely have to plug in to charge your mobile device, if ever. If electric cars become a success in the future, and this technology becomes well developed, in another 50 or 60 years, all that will be required to “fill-up your tank” is to park your vehicle at home, within Wi-Fi range. These ideas are obviously very far into the future, but it gives you an idea of where this technology could go.
The possibilities with this technology are great. Whether or not we will actually see any of the possible amazing results of this research, within our lifetimes, remains to be seen. But I have to admit, it is a whole lot of fun to think about what could happen several years into the future. Now if we could just develop hoverboards…