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Researchers reveal new Wi-Fi tech that can power battery-free IoT devices

Wi-fi backscatter is a new technology that could potentially power battery-free devices for use in the Internet of Things.
By
August 11, 2014
wifi-backscatter

We’ve written numerous articles about the potential of the Internet of Things, and how it could eventually bring forth a world where billions of sensors and smart devices interact with one another and connect with the Internet to make our lives a little better, a little easier. Of course one major hurdle to the IoT revolution is powering all these gizmos, though a team of researchers at the University of Washington may have come up with an innovative solution to this problem.

The team recently invented a new technology called Wi-Fi backscatter, which it has since detailed in a paper it plans to formally publish later this month. So what exactly is Wi-FI backscatter? Simply put, Wi-Fi backscatter is able to communicate with battery-free RF-powered devices by either reflecting or not reflecting a Wi-Fi signal between a router and another device like a laptop. This interruption in signal can be read by special software and interpreted in a way similar to binary code.

“Once we are able to reflect [or not] reflect Wi-Fi signals, you can think of the functionality like a signal mirror,” researcher Bryce Kellogg revealed to CNET. “I can send you messages in binary by reflecting the sun at you (1) or not (0). Wi-Fi backscatter works in a similar way.”

The team has not only detailed how this all would work, it also tested the technology using an ultra-low power tag prototype with an antenna and circuitry that can connect to a variety of electronic devices while consuming negligible amounts of power. The team believes that this tech could eventually be used as a low-power solution for devices like smartwatches or fitness devices tracking your morning activity. Even more exciting, the tech could theoretically be applied to battery-free sensors and other IoT-related devices.

Here’s a video that explains the concept in a bit more detail:

In addition to their paper and early demos, the engineer team also notes they plan to explore the idea of forming a company that could further develop and promote Wi-Fi backscatter technology. Obviously the tech is still in its early days, but the potential here is mind-blowing. What do you think of the tech, a major game-changer? How do you feel about the Internet of Things in general?