‘Ambient backscatter’ is technology for battery free object communication

August 20, 2013

Research engineers from the University of Washington have developed a new system of wireless communication devices that interact with one another without wired power (batteries). The new technology is called ambient backscatter .It works by absorbing the various types of transmissions like WI-FI, radio waves, mobile networks among others and everything around us that is in the air. The prototype devices talk to each other by using antenna that intercepts and reflects these signals back and forth. In simpler terms, the engineers at the university built battery free devices that harness a TV signal, which can be picked up by other similar devices. According to Shyam Gollakota, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Washington University, the team of engineers can repurpose wireless signals that are already around them into both a source of power and a communication medium. Gollakota hopes that the technology is going to have applications in a number of areas including smart homes, wearable computing, and self-sustaining sensor networks.

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The tested prototypes were able to send data at a rate of 1 kilobit per second when up to 2.5 feet outdoors and 1.5 feet indoor. In their paper, engineers said that this was enough to send text messages, contact information and was functioning fully despite the nearest source of ambient signals which was a TV tower being 6 and half miles away. Other useful applications could include tags for wallets, keys among others that could help us find them if we lose them. Another suggestion is sensors built in to credit cards to enable easy wireless payments. The new technology could significantly hasten the development of the ‘Internet of Things’. US engineers latest development could come in handy for our existing technology that demands each device to have its own power source. In their revelation, the researchers have given the example of developing such communicating sensors into monitoring the integrity of the concrete and steel in a bridge. They demonstrated how if an irregularity is detected, a signal is sent without any concern that the power supply would run out.

Contador Harrison