No Batteries Required: Powering the Internet of Things Revolution Just Got Easier

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The Internet of Things Revolution is taking off.  Concerns about security abound and make for sensational headlines, but there are other concerns that barely get noticed. Of course we are talking about energy and in particular how much it will take to power the Internet of Things.

The promise of the Internet of Things is that as devices are able to communicate with each other, our lives will be made much easier. That means less to worry about and more time to enjoy. Imagine if all the sensors needed to communicate with one another did not need batteries or draw additional power from the grid.

Engineers from the University of Washington have designed a communication system that uses radio frequency signals as a power source and reuses existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide internet connectivity to these devices. Using ultra-low power tags with an antenna and circuitry, these tags communicate with Wi-Fi enabled laptops or smartphones by looking for Wi-Fi signals moving between the router and a laptop or smartphone. Data is encoded by either reflecting or not reflecting the Wi-Fi router’s signals, slightly changing the wireless signal. The Wi-Fi enabled laptop or smartphone would detect these changes and receive data from the tag.

“If Internet of Things devices are going to take off, we must provide connectivity to the potentially billions of battery-free devices that will be embedded in everyday objects,” said Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “We now have the ability to enable Wi-Fi connectivity for devices while consuming orders of magnitude less power than what Wi-Fi typically requires.”

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