As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more and more popular, one challenge in particular is proving to be very pressing: how to power all of those devices in your home. Most smart devices on the market use a small Wi-Fi module, like the ESP8266, to send data to your network. The issue is that these gadgets need power.
As it stands, the two realistic options are the same as for any other electronic: power them with batteries, or plug them into the wall. But, with everything from thermometers to toothpaste dispensers getting the IoT treatment, it has become apparent that finding an alternative would be incredibly helpful. After all, many of these aren’t near power outlets, and nobody wants to worry about replacing batteries all the time.
Now researchers from the University of Washington have come up with a very innovative way to 3D print smart devices that don’t require any electronics or even a power source. The key concept at the heart of the system is Wi-Fi backscatter monitoring, which sends out a wireless signal and measures the reflections. Traditionally, those reflections are either static (from a fixed antenna), or are modified dynamically with electronics.
This new method allows the devices to relay dynamic information, but without the need for electronics. That’s accomplished using various 3D-printed mechanisms that make contact with a copper antenna and modify the signal being sent back to the backscatter receiver. Utilizing this technique, the researchers were able to make devices like switches, knobs, and even a soap-level monitor that can communicate with an IoT hub, and are completely free from electronics or the need for a power source.