We live in an increasingly data-focused world where analytics are everything. Entire online economies rely purely on data collection, and how that data can be used to turn a profit. That data collection is even relevant in your own home, and most IoT systems have tools in place to track how they’re used. But, those require power and relatively expensive electronics. These new 3D-printed objects, however, are designed to collect, store, and transmit usage data without any electronics at all.
These novel new designs were developed by engineers from the University of Washington, who demonstrated a similar concept last year. Their original designs used backscatter communication to track the movement of 3D-printed mechanisms. Those mechanisms only had conductive antennas, and their backscatter “signature” changed as the mechanism moved, which was detectable. These new 3D-printed devices push that technology one step further to actually store that data.
Because the devices don’t contain electronics, data storage is handled mechanically until they’re within WiFi range and can “upload” the data. One such mechanism is built into an insulin pen. Every time the user pushes the button on the pen, it moves a spring-loaded ratchet one step further. Once the user is in range of the WiFi backscatter receiver, they can release the ratchet. As it unwinds, it makes contact with the antenna. Each ratchet notch creates a signal blip, and the receiver simply counts those signals to determine how many time the user used their insulin pen. The same basic technique could also be used for other devices, such as a pill bottle that registers every time it’s opened or closed.