Electrical engineers from UC San Diego have designed a new Wi-Fi radio chip that’s smaller than a grain of rice and consumes 5,000 times less power than current Wi-Fi radios, which the engineer's state could be used for IoT devices, wearables, and smart home setups. The tiny chip can allow smart devices to connect with existing Wi-Fi networks at a rate of two megabits per second while using just 28 microwatts of power.
Currently, Wi-Fi radios draw hundreds of milliwatts of power to bridge IoT devices with Wi-Fi transceivers using either large batteries, repeated recharging, or an external power source to keep running, which limits many applications that rely on a constant power source. UC San Diego’s device, on the other hand, can run for years using just a single coin cell battery.
“This Wi-Fi radio is low enough power that we can now start thinking about new application spaces where you no longer need to plug IoT devices into the wall. This could unleash smaller, fully wireless IoT setups,” explains UC San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Patrick Mercier.
The Wi-Fi radio is capable of using a small amount of energy is due to a process known as backscattering, a method of transmitting data by piggybacking data using a connected devices’ signal, which is then sent back to another Wi-Fi channel or access point. Backscattering enabled the engineers to design a smaller, more efficient Wi-Fi radio with a longer communication range.