Battery-free wireless device communication may be on its way

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Battery drain is the bane of every smartphone user's existence, but new technology under development at the University of Washington may soon bring some relief. Engineers have come up with a way to allow mobile devices to communicate with each other independent of power supplies like batteries or wire chargers.

UW's Michelle Ma explains, "The new communication technique, which the researchers call 'ambient backscatter,' takes advantage of the TV and cellular transmissions that already surround us around the clock. Two devices communicate with each other by reflecting the existing signals to exchange information. The researchers built small, battery-free devices with antennas that can detect, harness and reflect a T.V. signal, which then is picked up by other similar devices."

Researchers involved in the project say it's simply a matter of putting free-floating wireless signals to good use before they're absorbed by the objects around them. One way to do that is by placing sensors in mobile devices that allow data to hitch a ride onto these signals and jump onto someone else's mobile device.

The possibilities this kind of technology opens up are endless. "Smart sensors could be built and placed permanently inside nearly any structure, then set to communicate with each other," notes Ma. "For example, sensors placed in a bridge could monitor the health of the concrete and steel, then send an alert if one of the sensors picks up a hairline crack."

If this technology makes it to the consumer market, one can only hope the engineers responsible are awarded a Nobel prize--and notified about it via a text sent from a battery-free phone.

Read more:
- see the UW article

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