Researchers at the University of Washington created a prototype that allows a plastic object, created on a 3D printer, to communicate on the Wi-Fi network without the need for a battery. The technology at first sight may seem rudimentary, but it has been pointed out with the potential to revolutionize the Internet of Things.
The idea in the future is to allow objects to perform basic communication tasks, such as informing that a container is empty, without necessarily being connected to a source of electricity.
‘Internet of Things’: understand the concept and what changes with technology
Objects printed on plastic ‘communicate’ wirelessly – Photo: Mark Stone / University of Washington
The project uses the reflection of electromagnetic waves to send signals over the wireless network. The objects are printed on plastic, but they contain conductive materials such as graphene and copper filaments.
To understand, imagine a connection between a router and a smartphone in a place without obstacles. Electromagnetic signals are transmitted constantly, without interference. Basically, the research places the object to create a small distortion in the signal, which can be captured and interpreted by another device connected to the network, such as a cell phone, for example.
For this, instead of electrical signals on a circuit board, the research uses mechanics, with gears and switches. Each movement creates a bit (0s or 1s) – this is how a computer can interpret it. Near the contact point is a small antenna.
3D object brings conductive material to alter electromagnetic waves – Photo: Disclosure / Washington University
In one example, the researchers created an anemometer, equipment used to measure wind speed. As the blades move, a gear spins. Even with equipment out of power, the computer was able to interpret the intensity on a graph. Another prototype shown uses the same concept to scroll pages on the internet, such as a Wi-Fi scroll.
The technology could be used to prevent Internet of Things devices that perform basic functions from using a battery or being plugged into an outlet. In the future, it could be used, for example, to add a specific product to the shopping list, such as dog food or cleaning supplies.