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A New Mobile Chip Beams Data for Miles Using Almost No Power

September 14, 2017

For under a dime and with just a whisker of electricity, devices could send data throughout a building. Researchers at the University of Washington led by Shyam Gollakota, one of our 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2014, have built a new chip that uses reflected radio signals to efficiently transmit data over great distances.

The chip uses a technique called long-range backscatter to communicate with other devices. Instead of creating signals from scratch, it is able to selectively reflect radio waves that are already passing through space to create a new signal. The researchers built out several prototype devices that use the technology, including a skin patch and a connected contact lens like the one shown off by Gollakota at at EmTech MIT in 2016, and tested them to find out how well they perform.

In a paper presented this week at UbiComp 2017 conference in Maui, Hawaii, the team explains that it's found that the devices are able to create their signals when they’re as far as 475 meters from a radio frequency source, and send a signal just as far again at that distance from the source. When the chip is placed next to the radio frequency source, it can send data as far as 1.75 miles. For a more real-world example, the team also says it can send data through a 41-room office or three-story house.

These chips, which are predicted to cost about ten cents each to make at mass-production scale, also use up to 1,000 times less power than other wireless data transmission systems such as Wi-Fi. That means that devices could also make use of Gollakota’s radio frequency power scavenging technology, too—which we named one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2016—rather than requiring a battery.

 

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