Near-zero-power devices shatter long-range communication barrier

September 14, 2017 //By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Devices that run on almost zero power can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometers as shown in a demonstartion by University of Washington researchers – breaking a long-held barrier and potentially enabling a vast array of interconnected devices with specific relevance to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Currently flexible electronics and other sensors that can't employ bulky batteries and need to operate with very low power typically can't communicate with other devices more than a few feet or meters away. This limits their practical use in applications ranging from medical monitoring and home sensing to smart cities and precision agriculture. For example, knee patches that capture range of motion in arthritic patients to patches that use sweat to detect fatigue in athletes or soldiers – hold great promise for collecting medically relevant data.

In another example, a long-range backscatter system by the University of Washington, which uses reflected radio signals to transmit data at extremely low power and low cost, achieved reliable coverage throughout 4800-square-foot house, an office area covering 41 rooms and a one-acre vegetable farm. The system is detailed in a paper that was presented at UbiComp 2017.

This long-range backscatter system developed by University of Washington engineers for the first time allows devices that run on extremely low power to communicate over long distances. Image courtesy of Dennis Wise, University of Washington.