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Can WiTAG propel the connected home to new heights?

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While the connected home has definitely been gaining ground over the years, research recently completed by a group at the University of Waterloo may be the key to take the connected home, along with other applications to new heights.

Wi-Fi is used every day and accessed in a variety of ways in our homes and offices by computers, smartphones, connected devices and more.

But Wi-Fi on devices consumes battery quickly. This group of researchers at the University of Waterloo have created Wi-Fi sensors that are battery-less, which can work with all existing Wi-Fi networks — WiTAG is a first in the industry.


How does Wi-Fi work?

It may be shocking to learn that not everyone understands really what this is and how it works. Wi-Fi in a nutshell enables wireless communication between devices, with our most common use being to access the internet wirelessly. Wi-Fi access is built into many devices we use every day.

Think desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, FitBits, and smart watches as examples. Wi-Fi typically goes through a router that sends and receives information wirelessly to our devices.

However, Wi-Fi from one router can only reach so far or there can be interference between receiver and router. For us on a daily basis, this constant communication between devices takes quite a bit of power and can drain battery life fast.


The main hurdle the team had to overcome?

Current sensor products in the marketplace require batteries which need to be charged or replaced. Getting to a battery-less sensor hasn’t been an easy road for the group – Ali Abedi, Tim Brecht, Mohammad Hossein Mazaheri and Omid Abari from the University of Waterloo.

The model originally did not work on encrypted Wi-Fi networks – Definitely a no-go these days – everyone wants and should have their Wi-Fi network encrypted. Having both a battery-free sensor that works with all types of networks was their end goal and it looks like they’ve achieved it.


How does WiTAG work?

The research explains that WiTAG sensors source their power through the same radio frequency signals used to connect the sensors wirelessly to Wi-Fi access points.

This means that the sensors can be built into almost anything since you never have to change a battery in them or worry about them having a power source. On top of that, they’ll be cheaper than existing solutions.

The group has created their first prototype and filed for a provisional patent while they work to build out their second prototype.


What do inexpensive, battery-free Wi-Fi sensors mean for the connected home – or even the car, corporate office, gym, restaurants, infrastructure…?

The ability to connect more ‘things’ to work harmoniously together? Become more efficient, better our lives and have some fun? Track usage patterns better?

This new technology could mean better options in the future both financially and in terms of ease of use and efficiency. Sensors can be attached to useful on-the-go tech like glucose monitoring devices, temperature controls, and more.

The possibilities are endless as to what a cheap and efficient technology like this could enable.

You can read more about the research here: WiTAG: Rethinking Backscatter Communication for Wi-Fi Networks, which was co-authored by Abari, Brecht, Abedi and Mohammad Hossein Mazaher