Harvesting electromagnetic energy from thin air to develop self-sustaining Internet of Things (IoT) communications may become reality thanks to a new technology called HitchHike. The goal is to reduce the need for continual maintenance of the expected billions of IoT installations. Researchers say they’re close to the finish line. Worst case scenario, they say they’ll be able to get Wi-Fi chips to run for 10 years on the same, small battery.
“HitchHike is the first self-sufficient Wi-Fi system that enables data transmission using just micro-watts of energy, almost zero,” claims Pengyu Zhang, a Stanford researcher, in a recent press release from the school. Existing commodity infrastructure working with a harvesting technique called “backscatter” signals is behind the researchers' work to achieving Wi-Fi efficiency for IoT.
Backscattering is the term used for the creation of new signals quaffed from gathered, ambient radio waves, such as existing television. Those radio signals, prevalent anyway, are ingested and converted into new signals. It uses a kind of reflection cannibalization. The energy from the siphoned radio waves powers the new ones. In this case, the academics’ processor and radio combination equipment piggy-backs on incoming Wi-Fi signals of the kind we all use in laptop and smartphone communications. It then “translates those incoming signals to its own messages and retransmits its own data on a different Wi-Fi channel.”
The HitchHike prototype is about the size of a postage stamp and uses a coin battery. However, the researchers say they will be able to shrink that, and ultimately it will be as small as the proverbial grain of rice. The scientists say their device has a functioning range of 50 meters and will be able to message at 300 kilobits per second. IoT-oriented messaging often doesn’t need high bandwidth, just frequent sending and receiving functionality of brief commands.