Scientists, including those from NASA, have developed a ‘Wi-Fi microchip’ for wearable devices that transmits information faster and uses less power than traditional receivers.
If the power necessary to transmit and receive information from a wearable to a computer, cellular or Wi-Fi network were reduced, users could get a lot more mileage out of the technology they are wearing before having to recharge it, researchers said.
Adrian Tang of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and M C Frank Chang at the University of California, Los Angeles, have been working on microchips for wearable devices that reflect wireless signals instead of using regular transmitters and receivers.
Their solution transmits information up to three times faster than regular Wi-Fi.
“The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the Wi-Fi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said.
Information transmitted to and from a wearable device is encoded as 1s and 0s, just like data on a computer. This needs to be represented somehow in the system the wearable device uses to communicate.
When incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit, that’s a “0,” and if the chip reflects that energy, that’s a “1.” This simple switch mechanism uses very little power and allows for the fast transfer of information between a wearable device and a computer, smartphone, tablet or other technology capable of receiving the data.
The challenge for Tang and his colleagues was that the wearable device is not the only object in a room that reflects signals – so do walls, floors, ceilings, furniture and whatever other objects happen to be around.
The chip in the wearable device needs to differentiate between the real Wi-Fi signal and the reflection from the background.
To overcome background reflections, Tang and Chang developed a wireless silicon chip that constantly senses and suppresses background reflections, enabling the Wi-Fi signal to be transmitted without interference from surrounding objects.
They tested the system at distances of up to 20 feet. At about 8 feet, they achieved a data transfer rate of 330 megabits per second, which is about three times the current Wi-Fi rate, using about a thousand times less power than a regular Wi-Fi link.
A base station and Wi-Fi service are required for the system to work. To compensate for low power drain on the wearable, the computer or other technology it’s communicating with must have a long battery life or be plugged in.
There are a multitude of potential applications for the new technology, including in space. For example, astronauts and robotic spacecraft could potentially use this technology to transmit images at a lower cost to their precious power supplies. This might also allow more images to be sent at a time.