January 2, 2018

Using No Electronics, 3D-Printed Objects Can Now Connect to Wi-Fi

By Kayla Matthews

3D-Printed Objects Can Connect to Wi-Fi

The vast collection of 3-D-printed products in existence is impressive enough to inspire people of all ages and interests. However, a team recently made 3D-printed items that are remarkable in their own right — they connect to Wi-Fi but don’t need batteries or wall outlets.

In fact, they don’t even have electronics inside them. This development is the first of its kind and could have a significant impact on the Internet of Things (IoT).

Bringing Technology Into the Home

When people read about scientific advancements, they often feel impressed by the associated accomplishments but realize they could never make use of them in their own homes. However, this project is different. The team of University of Washington-based researchers worked with commercially available plastics when determining how to print items and what to create.

They intended to empower people to print the products in their residences. Afterwards, the plastic pieces could communicate with other intelligently engineered items in an abode.

Ambient Backscatter Lets Devices Communicate With Each Other

One of the substantial obstacles to overcome was figuring out how to equip the printed plastics to “talk” to other devices, especially considering the lack of electronic components already mentioned. In the end, the researchers relied on ambient backscatter systems, which modulate existing radiofrequency signals and redirect them to communicate.

Analysts suggest this method of depending on ambient backscatter works particularly well for applications within the IoT. That’s because it creates the opportunity to potentially use harvested radiofrequency energy and does not require wireless chips. In the study above, the research team used an antenna inside a plastic, 3-D-printed item to send data that was decoded by a Wi-Fi receiver.

A Wide Range of Potential Applications

Besides the “first-ever” nature of the scientists’ accomplishment, there is another exciting characteristic of what they did. While in the lab, they developed numerous printed applications and applied their technology to them. Then, they explained their methods in the resultant research paper.

 

There are several ways professionals could depend on the 3-D-printed objects that connect to Wi-Fi. For example, the researchers made a test tube holder that doubles as a monitoring device and can detect the amount of liquid in each container.

Such a tool would be handy in a laboratory and would cut down on the amount of human intervention needed when making sure the test tubes were stored as expected.

They also came up with an anemometer, a device that measures wind speed, that worked while the Wi-Fi source was three meters away. It’s functional but very lightweight, so it could be useful for a meteorologist who is doing field work in a remote location and cannot feasibly carry bulky items.

And what about for household use? One convenient thing that the scientists printed is a wireless weight scale that measures contents up to 150 grams. The wireless connectivity could be helpful if a person is trying to practice portion control or lose weight and wants a record of the total amount of food consumed over time.

The scientists experimented with making curved objects, too, and they created one resembling an armband. It’s not hard to understand how this development could lead to better fitness and wellness trackers that automatically transfer data whenever they are in the range of a Wi-Fi device.

We all occasionally run out of essential items and realize too late that it’s time to buy more, but this problem could become a thing of the past with this new technology. The researchers built a detergent bottle that could measure the amount remaining inside and use the Wi-Fi capabilities to order more when required.

The scientists’ work is remarkable and could benefit both specific industries and many individuals.

From a professional’s perspective, being able to produce necessary materials in-house could save money and avoid delays.

People could also use it to print everyday objects in their homes. It may not be long before printing Wi-Fi-enabled items becomes a typical occurrence around the world.

By Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer dedicated to exploring issues related to the Cloud, Cybersecurity, IoT and the use of tech in daily life.

Her work can be seen on such sites as The Huffington Post, MakeUseOf, and VMBlog. You can read more from Kayla on her personal website.
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