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Low power WiFi device to translate radio waves

A technology developed at Stanford that hitchhikes on radio signals could provide a way to control IoT devices.

“HitchHike is the first self-sufficient WiFi system that enables data transmission using just micro-watts of energy – almost zero,” researcher Pengyu Zhang said. “It can be used as it is with existing WiFi without modification or additional equipment. You can use it right now with a cell phone and your off-the-shelf WiFi router.”

According to the team, HitchHike is so low power that a small battery could drive it for a decade or more. It even has the potential to harvest energy from existing radio waves and use that electromagnetic energy, plucked from its surroundings, to power itself – perhaps indefinitely.

“HitchHike could lead to widespread adoption in the Internet of Things,” explained associate professor Sachin Katti. “Sensors could be deployed anywhere we can put a coin battery that has existing WiFi. The technology could potentially even operate without batteries. That would be a big development in this field.”

The Hitchhike prototype is a processor and a radio. With a range of up to 50m and able to transmit up to 300kbits/s, it supposedly measures the size of a postage stamp, but the engineers believe that they can make it smaller for use in implanted bio-devices like a wireless heart rate sensor.

HitchHike translates incoming radio waves from a smartphone or a laptop to its own message and retransmits its own data on a different WiFi channel to avoid radio interference between the original signal and its new data stream.

On the processor front, HitchHike is a simple translation device. HitchHike translates the incoming code words into its own data. If the incoming code word indicates a zero and HitchHike wants it to remain a zero, it passes that code word unaltered. If, however, HitchHike wants to change that zero to a one, or vice versa, it translates it to the alternate code word.

The researchers say HitchHike could be available to be incorporated into wireless devices in the next three to five years.

Peggy Lee

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