Talking Devices

One of the key obstacles in a network society is making devices talk to each other. How objects like home appliances, contact lenses, credit cards, and even body implants connect to computers, watches, and smartphones determines the effectiveness of these devices.

This is why methods that make communication better are in demand. Researchers from the University of Washington have discovered a new wireless communication method that allows small wearable devices to talk to smartphones using less power.

The new method, described in a paper presented at SIGCOMM 2016 conference in Brazil, converts signals between Bluetooth, WiFi, or ZigBee using backscatter technology, thus reducing power consumption.

This method allows small devices like smart contact lenses to communicate while consuming only microwatts of power. This would allow these lenses to act as fitness trackers, feeding real-time data to your smartphone.

In fact, the research was able to demonstrate the viability of using the method on brain implants, creating an implantable neural recording device that can interface directly with a smartphone or smartwatch.


The researchers based their technology on the backscatter technique, which has devices exchange information by reflecting existing signals.

What makes their interscatter technology novel is that it allows WiFi, ZigBee, and Bluetooth devices to work together. It allows radios based on any of the three to act as both sources and receivers for reflected signals. For example, interscatter can use Bluetooth signals to create Wi-Fi transmissions.

While this method allows less power to be consumed by devices, it creates bandwidth problems since the backscattering creates another mirror-image of a transmitted signal. This was remedied by a technique called "single sideband backscatter", which removes the extra signal.

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