Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada have moved a step closer to creating Internet of Things (IoT) devices that don't need batteries or require charging.
The idea is, if an IoT device can operate without a battery it will radically lower maintenance costs and enable such devices to be placed in areas that are off the grid.
"Many of these IoT devices have sensors in them to detect their environment, from a room's ambient temperature and light levels to sound and motion. But one of the biggest challenges is making these devices sustainable and battery-free," the University researchers said.
The scientists behind the research are Professor Omid Abari, Post-doctoral Fellow Ju Wang, and Professor Srinivasan Keshav, all from Waterloo's Cheriton School of Computer Science.
To create the battery-free tech, they devised a way to hack radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and give the devices the ability to sense the environment.
"It's really easy to do," said Wang. "First, you remove the plastic cover from the RFID tag, then cut out a small section of the tag's antenna with scissors, then attach a sensor across the cut bits of the antenna to complete the circuit."
By cutting the tag's antenna and placing a sensing device across it that has given the tag the ability to sense its environment. Then, to give a tag eyes, the researchers hacked an RFID tag with a phototransistor, a tiny sensor that responds to different levels of light.
The researchers noted that by exposing the photo-transistor to light, it changed the characteristics of the RFID's antenna, which in turn caused a change in the signal going to the reader. They then developed an algorithm on the reader side that monitors change in the tag's signal, which is how it senses light levels.
Among the simplest of hacks is adding a switch to an RFID tag so it can act as a keypad that responds to touch.
"We see this as a good example of a complete software-hardware system for IoT devices," Abari said.
"Our main contribution is showing how simple it is to hack an RFID tag to create an IoT device. It's so easy a novice could do it."
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