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article imageMaking smart homes less expensive with new technology

By Tim Sandle     Feb 17, 2019 in Technology
Waterloo - Turning a conventional home into a ‘smart home’ can be become easier, and a less expensive, due to new technology developed by Canada’s University of Waterloo. This is in the form of battery-free Wi-Fi sensors.
The new technology is based on battery-free sensors, which can be located in a house and which can operate off existing Wi-Fi networks.
The researchers addressed several issues that have hampered the development of battery-free sensors in the past, which combined made the technology concept impractical. The previous challenges faced included the necessity to modify existing Wi-Fi access points, concerns with security protocols, and the amount of energy needed to operate the components.
Outlining the attraction of batter-free technology and also developing on some of the problems faced in realizing such technology, lead researcher Professor Omid Abari explains: “If you look at the current sensor products, they need batteries, which nobody likes to have to change, but they will work with commodity WiFi.”
He adds: “There has been recent research which proposes approaches that don’t need batteries. But while they’re addressing the battery problem, they’re adding another issue; it doesn’t work with commodity WiFi devices.”
The solution from the University of Waterloo, Abari notes “combines the best of these two worlds – it is battery-free, and it works with commodity WiFi devices.”
The new technology is called WiTAG and the researchers are confident that it can take the smart home sector in a new direction. The WiTAG system will allow people to use regular WiFi devices for reading data from smart devices. However, instead of relying upon energy-hungry WiFi transmitters for data collection, the technology makes the use of radio frequency signals for the power source.
The use of radio frequency means that existing WiFi infrastructures can read data from the sensors without the need for the sensors to be connected to the WiFi network. This adds a new ease of deployment and portability to the technology.
The types of technologies tested with the WiTAG prototype include temperature sensors, light sensors and wearable fitness devices. Security concerns have also been assessed and the devices work with encryption enabled protocols.
The technology is described in a working paper submitted to the Proceedings of the 17th ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks. The paper is titled “WiTAG: Rethinking Backscatter Communication for WiFi Networks.”
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