Instead of Using Batteries, This Computer Draws Energy From the Air


Some computers are already small enough to fit into our pockets, and researchers at the University of Washington Sensor Lab found a way to make them even smaller: get rid of the battery. As reported by Fast Co. Design, the team's Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform (WISP) gets its power by harvesting radio waves from the air.

In order to function, the WISP gathers energy from a standard radio frequency identification, or RFID reader. From there it's able to generate enough electricity to do low-key processing tasks like keeping track of sensor information.

It has around the same bandwidth as Bluetooth Low Energy mode and the same clock speed as the processor in a Fitbit. While it's not powerful enough to pave the way for battery-free smartphones any time soon, it could be used for more low-tech applications. Architects could build the light-weight computers into concrete structures as a way of monitoring a building's status after an earthquake without taking it apart. It could also be used as a sensor in fitness wearables and medical implants that track a patient's health.

Researchers have been working on WISP for a decade, but they just recently developed the feature that would make all these applications more practical. WISP can now be reprogrammed wirelessly, so if users wanted to update it after installing the sensor in a building, or someone's body, it wouldn't need to be plugged in.

WISP isn't the first battery-free sensor of its kind. A few years ago, researchers developed a RFID-powered "smart hard hat," that beeps when hazardous equipment is nearby. But in terms of battery-free technology, WISP's wireless feature is a breakthrough. You can get a closer look at the device in the video above.

[h/t Fast Co. Design]

Banner image courtesy of University of Washington.