Scientists, including those from Nasa, have developed a Wi-Fi microchip for wearable devices that transmits information faster and uses less power than traditional receivers. Also Read - High-speed solar storm to hit Earth today, impact phone signals: NASA warns
If the power necessary to transmit and receive information from a wearable to a computer, cellular or Wi-Fi network were reduced, users could get a lot more mileage out of the technology they are wearing before having to recharge it, researchers said. Adrian Tang of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and M C Frank Chang at the University of California, Los Angeles, have been working on microchips for wearable devices that reflect wireless signals instead of using regular transmitters and receivers. Also Read - NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter uses same chip as Samsung Galaxy S5, OnePlus One
Their solution transmits information up to three times faster than regular Wi-Fi. “The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the Wi-Fi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said. Information transmitted to and from a wearable device is encoded as 1s and 0s, just like data on a computer. This needs to be represented somehow in the system the wearable device uses to communicate. Also Read - NASA Perseverance Mars rover uses 1998 iMac processor with just one upgrade
When incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit, that’s a “0,” and if the chip reflects that energy, that’s a “1.” This simple switch mechanism uses very little power and allows for the fast transfer of information between a wearable device and a computer, smartphone, tablet or other technology capable of receiving the data. The challenge for Tang and his colleagues was that the wearable device is not the only object in a room that reflects signals – so do walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, and whatever other objects happen to be around.
The chip in the wearable device needs to differentiate between the real Wi-Fi signal and the reflection from the background. To overcome background reflections, Tang and Chang developed a wireless silicon chip that constantly senses and suppresses background reflections, enabling the Wi-Fi signal to be transmitted without interference from surrounding objects. They tested the system at distances of up to 20 feet. At about 8 feet, they achieved a data transfer rate of 330 megabits per second, which is about three times the current Wi-Fi rate, using about a thousand times less power than a regular Wi-Fi link.
A base station and Wi-Fi service are required for the system to work. To compensate for low power drain on the wearable, the computer or other technology it’s communicating with must have a long battery life or be plugged in. There are a multitude of potential applications for the new technology, including in space. For example, astronauts and robotic spacecraft could potentially use this technology to transmit images at a lower cost to their precious power supplies. This might also allow more images to be sent at a time.