Imagine a world where you could communicate wirelessly without needing to rely on an actual power source or intricate devices like smartphones. As farfetched as it sounds, we may already be getting close to that future: The University of Washington unveiled a few days ago an interesting technology known as “ambient backscatter,” which effectively enables battery-free devices (like the ones pictured above) to “talk” with one another through existing radio signals in the atmosphere. While similar in principle to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), ambient backscattering is not restricted by the need for a high power signal source, requires a significantly smaller footprint, and allows device-to-device communication. Once adopted, this technology could potentially revolutionize the entire mobile industry as well as strengthen the applications for the future “internet of things.” Developing countries where wired power sources and electricity tend to be relatively scarce —for instance, Africa and various regions of the Middle East—are also likely to benefit tremendously from such technology.
More details of the ambitious “ambient backscatter” project can be viewed here (the University of Washington’s official website). The site also contains a helpful video showing how the technology works in real time.