Skip to main content

Researchers create technology that’s powered by thin air

TU Delft TV - Short | Wisent
As the cord-cutting wireless generation, we’ve managed to distance ourselves from most potential fetters. But there’s one limitation from which we haven’t quite rid ourselves — until now. The battery, that pesky power source that’s constantly cramping your style, may finally be a thing of the past. At least, that’s the hope of the University of Washington’s Sensor Lab, where researchers have created the WISP, or Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform. It’s a combination sensor and computing chip that requires neither a battery nor a wired power source to operate. So what does it run on? Think air.

Well, not quite. Essentially, the WISP works by way of the radio waves any old RFID (radio-frequency identification) reader sends into the air. These common devices are often seen at retail locations, and use electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags associated with objects. You’ve probably seen them as security tags on clothes. WISP pulls those waves out of its surroundings (which is to say, the air), and then converts them into electricity, thereby eliminating the need for a battery.

Don’t get too excited yet, though — as Fast Company reports, this novel little device isn’t meant to replace the chips currently found in your smartphone or your laptop. Rather, it’s comparable to the processor of a Fitbit, and also boasts embedded accelerometers and temperature sensors. But still, it’s pretty fast. With approximately the same bandwidth as Bluetooth Low Energy mode, you could run a wearable on WISP and download a new app or update your software, all without the need of a battery or a plug-in. And this is the first time something like that has been made possible.

“It’s not going to run a video game, but it can track sensor data, do some minimal processing tasks, and communicate with the outside world,” Aaron Parks, a researcher at the University of Washington Sensor Lab, tells Fast Company. More exciting still, he says, WISP can be used by architects and inspectors, where the technology would be able to detect damage or structural abnormalities, simply by embedding one of these little gadgets in the building. This would eliminate the need to actually look inside the structures — rather, data from WISP could be harvested and interpreted. Really, anything to do with implants could benefit quite immediately from WISP technology, experts say, and while we still may be a long ways off from completely divorcing ourselves from batteries, we’re getting a few steps closer.

“Imagine if your wallpaper could run apps, or change color to match your lighting, without having to wire it into anything,” says Parks. “That’s not out of the question anymore.”

Editors' Recommendations

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
Teardown of rumored Apple AirPower prototype reveals complicated design
Apple Airpower

An alleged teardown video of an AirPower prototype has apparently revealed the complicated design that Apple was dealing with for the canceled wireless charging mat.

The AirPower was unveiled in September 2017 alongside the iPhone X, but the project was canceled in March 2019 as Apple said that the wireless charging mat would not meet its standards. The device reportedly had an overheating issue, and if the teardown video is real, it would explain why Apple was having such a problem.

Read more
How electric technology allowed Polestar to create a charismatic sedan
Polestar Precept concept

Volvo-owned Polestar introduced a head-turning concept named Precept ahead of the annual Geneva auto show. The event was canceled at the last minute due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic, so the electric sedan didn't get its 15 minutes of fame on the industry's stage. Instead, I caught up with the firm's lead designer to learn what it's about.

Maximilian Missoni openly describes the Precept (pictured) as an accurate preview of what Polestar's future models will look like. It's a statement of intent, but it's not necessarily going to reach production as-is. Instead, some of its defining styling cues will end up on an electric crossover that will soon join the 1 and the 2 in the company's range.

Read more
Making meat out of thin air? Impossible. But this startup does it anyway
Air Protein tacos on a plate

How long does it take to make a steak? Depending on the thickness of the meat, you might give a time anywhere between two and three minutes per side for "rare," and five to six minutes per side for "well-done." Except that you’d be mistaken. That’s how long it takes to cook a steak. Making one takes considerably longer.

Currently, it takes a couple of years to “make” a steak. That’s the length of time it takes to rear cattle, slaughter it, and get it to your plate. During those two years, plenty of land and water is used as part of the animal rearing and grazing process, kicking out no shortage of greenhouse gases in the future. To make things more efficient, we need new technology.

Read more