3D Printing

3D-printed objects connect with Wi-Fi – no electricity required

3D-printed objects connect wit...
The 3D-printed objects and sensors make use of backscatter technologies and mechanical movement to wirelessly transmit data without electronics or batteries
The 3D-printed objects and sensors make use of backscatter technologies and mechanical movement to wirelessly transmit data without electronics or batteries
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3D-printed connected sensors: a wind speed meter, a water flow meter and a scale
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3D-printed connected sensors: a wind speed meter, a water flow meter and a scale
At the end of a spring sits a switch made of conductive plastic. The gear causes the switch to briefly come into contact with the 3D-printed antenna below, changing its reflective state
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At the end of a spring sits a switch made of conductive plastic. The gear causes the switch to briefly come into contact with the 3D-printed antenna below, changing its reflective state
A 3D-printed flow meter could wirelessly connect to an online store and order a refill when detergent is running low
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A 3D-printed flow meter could wirelessly connect to an online store and order a refill when detergent is running low
Objects printed using a plastic/iron filament could be encoded with barcode-like identification information and scanned with a smartphone
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Objects printed using a plastic/iron filament could be encoded with barcode-like identification information and scanned with a smartphone
The 3D-printed object absorbs or reflects ambient radio signals from a Wi-Fi router, and backscatter data can be read by a Wi-Fi receiver in a smartphone or computer
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The 3D-printed object absorbs or reflects ambient radio signals from a Wi-Fi router, and backscatter data can be read by a Wi-Fi receiver in a smartphone or computer
The 3D-printed objects and sensors make use of backscatter technologies and mechanical movement to wirelessly transmit data without electronics or batteries
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The 3D-printed objects and sensors make use of backscatter technologies and mechanical movement to wirelessly transmit data without electronics or batteries
3D-printed buttons, knobs and sliders capable of wirelessly transmitting data without electronics or batteries could be used to control the volume of a connected music system, or place a grocery order at the push of a button
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3D-printed buttons, knobs and sliders capable of wirelessly transmitting data without electronics or batteries could be used to control the volume of a connected music system, or place a grocery order at the push of a button
The detergent flow meter could place a refill order when running low, or a test tube holder could measure liquids and transmit data to monitoring tools
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The detergent flow meter could place a refill order when running low, or a test tube holder could measure liquids and transmit data to monitoring tools

Researchers from the University of Washington have 3D-printed objects and sensors that are able to communicate with Wi-Fi devices such as smartphones or computers without needing to be powered by batteries or a wall socket. Examples include an attachment that can sense when laundry detergent is about to run out and place an online order for more, an anemometer and a connected test tube holder.

At the heart of the development are reflection of waves techniques known as backscattering, where ambient radio signals are reflected from a Wi-Fi router via an antenna printed using a plastic and copper mix, and onward to a wireless receiver. Rather than use batteries to power the 3D-printed object or sensor, the researchers tapped into mechanical motion.

When flowing liquid turns a wheel or a button is pushed, gears and springs activate or deactivate a conductive switch, changing the reflective state of the 3D-printed antenna. Data can be hard-coded into an object by way of teeth on the gear – with the presence or absence of a tooth determining how long a switch remains in contact with the antenna. Signal patterns thus created can then be translated into readable output by the Wi-Fi receiver.

"As you pour detergent out of a Tide bottle, for instance, the speed at which the gears are turning tells you how much soap is flowing out," said senior author of the team's paper Shyam Gollakota. "The interaction between the 3D-printed switch and antenna wirelessly transmits that data. Then the receiver can track how much detergent you have left and when it dips below a certain amount, it can automatically send a message to your Amazon app to order more."

A 3D-printed flow meter could wirelessly connect to an online store and order a refill when detergent is running low
A 3D-printed flow meter could wirelessly connect to an online store and order a refill when detergent is running low

The team from the University of Washington's Networks & Mobile Systems Lab has created a number of objects capable of successfully sensing and transmitting to other connected devices, including a detergent flow meter, wind and water flow meters, a scale and a test tube holder.

Input devices such as buttons, knobs and sliders were also printed, which could be custom made to talk to smart devices in the home – controlling the volume on a connected music system, for example, or placing an order for groceries from an online store at the push of a button.

Not content with creating battery- and electronics-free objects able to wirelessly talk to smart devices, the team also toyed with magnetism to encode information in 3D-printed objects. Identification information similar to barcodes could be embedded in an object printed using a plastic/iron filament and read using a smartphone.

A paper detailing the research was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Asia last week. A video outlining the project can be seen below.

Source: University of Washington

3D Printing Wireless Connected Objects

1 comment
MerlinGuy
what was my biggest take-away from this article? People who claim to be sensitive to electromagnetic waves might not be the wackos that I thought they were.