Imagine a bottle of laundry detergent that can sense when you're running low on soap -- and automatically connect to the internet to place an order for more.
University of Washington researchers are the first to make this a reality by 3-D printing plastic objects and sensors that can collect useful data and communicate with other WiFi-connected devices entirely on their own.
With CAD models that the team is making available to the public, 3-D printing enthusiasts will be able to create objects out of commercially available plastics that can wirelessly communicate with other smart devices. That could include a battery-free slider that controls music volume, a button that automatically orders more cornflakes from Amazon or a water sensor that sends an alarm to your phone when it detects a leak.
"Our goal was to create something that just comes out of your 3-D printer at home and can send useful information to other devices," said co-lead author and UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer. "But the big challenge is how do you communicate wirelessly with WiFi using only plastic? That's something that no one has been able to do before."
The system is described in a paper presented Nov. 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery's SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Asia.
To 3-D print objects that can communicate with commercial WiFi receivers, the team employed backscatter techniques that allow devices to exchange information. In this case, the team replaced some functions normally performed by electrical components with mechanical motion activated by springs, gears, switches and other parts that can be 3-D printed -- borrowing from principles that allow battery-free watches to keep time.
Backscatter systems use an antenna to transmit data by reflecting radio signals emitted by a WiFi router or other device. Information embedded in those reflected patterns can be decoded by a WiFi receiver. In this case, the antenna is contained in a 3-D printed object made of conductive printing filament that mixes plastic with copper.
Physical motion -- pushing a button, laundry soap flowing out of a bottle, turning a knob, removing a hammer from a weighted tool bench -- triggers gears and springs elsewhere in the 3-D printed object that cause a conductive switch to intermittently connect or disconnect with the antenna and change its reflective state. Information -- in the form of 1s and 0s -- is encoded by the presence or absence of the tooth on a gear. Energy from a coiled spring drives the gear system, and the width and pattern of gear teeth control how long the backscatter switch makes contact with the antenna, creating patterns of reflected signals that can be decoded by a WiFi 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. The interaction between the 3-D printed switch and antenna wirelessly transmits that data," said senior author and Allen School associate professor Shyam Gollakota. "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."
The team from the UW Networks & Mobile Systems Lab 3-D printed several different tools that were able to sense and send information successfully to other connected devices: a wind meter, a water flow meter and a scale. They also printed a flow meter that was used to track and order laundry soap, and a test tube holder that could be used for either managing inventory or measuring the amount of liquid in each test tube.
They also 3-D printed WiFi input widgets such as buttons, knobs and sliders that can be customized to communicate with other smart devices in the home and enable a rich ecosystem of "talking objects" that can seamlessly sense and interact with their surroundings.
Using a different type of 3-D printing filament that combines plastic with iron, the team also leveraged magnetic properties to invisibly encode static information in 3-D printed objects -- which could range from barcode identification for inventory purposes or information about the object that tells a robot how to interact with it.
"It looks like a regular 3-D printed object but there's invisible information inside that can be read with your smartphone," said Allen School doctoral student and co-lead author Justin Chan.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and Google.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Langston | EurekAlert!
Study suggests buried Internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise
18.07.2018 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers
17.07.2018 | University of Colorado at Boulder
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
18.07.2018 | Life Sciences
18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine