Consider how much more powerful the internet would be if it extended into real world objects. Currently, 802.11 routers and cabling determine the scope of what’s “online” and in the internet but a new technology has the potential change all of that.
Ambient backscatter is the new Morse code and it’s the term coined for tapping into the frequencies that currently exist all around us and then using those frequencies to power other small electronic devices.
Engineers at the University of Washington have created electronic prototypes that absorb a TV frequency signal and reflect that signal to other antenna devices.
Using the same method of communication that powers the internet, the frequencies talk to each other through a 0 or 1 bit transmission. An absorbed frequency is a 0 bit and a reflecting bit is a 1 bit.
In a room full of these small electronic devices, a string of bits is created and these strings are transmitted back and forth, essentially “talking” to each other.
Ambient backscatter devices use these frequencies for both communication and power. No batteries required and that’s a big selling point of this new technology.
Imagine devices traveling from place to place and simply picking up frequencies to keep moving and doing their job. It sounds like a scene straight from Minority Report. Here’s hoping the powers that be can direct the technology in a more advantageous use for society instead of creating spider robots that eat our faces. Anything’s possible though. You could just as easily be attacked by a random tiger so be prepared.
In truth, the practical application of ambient backscatter is a long way from being realized. The current data transmission rate is about 1 kilobit p/ second over 1.5 feet (outdoors is closer to 2.5 feet). That’s fast enough to deliver a text message in short amount of time but the average website these days is about 1.5 megabytes. That equates to a load time of over three hours. Don’t be discouraged though. The original 486 computer (age test – who remembers?) took that long to load the AOL home screen after alerting “you’ve got mail”. Or.. maybe it only felt that long but the point is that once a technology is developed and in place, the efficiencies of that technology happen at a much faster rate. Ambient backscatter is likely to see a lot of quick improvements as it’s further developed.
Consider the possibilities of a large interconnected network where all devices can talk to each other instead of the current model, which utilizes scores of isolated networks that operate separately from each other. Is this the communication protocol that could see all devices and computers getting on the same network or is that still a project for generation next?
It remains to be seen but clearly, technology is getting us ever closer to a future that we only dreamed about when we were children. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century seemed completely out of the realms of possibility but at the current pace of technological advancement, the 25th century is going to be a world we couldn’t have even imagined just a few centuries ago.
The Internet of Things is coming and ambient backscatter just may be the start of this new revolution.