Ant-sized radios enable communication between devices

AUTHOR: Inavate

Collaboration between an engineering team at Stanford and researchers at the University of Califronia, Berkeley has resulted in an ant-sized radio being built to enable communication for the envisioned “Internet of Things”. The device is so energy efficient that it gathers all its required powered for functioning from the electromagnetic waves that carry signals to its receiving antenna.

Getting everyday devices communicating with each other has been an aim that many have been pursuing. The promise of the “Internet of Things” is more control in the hands of the users. With the rising prevalence of smart devices, such as smartphones and tablets, most end users already possess a device that is capable of acting as the central hub and touch panel for the control process. All that remains is for devices to start listening and obeying.

The main roadblock in achieving this is one of economics and energy consumption. It makes no sense to fit everyday cheap items, like the light-bulbs in your living room or the ceiling fans in your house, with extremely expensive receiver chipsets. Additionally these chipsets would require their own source of power and batteries may not always be the best design choice.

But Amin Arbabian’s project, which was accomplished working with Professor Ali Niknejad (direct of the Wireless Research Center at UC Berkeley), Maryam Tabesh and Mustafa Rangwala may have solved both projects in one shot. Not only is their radio chipset extremely small but it costs pennies to fabricate, making it viable for mass production.

There were challenges that needed to be surmounted along the way. The antenna has to small but also had to be able to operate at the incredibly fast rate of 24 billion cycles per second. Standard transistors do no easily process signals that oscillate at that rate and the research team to redesign the basic circuit and electronic design to overcome this problem.

French semi-conductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics has fabricated 100 of these ant-sized radio chips at present and the prototypes are being used to cement the validity of the team’s claims regarding operations for the chipset.