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HitchHike Tag Bums a Ride from Wi-Fi Access Points

A system being developed by Stanford University researchers could enable a low-cost Wi-Fi tag to receive transmissions from access points, and to use the energy of those transmissions to send its own unique signal to a laptop or mobile device.
By Claire Swedberg

On the other hand, in an Internet of Things deployment in which sensor data, such as temperatures or other information, is being collected, the tag would operate with a small battery.

Zhang is currently in conversations with several IoT companies that could potentially adopt the technology for their own solutions. He says the researchers hope to have a product ready for testing and piloting by next year. The deployment would be fairly simple, he adds, since no readers are required. "We already have Wi-Fi access points everywhere," he points out.

In the meantime, the researchers are working to design a MAC layer that would enable tags within a HitchHike system to determine which tag responds first when multiple tags are energized, thereby enabling them to be read in high-density environments (such as a large number of tags in use within the same room, or stored on a shelf). Early testing, Zhang notes, has found that a receiver can capture transmissions from the HitchHike tag at a distance of up to 50 meters (164 feet) if a battery is in use.

Zhang expects early adopters to be solution providers for the health-care industry. For example, he says, some wireless sensors are already commercialized to track the level of glucose in a patient's eye when built into a contact lens. Wearable sensors—biosensors, for instance—could detect health-related information about an individual and forward it to a mobile phone or device via the HitchHike technique.

Once the tag is released commercially sometime during the next year or so, Zhang says, it could be as cheap as an RFID tag. Although it requires similar hardware—a chip and an antenna—to what an RFID tag require, the logic needed on the chip is simpler than that on an RFID tag. He hopes the price could be as low as 1 cent per tag.

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