NASA researcher develops JPL/UCLA Wi-Fi reflector chip to extend your smartphone’s battery life

A NASA researcher in New York has recently developed a new Wi-Fi chip for wireless phones as well as computers, laptops, desktops and wearable devices that makes the use of 100 times less power compared to the traditional receivers.

The JPL/UCLA Wi-Fi reflector chip.

“The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the Wi-Fi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up)”, said Adrian Tang of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The chip developed by Adrian Tang, researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California and University of California-Los Angeles professor MC Frank Chang can extend battery life in nearly every device that uses Wi-Fi, Popular Science reported.

It reflects a constant signal sent by a customised router instead of generating its own original signal.
Data is then imprinted on the signal when it is reflected.

“Because you are only imprinting on a wi-fi signal, you are not generating it and do not need power,” Tang was quoted as saying.

Another wrinkle, and it is one the researchers are still working on, is that the reflecting Wi-Fi chip requires the Wi-Fi router or base station to use more energy in its transmission / receiving work. This needs to be represented somehow in the system the wearable device uses to communicate.

There is also a downside – the router will draw more power in the process, but researchers are working on a fix for that problem as well.

The research team claims to have reached speeds of 330 megabits per second at around 2.5 metres (8 feet) when transferring files with this chip.

The USP of this chip is that it does not need power as the Wi-Fi signal is not being generating, but instead it is just being imprinted on the signal when it is reflected. And to solve this issue, Tang and Chang created a wireless silicon chip which senses and suppresses background reflections by enabling the Wi-Fi signal to be transmitted without interference from surrounding objects.

Obviously NASA is seeing the potential of this technology built into astronaut smartwatches and so on but hopefully it will also reach consumer devices. It outpaces several wi-fi routers available in the market, the researchers noted.

The organization which manages the NASA JPL and UCLA owns the patents for this reflective Wi-Fi chip technology and has already has agreements to commercialize it.

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