Mickey Mouse isn’t just a symbol of cartoon fun anymore. These days he’s wearing a PhD’s lab coat and inventing some pretty cool tech. Recently, researchers at the Disney Research group announced UWB, a new and massively improved technology change which would allow for devices on the internet of things (IoT) to communicate with vastly less energy use and great efficiency.
The IoT has begun to take up a lot of bandwidth in the news. As devices with connectivity are increasing exponentially, the need for communication and power in those devices is likewise increasing. While this massive connectivity appears promising, the reality is that it comes with a hefty price tag. Currently, devices on the IoT have battery powered sensors which stream data back to the gateway Cloud connection via radio waves. The issue, however, has begun to arise because of the massive proliferation of devices on the IoT, and the prohibitive cost of batteries and battery replacement on such a huge scale.
The announcement by Disney Research is the first step toward finding a sustainable solution to this problem. Throughout homes and offices there is a constant barrage of electromagnetic waves transferring information. TV waves, radio waves, even cellular signal waves all use radio signal to transmit information. With all this ambient wave energy around us, the Disney group is seeking to take advantage. While there have been a number of different attempts to harvest and use background energy in order to communicate between devices, Disney’s model is looking the best. All the previous models were only able to use a small range of bandwidth, making them impractical. Disney researchers have built an ultra-low power model which utilizes the existing signals across all bandwidths (ultra-wide bandwidth, UWB) system which transmits data simply by harnessing those signals and sending the data with those signals. The entire system requires so little power that it can be run with a simple photo-voltaic cell.
Markus Gross, VP at Disney Research, said, “As we move towards connecting the next billion wireless devices to the internet, however, the use of batteries to power these devices will become unworkable. UWB ambient back-scatter systems, which potentially could be deployed in any metropolitan area, hold great potential for solving this dilemma.” The additional beauty of the UWB system is that it doesn’t need to be tuned to any one frequency for work-ability. It will, itself, detect the necessary band, and transmit the appropriate information. This makes them ultra-user friendly and also allows for deployment in nearly any area with enough background energy for harvesting to take place. The sensors can even pick up on the waves being sent from mobile phones and piggyback on those signals to communicate data. Ultimately the battery usage and energy savings will be remarkable.
The next jump for Disney is to make this technology widely available. While the tech is there, the production and widespread distribution is more complex. However, given the massive cost benefit and equally good functionality, it looks like just a matter of time before these devices are a household product. Three cheers for Mickey!