Ant-Sized Radios to Connect the World
Kyle Maxey posted on September 11, 2014 | | 10071 views

chip, miniature, internet,radioA new radio-chip device could offer a cost effective solution to the capital-intensive hurdles preventing the proliferation of the Internet of Things.

Engineers at Stanford University have developed what’s been described as an “ant-sized radio” that could allow two-way communication between any electronic device. Capable of operating at 24 billion cycles per second the chip, which is one tenth the size of a WiFi antenna, costs only pennies to produce. While being small and inexpensive are certainly boons for this type of device, designers admit that one of its most appealing characteristics is that it needs no external power. In fact, according to Stanford, the new chip is so “energy efficient that it gathers all the power it needs from the same electromagnetic waves that carry signals to its receiving antenna – no batteries required.”

Born from a desire to completely reinvent the way radio technologies are built, Stanford assistant professor Amin Arabian started work on his new chip back in 2011. While most radio chips are built with the notion that component size drives package size, Arabian decided to take a decidedly top-down approach. Insisting that his chip be no bigger than a common ant, Arabian and his team had to go back to the drawing board and improve basic circuit and electronic design. In doing so they not only increased their device’s energy efficiency, they made their chip so small that it would be the perfect complement to any device craving internet connectivity.

Explaining why the new radio-chip could be a game-changer, Arabian stated, "The next exponential growth in connectivity will be connecting objects together and giving us remote control through the web … Cheap, tiny, self-powered radio controllers are an essential requirement for the Internet of Things".

Whether the public at large is willing to buy into the Internet of Things idea is still a matter of debate. However, technologies like Arabian’s chip, and the networking they provide, will likely be a positive for society. Being able to control devices remotely could be key to achieving better personal energy efficiency and changing the way we interact with technology. In the distant future connected devices could also be a training ground for weak AI systems where domestic duties like making coffee and running the dishwasher could be triggered by actions like turning on the shower or dimming the lights for bed.

Image and Video Courtesy of Stanford University