Freeing Up Spectrum for IoT on the Nanoscale
Kyle Maxey posted on February 24, 2016 |
According to some estimates, the Internet of Things (IoT) could stimulate up to $14 trillion of economic activity by 2025. With everything from cars to toasters set to have the ability to communicate with their manufacturer, user and maybe even their manufacturer, there’s certainly reason to believe that IoT could be a sector of the economy on its own in the very near future.

One of the biggest hurdles facing widespread adoption of IoT is the amount of the digital spectrum that communicating devices will require. But while IoT’s full-on saturation is still a few years away, researchers at Harvard University and Draper Laboratory aren’t wasting time—they've already begun developing a new technique to reduce the need for space between the user frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission. The main thrust of this research is a project called NanoLitz.

NanoLitz’s focus is to leverage some of the assembly technique used by microelectromechanical (MEMS) and microfluidics researchers to build nanoscale wires. According to Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “The NanoLitz approach braids microscopic wires to reduce heat loss, improve efficiency and sharpen filter response.”

But how small would these wire have to be to operate within the already-assigned bands of spectral communication?

Harvard Chemistry Professor Roy Gordon is already at work building wires that are 1,000 times smaller than those we use today based on MEMS and microfluidics techniques. If further research is successful, Gordon’s lab may even use biological self-assembly methods to manufacture and braid these nanowires.

In addition to Harvard’s wired approach, Draper, a nonprofit R&D company, has started to develop another microfluidics approach that may make NanoLitz wire production scalable, a critical element to any fledgling technology.

Aside from having the backing of the likes of Draper and Harvard, the NanoLitz project has also been awarded funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of its Atoms to Product (A2P) initiative.  According to the A2P website, the U.S. Department of Defense’s deep thinkers are trying to develop “technologies and processes required to assemble nanometer-scale pieces, whose dimensions are near the size of atoms, into systems, components or materials that are at least millimeter scale in size.” Eventually, these same technologies might also be used to create macro-sized products, the likes of which we use every day.

When you think of IoT, it boggles the mind to imagine its potential to change product development, communication and other fundamental aspects of society. But if you look a little deeper, IoT might just be a stepping stone on the way to full-blown nanoscale manufacturing and molecular self-assembly.  

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