NASA Researchers Employ Wi-Fi Reflectors To Boost Performance And Battery Life On Wearables

Leave it to a couple NASA scientists to develop technology that supercharges their smartwatches. NASA announced this week that it has applied for a patent on a technology that lets wearable devices reflect wireless signals instead of using traditional transmitters and receivers. Once the new tech is implemented, it should speed up data transmission over Wi-Fi networks while simultaneously reducing power costs – dramatically.

Image credit: NASA

“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. He worked with M.C. Frank Chang at the University of California, Los Angeles to create the microchip, which can be built into wearable devices like smartwatches.

The NASA researchers created a wireless chip that suppresses background reflections so the system can differentiate between Wi-Fi signals and reflections. Because walls, ceilings, and other objects reflect signals, a system that doesn’t have the suppression technology may not be able to identify the correct signal.

So far, the technology looks like it will have a huge impact on wearable power consumption. According to the researchers, it uses 1,000 times less power than a typical Wi-Fi link and can transmit data at as much as 330 megabits per second at a distance of 8 feet. The technology has been tested at distances as high as 20 feet. Wi-Fi service and a base station are required, and it must be plugged in (or have huge battery life), as it will have a higher power draw than traditional devices. The researchers plan to look at ways to fix the power draw issue.

NASA WiFi Chip
Image credit: NASA

“You can send a video in a couple of seconds, but you don’t consumer the energy of the wearable device. The transmitter externally is expending energy – not the watch or other wearable,” Chang said in a statement. 

At the moment, NASA sees an array of potential commercial uses for the technology, especially as wearables are heating up in health industries. It’s also the sort of technology that could find a home in space vehicles.

Tags:  NASA, wearables, wi-fi