UW Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering researchers have raised $1.2 million to develop and commercialize a power-efficient way to generate Wi-Fi transmissions. This funding will support the UW-based start-up, Jeeva Wireless. This company seeks to revolutionize the way devices communicate by enabling breakthrough transmission efficiency.
Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Josh Smith and Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering Shyam Gollakota co-founded the company alongside researchers Vamsi Talla (Ph.D. ’15), Bryce Kellogg (M.S. ’15) and Aaron Parks (M.S. ’15).
The company has launched the Passive Wi-Fi system that can generate WiFi transmissions using 10,000 times less power than conventional methods. Low-power options, such as Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee, cannot match the system’s energy efficiency. Because of this, the project has landed the UW team in MIT Technology Review’s top-ten list of breakthrough technologies in 2016.
Digital vs. analog is the key to increasing efficiency while increasing power. The system uses a single plugged-in device for power-intensive analog functions, such as producing a radio signal at a specific frequency.
Other sensors produce the Wi-Fi pockets of information by reflecting and absorbing the signal, using digital switches that require virtually no energy. Prototype sensors could connect with a smartphone, tablet, or other smart device at distances of up to 100 feet.
“Our sensors can talk to any router, smartphone, tablet or other electronic device with a Wi-Fi chipset,” said Passive Wi-Fi co-author and electrical engineering doctoral student Bryce Kellogg in a news release. “The cool thing is that all these devices can decode the Wi-Fi packets we created using reflections so you don’t need specialized equipment.”
Passive Wi-Fi could open the way for applications that currently require too much power for regular Wi-Fi. For example, other types of communication platforms have been required in the past for smart-home sensor systems that can detect which doors are open, or whether the kids have come home from school.
“Even though so many homes already have Wi-Fi, it hasn’t been the best choice for that,” Smith said in the news release on Passive Wi-Fi. “Now that we can achieve Wi-Fi for tens of microwatts of power and can do much better than both Bluetooth and ZigBee, you could now imagine using Wi-Fi for everything.”