Smart homes of the future will automatically adapt to their surroundings using an array of sensors to record everything from the building’s temperature and humidity to the light level and air quality.
One hurdle impeding the development of such intelligent homes is the fact that existing technology is still power hungry and today’s wireless devices either transmit a signal only several feet, or consume so much energy they need frequent battery replacements. Researchers have now developed sensors that run on extremely low power thanks to using a home’s electrical wiring as a giant antenna to transmit information.
The technology devised by researchers at the University of Washington and theGeorgia Institute of Technology uses a home’s copper electrical wiring as a giant antenna to receive wireless signals at a set frequency, allowing for wireless sensors that run for decades on a single watch battery. A low-power sensor placed within 10 to 15 feet of electrical wiring can use the antenna to send data to a single base station plugged in anywhere in the home.
The device is called Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure, or SNUPI. It originated when Shwetak Patel, a UW assistant professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, and co-author Erich Stuntebeck were doctoral students at Georgia Tech and worked with thesis adviser Gregory Abowd to develop a method using electrical wiring to receive wireless signals in a home. They discovered that home wiring is a remarkably efficient antenna at 27 megahertz. Since then, Patel’s team at the UW has built the actual sensors and refined this method.