Ant-Sized Radios to Connect the Entire World

Engineers have developed small, ant-sized radios that could eventually connect the entire world.
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Engineers have developed small, ant-sized radios that could eventually connect the entire world.
tiny radio

Photo Credit: Stanford

A team of engineers at Stanford have developed a radio that is as small as an ant and costs only pennies to manufacture, compute and execute commands. Researchers say the end product could serve as an inexpensive "missing link" between the Internet of today and that of the future.

"The next exponential growth in connectivity will be connecting objects together and giving us remote control through the Web," said Amin Arbabian, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford.

As points out, most of the infrastructure to control such devices remotely already exists, such as the Internet to carry out commands around the world and smartphones and computers to issue such commands. The only thing missing is a wireless controller that can be installed on any gadget in any place, at a low cost.

"How do you put a bi-directional wireless control system on every lightbulb?" Arbabian said. "By putting all the essential elements of a radio on a single chip that costs pennies to make." He added that keeping the cost low is imperative in order to connect trillions of devices across the globe.

The radio's antenna is just one-tenth the size of a regular Wi-Fi antenna and can operate at a speed of 24 billion cycles a second. So the team had to improve the electronic design of the radio in order to process such fast signals.

In the end, they designed the antenna to scavenge energy from incoming electromagnetic waves. An antenna replies and relays signals over short distances and a central processor is used to interpret and execute instructions. This ensures that no other external power or components are needed.

Arbabian hopes the tiny radios will provide a web of connectivity between the Internet and household devices.

"Cheap, tiny, self-powered radio controllers are an essential requirement for the Internet of Things," said Arbabian.

Learn more about the ant-sized radios in the video below. 

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