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Stanford's ant-sized radios could connect the world

Sharon Gaudin | Sept. 15, 2014
Scientists at Stanford University have built ant-sized radios that could one day help track patients' temperatures, turn on coffee makers in the morning and prevent forgery.

The radios also could be attached to every day products inside the home, including appliances, doors and windows.

One radio sensor may detect that a door has opened and someone has entered the room. That radio could connect with others that might switch on a coffee maker or turn on the air conditioning.

Radios are simple devices. Each one has a tag ID number built into it, Arbabian explained. When contacted, the radio will respond with its identifying number and its location. Along with sensors and a receiving, as well as a transmitting, antenna, the radio also carries a basic computational unit. Much less sophisticated and complex than, say, an Intel Pentium processor, this chip can handle only about five or six instruction sets but consumes very little power.

The Stanford team designed each piece of the radio, down to the computer chip.

The radio range is limited to about two to three meters. Arbabian said he could double the range but would need to double the size of the radio to do it.

"There's a tradeoff there," he added. "If you want five meters, you might make it twice the size. The bigger it is the longer the range. The smaller it is the shorter the range."

Because the research team has a framework for the radio's design, Arbabian said it's fairly simple for them to take it from one dimension to another.

The team already has been contacted by a few semiconductor manufacturers about the technology.

"Were not that far off. It's almost ready," said Arbabian. "We might need six months to refine some components. We need more time for some added features, like extra sensors. We have the foundation so it's not a difficult addition."


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