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Smart Plastics

Researchers 3D Print Objects which Send Data Without using Power

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Oct 10, 2018

University of Washington researchers have developed 3D printed plastic objects which communicate wirelessly to transmit data about their uses without requiring batteries or electronics. 

Researchers at the University of Washington have previously shown how 3D printed plastic objects can be used to take measurements and transmit them via an antenna without requiring any electronics or batteries.

Since then, the researchers have been working to develop the 3D prints to make this technique useful for assistive technology. For example, the technology will be used in monitoring how patients use anything from prosthetics to pill bottles.

Jennifer Mankoff, a researcher working on the project and professor at the School of Computer Science & Engineering, explains: “We’re interested in making accessible assistive technology with 3D printing, but we have no easy way to know how people are using it… Could we come up with a circuitless solution that could be printed on consumer-grade, off-the-shelf printers and allow the device itself to collect information?”

The answer, they’ve found, is yes. Vikram Iyer, a scientist working on this project, explains how two antennas and a switch contact are used to enable information collection. Essentially, the switch contact changes how the antenna is reflecting the signal from a WiFi router. The researchers look at the reflections, similar to Morse code, to decode a message. Learn more in the video below:

Helping Patients by Creating Smart Devices with 3D Printing

The problem that the team faced was how to monitor complex actions as well as store the data. They had previously proven that it was possible to monitor simple movements. However, they wanted to come up with a way of monitoring whether a pull bottle was both opened and closed.

To do this, they used two antennas in the 3D printed objects. This meant it was possible to track movement in two different directions. The team explains their findings further, giving the example of an insulin pen.

Scientist Shyam Gollakota, said: “You can still take insulin even if you don’t have a WiFi connection… So we needed a mechanism that stores how many times you used it. Once you’re back in the range, you can upload that stored data into the cloud.”

To make this idea work, the researchers relied on a spring inside a ratchet. If the button was pushed, the spring would become tighter. Then, when back in WiFi range, the ratchet can be released, the spring unwinds and the data will be transmitted.

This isn’t all the team is working on. Their next plan is to make their prototypes even smaller so that they can be used for pill bottles too. Want to find out more? The researchers will be at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology where they will be presenting their work.

Source: Engadget

University of Washington

License: The text of "Researchers 3D Print Objects which Send Data Without using Power" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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