Researchers at the University of Washington have developed 3D-printed objects that can transmit and store data about their use without the need for batteries or electronics.
The devices use a method called ‘backscatter’. They have antennas embedded in them that reflect radio signals from something like your home Wi-Fi router. The way the antennas backscatter their signals carries information about how the object is being used.
The researchers suggest these could be used for devices like ‘smart’ pill bottles, to record when they’re being opened or closed. They could then send information to an app to help patients or doctors track their use. As the objects are completely made of plastic, users wouldn’t need to worry about the objects getting wet, losing signal or running out of batteries.
The team has also created an insulin pen that uses a coiled-up spring to record how many times it’s used when it’s out of range of a Wi-Fi signal. When the user’s back in Wi-Fi range they can release the spring, and data about the pen’s use is sent to a device.
The next step is for the researchers to scale down the new technology so they can be tested in real healthcare situations.
This is an extract from issue 329 of BBC Focus magazine.
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