Researchers Use 3D Printed Plastics to Send WiFi Signal Without Electronics

Can you connect an object to WiFi without electronics or batteries? Conventional wisdom says no, but a team of researchers from the University of Washington have just figured out a way to shatter conventional wisdom.

Using only commercially available plastics and a 3D printer, the team was able to create devices that can independently connect to the internet and communicate without the use of any electronics.

“Our goal was to create something that just comes out of your 3D printer at home and can send useful information to other devices,” co-lead author and UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer said. “But the big challenge is how do you communicate wirelessly with WiFi using only plastic? That’s something that no one has been able to do before.”

Using Computer Aided Design (CAD) models, which the researchers will make available to the public, they were able to create a plastic detergent bottle that’s able to detect when supplies of soap are running low and connect to the internet to order more.

Engineers replaced electrical components with simple switches, springs and gears printed from plastic. The breakthrough represents almost limitless applications, from water lines that send you an alert when there’s a leak and simple buttons that can purchase stuff online in an instant.

“As you pour detergent out of a Tide bottle, for instance, the speed at which the gears are turning tells you how much soap is flowing out. The interaction between the 3-D printed switch and antenna wirelessly transmits that data,” said senior author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “Then the receiver can track how much detergent you have left and when it dips below a certain amount, it can automatically send a message to your Amazon app to order more.”

tide wifi

The team presented their findings at the end of November at the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Asia.

Images: Mark Stone/University of Washington 


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