Millions of us use activity trackers and smartwatches to count our steps and measure stats on our running and overall fitness, and now a new kind of wireless technology could see our wearable devices make some impressive performance gains of their own.
Researchers at NASA and the University of California in the US are developing a new kind of wireless chip for wearable devices that reflects wireless signals instead of using conventional transmitters and receivers to upload and download data. The benefits of the technology could see us getting significantly longer battery life out of our wearables between charges, as well as enjoying faster data transmission when we're on a local Wi-Fi network.
"The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the Wi-Fi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up)," said Adrian Tang from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press release.
The solution, which enables data transmission at three times the speed of current standards, uses a binary switch mechanism where incoming energy is absorbed by the wireless circuit as a '0' and reflections are represented by a '1'. By having the wearable device simply reflect data back at a Wi-Fi router rather than having to generate and transmit its own signals independently, the energy savings will be massive.
How massive? In testing at 2.5 metres from the Wi-Fi router, the system consumed 1,000 times less power than a regular Wi-Fi link. That could add up to a lot of extra steps between charges for your fitness tracker.
"You can send a video in a couple of seconds, but you don't consume the energy of the wearable device. The transmitter externally is expending energy - not the watch or other wearable," said M.C. Frank Chang from the University of California.
What this means of course is that the Wi-Fi router incurs the energy burden displaced by the wearable device, but since most such routers are connected to mains power in homes and offices, this shouldn't pose too much of a problem (although users with portable Wi-Fi-sharing dongles and boosters should be aware that they'll likely see a drop-off in the battery life of these gadgets as they pick up the slack).
The researchers have patented the technology and are looking to commercialise it, which hopefully means we'll start seeing better battery life in our wearable devices sooner rather than later. We can't wait.