How would you like everyday supplies and necessities like coffee filters and paper towels to inform you that they've gotten low? Maybe the trash can to let you know when it's getting full, or the drain to let you know when it's beginning to get clogged? These sorts of regular maintenance tasks are all things most of us forget about until they need to be taken care of, but in a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) has fully become reality these sorts of menial tasks will likely be able to alert you before they become problems. While it's still up in the air as to whether or not having everything connected in some way is actually a good thing, we need the technology to drive it before we can come to such conclusions.
As such we've seen some incredible efforts and progress made on behalf of power consumption for the ways that these connected devices all talk to each other. While there are many different standards out there for wireless connectivity there are two names that just about everyone in the world knows by now: WiFi and Bluetooth. Both of these standards work in very different ways and thus far have been used for very different purposes. Power hungry WiFi has driven wireless Internet speeds through the roof of what we once knew, and it's not uncommon to see routers working in hundreds of megabytes per second at their peak. Meanwhile Bluetooth has been driving power down to power more mobile devices and connected objects, but the 30-ft range of Bluetooth and its overall unreliability have made it an unpredictable standard for many uses.
So what if we could combine the reliability and speed of WiFi with the low power consumption of Bluetooth? That's the idea behind the new Passive WiFi standard that the University of Washington has been working on for the past couple of years. This standard effectively removes the analog antenna from typical WiFi solutions and only keeps the digital one, which changes up the way WiFi works in significant ways. Since the analog components of WiFi haven't been able to shrink like digital ones, WiFi antennas often consume over 10,000x more power than their digital components. By removing these analog components in connected devices researchers have found that, while the speeds drop considerably from analog WiFi, they are still much faster than Bluetooth at 11mbps speeds, all while consuming 1,000x less power than Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. While we'll have to see whether or not Passive WiFi or WiFi HaLow become the new IoT standard, this is the sort of breakthrough we've needed for IoT to become more of a reality.