SEATTLE - From singing posters to talking t-shirts, University of Washington engineers say they've figured out how to get everyday objects to communicate with you.
"Let's say you work on Capitol Hill and see all these (concert) posters," said researcher Shyam Gollakota. "There's not a lot of information on them," including what the band actually sounds like.
But his team can make that poster sing.
Here's how it works: Researchers attach a piece of copper tape encoded with information - in this case, a song - onto the poster. Then, they use existing FM radio signals, which are plentiful in urban settings, to send the data to a smartphone, car stereo, or other device that picks up FM signals.
"You can just pick up your phone and tune into a preview," said Gollakota.
The technique is called "backscattering." He says it doesn't interfere with the original FM broadcast, because the new system merely reflects or "piggy backs" on the original signal. It also uses much less energy than battery dependent systems. He says while a similar poster, communicating through wifi, would last a few hours, with backscattering, the poster could be powered for ten years.
He says there are many of applications for the technology. For instance, conductive thread can be sewn into a t-shirt to send information about an athlete's vital signs to a smartphone.
Companies are already contacting the UW team about the research, which was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and Google Faculty Research Awards. Gollakota says the technology could be launched large scale by the end of next year, if there's enough interest in it.
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