3D Printing Wi-Fi Connections

City landscape with abstract design representing a vast wifi network

Dec 12, 2017

Living in the age of Big Data and IoT has placed prominence on the ability for objects to “talk” to each other and share information. Recently, researchers at the University of Washington combined this need with new 3D-printing technologies in simplifying the production of connected devices.

The team created a way for 3D-printed plastic objects to connect via a wireless network without embedding any batteries or electronics. Rather, the technique allows for printing wireless sensors that can communicate via RF receivers. The project is funded by the Paul Allen School’s Networks and Mobile Systems Lab, the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and Google.

The plastic objects created by the 3D printer include copper filament that is used as an antenna. They also utilize moving gears and springs that trigger a sequence which can be detected and analyzed by a connected device like a smartphone or computer. As the switch goes between on and off, the copper antenna either reflects or absorbs signals from a Wi-Fi router.

The goal was to allow for the production of simple objects that could be printed without a great deal of technical knowledge, but still utilize a connected dynamic in sharing information. The team is also making the technology free to anyone who wants to use it, with the longer-term goal of improving the approach as more people develop new prototypes and expand on potential applications.