Researchers create 3D printed objects that connect to WiFi with no electronics

The internet of things just got a big boost from researchers from the University of Washington. Researchers from that university have announced the creation of the first 3D printed plastic objects and sensors able to collect useful data and communicate with other WiFi devices on their own. The team behind the project is offering the CAD models to the public so people with access to 3D printers can create their own devices.

The objects can be created out of commercially available plastics and are able to communicate with other smart devices. The devices include a battery-free slider that can control music volume and a button that orders more cornflakes from Amazon.

Other possibilities include a water sensor that can send an alarm if a leak is detected. The image in this story is a sensor that fits to a laundry detergent bottle and can connect to the internet and order more detergent when you are running out. The devices communicate via WiFi using backscatter techniques. Some of the functions that typically needed electronics are now done with mechanical motion that is activated by springs, gears, switches and other 3D printed components.

Backscatter deflects radio signals sent out by a WiFi router and information embedded in those patterns can be decoded by the WiFi receiver. The 3D printed objects use a filament that mixes plastic with copper.

The team says that as the soap is poured from the detergent bottle, gears spin and the rate of spin tells you how much is coming out. When that flow is lower than a certain amount it triggers an order for more detergent. The team can also encode static data into some static objects to allow for inventory tracking and to help robots interact with the devices.