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Dutch Scientists Invent Sensor Powered by Radio Waves

The Internet of Things just got a big boost: Dutch scientists just engineered a chip about the size of a tiny bread crumb that is powered completely by radio waves. These tiny chips measure temperature, air, light and pollution and have been placed all around smart homes, offices, and cities.

netherlands“We don’t want hundreds of these sensors around our homes if we have to go around swapping the batteries all the time,” said lead researched Professor Peter Baltus. For that reason, the Dutch have made these 2 sq nm sensors that weigh 1.6 mg and yet contain an antenna that captures energy from a wireless router. Once the sensor captures and stores enough energy, it is able to measure temperature and send a signal back to the router.

Though the actual use of this particular piece of technology is not very exciting, the step forward that it presents in the IoT industry (in that it is a tiny gadget hooked into a router that constantly and wirelessly provides data) is very exciting. Devices like this could also advance security efforts and potentially help old people.

Many have been wondering exactly what the sensor is made of, questions which have prompted a determined, if stoic silence from the Dutch inventors. They are not interested in disclosing any details that may put their reputations or the reputation of their companies danger.

dutchThe chip has a tiny range; its sensors only detect temperature within 2.5 cm of the device. However, researchers believe it’s likely that the range will be able to be extended to 1m. Baltus shoots in the dark: “Theoretically it can work up to 5m.”

The sensor can operate even from beneath a layer of paint, plastic or concrete, so it’s easily incorporated into the architecture of buildings and street infrastructure.

Each chip costs only 20 cents to produce, yet another clever engineering aspect of the device.

The IoT market is one of the most widely predicted to explode. Gartner predicts that cities will have 1.6 billion connected things, 518 million smart buildings, and one billion smart homes by 2016. That means that if you want to invest in anything, it should likely be the computer chip that determines how hot it is within a 2cm range. After all, if Baltus is telling the truth, it may well measure the temperature in a 5m diameter.

Compute Stick

compute stick

Intel proved itself a powerhouse this year at CES with all of their new technologies. One of the most interesting was the Compute Stick. When you first look at this product, you may think it’s similar to a media streamer such as the Apple TV, Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV stick. It’s actually a Windows 8.1 computer.

It comes with 2GB or RAM, a quad-core Atom Bay Trail processor and 32GB of storage. They included a micro SD slot (allowing the consumer to expand the small amount of storage provided), a USB 2.0 port, a micro USB port for power, and a promise that it will power through HDMI connections in the near future. It can be connected via WiFi or Bluetooth 4.0, and has an HDMI extender.

This is fantastic for the average consumer. Not everyone has use for a desktop computer these days with smart phones becoming smarter and tablets replacing laptops. Many homes don’t even have a desktop anymore, relying upon mobile devices to connect when they need to. It’s the same as the death of the home telephone.

With this Compute Stick, you can turn your TV into a desktop computer relatively easily. It’s low profile, but looks hi-tech. If you don’t like Windows, they even offer an Ubuntu version. Sure it has lower specifications like only 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, but it’s also only $89. Intel is even hinting that they may updating the hardware later to include Core M processors.

Most people won’t be interested in using this as their main computer, especially since it only has the one USB port, but it’s a great way to upgrade your living room and give it desktop abilities. If it’s used as a traditional desktop, that one USB port will most like be used for the mouse. A USB hub can always be added, but it takes away the idea of having the Compute Stick just plugged into the back of the TV to use whenever. Consumers didn’t seem to upset with the previous models with 2 USB ports, so it will most likely top out on the complaints as only a minor inconvenience as opposed to a complete deal-breaker.

There are a few other companies with similar products, one of which being Dell’s Project Ophelia. Roughly the size of the first Flash USB Memory sticks, Ophelia plugs in to the back of your TV or monitor via HDMI. It’s Android-powered, and probably closer to a media streamer than a computer (what else would you expect though for only $100?). You can play games, browse the web and access the Google Play store. The nice part is that since it’s so small, you can carry it with you anywhere. It has 2 USB ports, but obviously it’s ideal to use the wireless.

Ophelia is still new, and the specifications have yet to be released. Though for the amount of it, they can’t be too impressive. Either way it’s a step in the right direction for microcomputers like the Compute Stick. It may not have the fancy name, but it is technology at its finest.