Introducing WISP – A Wirelessly Reprogrammable Battery-free Computer that Sucks Power Out of Thin Air

Wireless Electricity

A team of researchers from the University of Washington’s Sensor Lab have come up with an innovative battery-free computer chip that can suck power out of thin air. Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform, or simply WISP, promises to revolutionize the gadget world by harvesting radio waves as its source of power.

WISP is a platform that combines sensors and computing chip to take the battery out of the equation. There is no need for a battery or a wired power source to operate this device. Instead, it gathers energy from a standard off-the-shelf radio frequency identification (RFID) reader and converts the same into electricity. It’s the same technology that retail shops use to identify RFID tags and prevent shoplifting.

Engineers have developed a battery-free computer chip that “sucks” radio waves out of thin air and converts them into electricity . (Image Credits: TU Delft / University of Washington)

Currently WISP has about the same clock speed and functionality as the processor in a Fitbit wristband. While it may not be powerful enough to pave the way for battery-free smartphones or laptops at the moment, it could still be used for low-tech applications. Sensor data tracking, basic information processing and communicating with the outside world can be a few immediate usages of this ground breaking technology, according to the scientists. It could also find relevance in implantable medical devices that are used to track patients’ health.

While the researchers from the University of Washington have been working on WISP for over a decade, it was their recent association with Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) that has paved way for the development of its most striking feature – the ability to be reprogrammed wirelessly.

Other battery-free computer chips developed till date use cables for the purpose of reprogramming, which defeats the advantage of wirelessness. Thanks to Wisent, a protocol developed by the TU Delft scientists, WISP can be reprogrammed wirelessly. According to the researchers, WISP is the first of its kind software-defined battery-free computer in the world which is truly wirelessly reprogrammable.