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Home sensing systems use wiring as antenna

Posted: 05 Oct 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sensors  electrical wiring  home automation 

Sensors developed by researchers at the University of Washington and the Georgia Institute of Technology enabling the use of residential wiring to transmit information to and from almost anywhere in the home, will be presented this month at the Ubiquitous Computing conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The technology, which could be used in home automation or medical monitoring claims that wireless sensors can run for decades on a single watch battery.

Patel

Sensors sprinkled throughout the home beam information at a set frequency. Wiring wrapped around the sensor acts as a broadcast antenna. The home's electrical wiring acts as the receiving antenna.

Low-cost sensors recording a building's temperature, humidity, light level or air quality are central to the concept of a smart, energy-efficient home that automatically adapts to its surroundings. But that concept has yet to become a reality.

"When you look at home sensing, and home automation in general, it hasn't really taken off," said principal investigator Shwetak Patel, a UW assistant professor of computer science and and electrical engineering. "Existing technology is still power hungry, and not as easy to deploy as you would want it to be."

That's largely because today's wireless devices either transmit a signal only several feet, Patel said, or consume so much energy they need frequent battery replacements.

"Here, we can imagine this having an out-of-the-box experience where the device already has a battery in it, and it's ready to go and run for many years," Patel said. Users could easily sprinkle dozens of sensors throughout the home, even behind walls or in hard-to-reach places like attics or crawl spaces.

SNUPI

Patel's team has devised a way to use copper electrical wiring as a giant antenna to receive wireless signals at a set frequency. A low-power sensor placed within 3 metre to 4.6 metre of electrical wiring can use the antenna to send data to a single base station plugged in anywhere in the home.

The device is called Sensor Nodes Utilising Powerline Infrastructure, or SNUPI. It originated when Patel and co-author Erich Stuntebeck were doctoral students at Georgia Tech and worked with thesis adviser Gregory Abowd to develop a method using electrical wiring to receive wireless signals in a home. They discovered that home wiring is a remarkably efficient antenna at 2MHz. Since then, Patel's team at the UW has built the actual sensors and refined this method. Other co-authors are UW's Gabe Cohn, Jagdish Pandey and Brian Otis.


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