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Everyday Objects Turn ‘Smart’ With Printable Tags

Everyday Objects Turn ‘Smart’ With Printable Tags

Scientists at the University of California develop printable metal tags that turn everyday objects into smart devices.

Copper foil patterns are printed onto flexible and thin substances and allow reflecting of Wi-Fi signals hence manufacturing the ‘smart metal tags’. The metal tags act similar to a ‘mirror’ that is used to reflect signals from a Wi-Fi router. When the metal tags are touched, the signals are disturbed and are immediately caught by the Wi-Fi receiver.

These ‘smart’ tags can be attached to everyday items such as a water bottles, doors and walls. Thus, these things become smart devices that reflect signals and sends them to a Wi-Fi receiver whenever a user interacts with the things. These remotely thin tags can be used to operate smart lights and Wi-Fi speakers. Xinyu Zhang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering said, “Our vision is to expand the Internet of Things to go beyond just connecting smartphones, smartwatches and other high-end devices.” These tags are dirt cheap, chip less, without any complex batteries and the printable sensors being well-designed can be attached on any object. By changing the materials of the metal tags and the foil patterns, the metal tags can be redesigned for desired properties. Furthermore, these do not require any maintenance such as repairing circuits or changing the batteries.

The researchers tested the metal tag by attaching it to a plastic water bottle, which functioned as a hydrator monitor. As soon as the individual touches the bottle the sensors revert a signal and measures the water intake by monitoring the water left inside the bottle. This novel technology can be used to remind the users about rehydration through smartphones. However, these tags cannot be used on a metal water bottle as it would simply block the signals. Despite of its success, it has a few shortcomings such as the Wi-Fi can work only within one meter, which means properties such as the detention range and sensitivity are to be worked upon. Researchers are further working to make these tags with ink and paper to make this technology available at negligible costs.