MIT’s ‘smart surface’ could improve your WiFi signal tenfold

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Lead author Venkat Arun in front of the RFocus surface prototype.

Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

There’s a problem with stuffing wireless connections into ever-smaller devices: they can struggle to maintain a good signal when there’s so little space for antennas. MIT CSAIL researchers might have a fix, though. They’ve developed an RFocus “smart surface” that typically improves wireless signal strength nearly 10 times. Instead of just a handful of monolithic antennas, the prototype revolves around 3,000-plus tiny antennas with software that arranges them to maximize reception.

The array would be relatively inexpensive at just a few cents per antenna, and it would consume little power compared to a conventional system. You wouldn’t need amplifiers or other hardware that typically drains batteries, after all.

Tere’s no mention of how soon you could expect RFocus in use. The team would only have to refine the design, but find a way to produce it at scale. The uses are already clear, at least. At a minimum, this could provide stronger, longer-ranged connections for everything from to notoriously finicky high-band 5G. However, this may be useful for Internet of Things devices that are either too to have a wireless link or need some additional bulk to maintain reliable signals. You could see wireless data in more devices, or more elegant versions of the gadgets you already have.

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