How the backscatter of FM radio waves could change the future of fashion


Scientists at the University of Washington are performing this amazing technique using ambient FM radio waves that are already in the air. They reflect them by encoding them with new messages and information, where they are picked up by nearby smartphones or car radios. Clothing with built-in sensors could monitor the air for these signals and send them to your wearable device.

And it doesn’t just stop at shirts; everything from posters to street signs can reflect these radio waves, resulting in a stream of useful information. A band poster can play a snippet of a new song; road signs can help you determine your location (especially useful if you get lost). Everyday objects can be turned into transmitters with minimal fuss.

One of the early problems with this technology was battery power; this caused a huge loss of energy. But by relying on the radio waves already in the air, engineers can keep power consumption down to near zero. The next step is to integrate smart devices (like smart fabrics) into everyday life.

Smart fabric sensors can do more than turn into a portable FM radio; they can be used to monitor heart rate, steps and other health issues. For those on the fitness trail, this is an indispensable resource; for those with health issues, the smart fabric could literally prove to be a lifesaver.

If you’re worried about the impact on the FM radio waves used, relax; signals superimposed on them have absolutely no impact. Scientists use an adjacent band, which means that your favorite radio station will remain unchanged, even if it is used to send information.

The next step for this technology is to determine the viability of mass production. Soon, your shirt could do more than just make you look good – it could help you find great music and even orient you when you’re lost. How many clothes can say that?


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