MIT researchers pioneer new method for improving wireless signals
Written by: Charlotte Hathway | Published:
?Above: Venkat Arun of MIT stands in front of the RFocus prototype.

Researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have revealed a prototype designed to deliver more efficient wireless signals.

Efforts to deliver faster internet speeds has previously focused on adding antennas to either the transmitter or the receiver, but that is increasingly difficult to do with manufacturers increasingly challenged to produce smaller devices.

MIT researchers developed a prototype that engages with this issue from a new perspective. The team worked on the hypothesis that the signal could be amplified by adding antennas to an external surface in the environment itself, instead of on transmitters and receivers.

The system, named RFocus, is a software-controlled “smart surface” that uses over 3,000 antennas to increase the signal strength at the receiver. The antennas can either let the signal through or reflect it, with their state set by a software controller.

Initial results have been encouraging, with tests showing RFocus improved the average signal strength by a factor of almost 10. The prototype was also cost-effective, with each antenna costing only a few cents – as they don’t process the signal and merely control how it is reflected, relatively unsophisticated antennas could be used.

Venkat Arun, the lead author of the research paper that summarises the project’s findings, says that the project represents what is, to the team’s knowledge, the largest number of antennas ever used for a single communication link.

While the system could serve as another form of WiFi range extender, the researchers say its most valuable use could be in the network-connected homes and factories of the future.

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