back to article The radio environment is noisy – so use the noise as a carrier for signals

Instead of Internet of Things devices generating their own radio waves, many proposals envisage sensors piggybacking their communications on other signals, in what's known as “backscatter communications”. A proposal from Disney Research, unveiled for last week's IEEE Infocom 2017 conference in Atlanta, suggests instead of …

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Childcatcher

And why are Disney getting involved in this? Oh yes, to spy on and track your children.

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Disney

Probably intended as part of a DRM scheme.

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Coat

Re: Disney

They want to put DRM on your children?

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Re: Disney

Knee-jerk reactions aside, there are potential application in toys and theme parks. Disney have also done some research into wireless power transmission - https://phys.org/news/2017-02-wireless-power-transmission-safely-devices.html

The downside is that that your room needs to have metal walls, floor and ceiling, and feature a pole in the centre.

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Pint

Re: Disney

The downside is that that your room needs to have metal walls, floor and ceiling, and feature a pole in the centre.

It just means that you'll have to go and live in a pole dancing club. Not necessarily a downside, and an added bonus is that there won't be any children there for Disney to track.

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Re: Disney

Disney is already heavily invested in RFID and the like through their 'MagicBands' which are issued at themeparks and can do things like act as tickets, help create an optimised itinerary and identify diners to waiters. This seems like an obvious next step into their cuddly Orwellian future.

https://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/

Also, for anyone interested in CGI, display technologies or animatronics, Disney Research puts a lot of different cutting-edge stuff on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/DisneyResearchHub

(The virtual clown makeup is the stuff of nightmares):

https://youtu.be/Ilgu3aFCphs

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Re: Disney

But it will have a twerking Ursula the Sea Witch.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Disney

"help create an optimised itinerary".

Translation:- ties you to a computer at a set time of day for a couple of weeks prior to your trip, and even then you can only pre-book 3 attractions per day.

As anyone who's planned a visit to disneyworld during peak season will know, you have to log on weeks in advance of your trip to book your fastpasses if, for example, you have a couple of daughters who want to go on the 7 Dwarves mine train at Magic Kingdom and the "Frozen" ride at Epcot.

i.e. I wouldn't say the fast pass allows you to have an "optimised" itinery, unless "optimised" means allowing you to actually go to the attractions you've paid for. A fast pass is the only way to be able to go to all the attractions you want to at the Disney resort in a sensible length of time, (i.e. a couple of days per resort)

NOTE:- you *don't* have to have a Magic Band, the RFID chip built in to your credit card sized ticket has the same fastpass capability, but they restrict some of the animations and fancy borders that get stuck on to your photopass pictures if you don't have a magicband but have still got a photopass. (The photopass comes with your ticket as a either paid for extra or often chucked in with your tickets for free.)

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Megaphone

-80dBm is a big signal

"As low as -80dBm" doesn't ring true for me. The 12dB SINAD spec (limit of intelligibility) for most VHF/UHF handheld radio transceivers (i.e. not a dedicated receiver) is 0.18μV to 0.45μV, this equates to -122dBm to -114dBm.

That's 2500x the signal level.

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Orv
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Re: -80dBm is a big signal

The original information content of the signal they're piggybacking on would presumably be noise in the backscattered signal, so that may be where the extra 40 dB of signal-to-noise ratio is going. There's also the question of distinguishing the weak backscatter signal from the stronger incoming carrier.

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Anonymous Coward

i hope they are not going to patent it

- the prior art is far superior in its communication range.

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Re: i hope they are not going to patent it

While that's very interesting and I'm glad for the link, it isn't the same thing as what's being discussed here AT ALL.

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Coat

"Disney Research"

It's a Micky Mouse operation as far as I'm concerned.

BTW they are saying that -80dBm is the ambient level of power inside people's houses that this system can use.

It's the average level of broadband signals that people are being exposed to.

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Anonymous Coward

After all the recent leaky / slurpy IoT scandals

The plebs aren't ever going to connect IoT to the net so we better do this!

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50m range only by "cheating"

I thought a 50m range from backscatter was, erm, heroic, and so it turns out to be. They got that by "utilizing the [cellular] uplink [...] when the backscatter node is placed next to the phone".

In "not cheating" mode, they got 158 bps at 22m, with <1% BER.

However, in all of this, they're using a solar cell to scavenge energy on the node.

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It'd be nice....

...if they spent some of that R&D time and money on security instead of trying to cut corners on costs.

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Who paid to radiate that energy in the first place?

The main flaw I can see with this is that you are absorbing radiation that someone has possibly spent a lot of money get in to the air, be that an FM Transmitter or a Cellular Base Station, both of which require expensive licenses and cost money to run.

If you had a bunch of these devices in some houses close to a cell tower you would cast a radio shadow that would spoil the apparent coverage of that cell. I can't imagine that the owner of the cell tower is going to be too impressed.

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Re: Who paid to radiate that energy in the first place?

Might not be impressed, yes. But would the transmitter owner have any legal recourse?

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issues

1. You're relying on ambient signals that can't be guaranteed to be present in all usage locations at sufficient signal strength

2. You're inherently 'corrupting' the original signal, which is going to add some degree of 'noise' to the original service (which may impair the FM audio or degrade the TV or phone BER) within some proximity of your back-scatter device

3. You may save power on the 'transmitting' (or information-sending) device, but you'll need a much more expensive, sophisticated, and power-hungry receiver to decode the back-scattered signals than if you had a regular transmission in the first place.

Interesting ideas to play with in the lab, but I don't see it being practical in the real world.

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Re: issues

@techmind - Most folks (at least those who might be "customers") are already carrying a much more expensive, sophisticated, and power-hungry receiver around with them, their phone.

Of course, Disney might have a re-think when they realize that this also allows GCHQ to horn in on the data they collect on your kids. Non-exclusivity lowers the value.

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Seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Why not just invest in or wait for better battery tech,or just use the baby panel and cap to charge battery ?

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