Researchers at the University of Washington (UoW) in Seattle have claimed to have developed a self-powered computer chip technology that can draw wireless TV and Wi-Fi signals from around itself to store energy.
The technique, called "ambient backscatter", can so far only store a slight amount of power. But scientists have managed to create credit card-sized chips that are capable of one kilobit per second data exchanges, which is enough to send a text message.
According to UoW, the chips "detect, harness and reflect" the wireless signals from around them, forming "a network out of thin air", which is then picked up by similar devices. Current tests have successfully transmitted data between devices as far as 2.5 feet apart outside, and 1.5 apart indoors, even as far as 6.5 miles away from a TV tower.
UoW says that it is "feasible to build this technology into devices that do rely on batteries, such as smartphones. It could be configured so that when the battery dies, the phone could still send text messages by leveraging power from an ambient TV signal".
Researchers describe wider applications of the technology as "endless", and plan to carry on advancing the data capacity and operating range of the ambient backscatter communication network.