Imagine a bottle of laundry detergent that can sense when you're running low on soap—and automatically connect to the internet to place an order for more. University of Washington researchers are the first to make this a reality by 3-D printing plastic objects and sensors that can collect useful data and communicate with other WiFi-connected devices entirely on their own.
With CAD models that the team is making available to the public, 3-D printing enthusiasts will be able to create objects out of commercially available plastics that can wirelessly communicate with other smart devices. That could include a battery-free slider that controls music volume, a button that automatically orders more cornflakes from Amazon or a water sensor that sends an alarm to your phone when it detects a leak.
"Our goal was to create something that just comes out of your 3-D printer at home and can send useful information to other devices," said co-lead author and UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer. "But the big challenge is how do you communicate wirelessly with WiFi using only plastic? That's something that no one has been able to do before."