Nov 8, 2017 | By Tess

Perhaps one of the most frustrating “21st century problems” is finding that your WiFi connection does not reach your bed, or the corner of the room where you desk is, any just any part of your home. One solution is to buy a second router or amplifier, but these options can be expensive.

Fortunately, a team of researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire has devised a remarkably simple and affordable way to improve WiFi signals within an indoor space and even strengthen wireless security: 3D printed structures covered in aluminum foil.

The concept for the project is simple and was inspired by a previous research project which used soda cans to deflect and direct a WiFi signal in a particular direction. By using customized 3D printed models covered in aluminum, the team believed they could improve upon the soda can research and create bespoke WiFi solutions for people.

The project itself is called WiPrint and consists of a software program that can generate WiFi reflector shapes based off of parameters the user inputs. For instance, if you want a particularly strong signal in one part of your house and want to cut the signal from going outside via a window, the WiPrint program will create a model of a WiFi reflector which will meet these demands.

Once the 3D model is generated, users simply need to print it out (whether at home or using a 3D printing service) and cover it in a reflective material, such as aluminum foil. When placed on or next to your WiFi router, the 3D printed panel should effectively shield your signal from certain areas (such as the outside) and direct stronger signals to the areas you have requested.

"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users," explained Xia Zhou, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth. "Not only do we strengthen wireless signals, we make those same signals more secure."

That is, by limiting the WiFi signal to certain indoor spaces, users can protect themselves better from nearby cyber attacks or unknown usage, and can even help to reduce interference with their own connections.

Example of a 3D printed reflector covered in aluminum foil

In developing the customized WiFi reflectors, the Dartmouth team created an algorithm which could generate a 3D model of a reflector shape which would “target wireless coverage,” as well as a technology for simulating how WiFi signals are dispersed in a given environment.

As the team’s WiPrint technology currently stands, the program is capable of generating an “optimized reflector shape” in just 23 minutes, which takes into account the router location in an interior space as well as the target area for signal, etc.

After testing their system with a number of off-the-shelf WiFi access points, the researchers found that the 3D printed reflector (covered in aluminum) could effectively direct the WiFi signal to certain areas and block it to others. More specifically, they discovered that the reflectors were capable of decreasing the WiFi strength by up to 10 dB for blocked areas and strengthening it by 6 dB for target areas. You can see an example of the results above, wherein the two rooms on the left are to be blocked out and the yellow signifies WiFi strength.

One of the best thing about the WiPrint system? How cheap it is. "With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars," explained Zhou. At the moment, however, the WiPrint software is not yet commercially available.

The researchers say they will continue developing and advancing their WiFi enhancing technology, and will be exploring the use of different materials for the reflectors. One of the next goals for the project will be to develop adaptable reflectors which can change their structure and shape when an interior layout changes. The team also says it will investigate higher frequency bands such as millimeter waves and visible light.

The Dartmouth team will be presenting its innovative research this week at ACM’s BuildSys 2017 in Delft, The Netherlands. Check out the video below to learn more about WiPrint:



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Denis bill wrote at 3/12/2018 8:29:06 PM:

After the 3D model is created, users will have to print it (whether at home or using 3D printing service) and cover it with a reflective material, such as aluminum foil.

Maxim wrote at 11/10/2017 1:12:47 PM:

Transmission should not suffer from multiple reflections of the waves we are going to have with this solution (effectively bandwidth will suffer), but if the resulting speed of the connection is enough for the user, then it works for the particular installation.

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