New low-priced device developed to boost wireless signal strength

Dartmouth's WiPrint tech uses low-cost 3D printed reflectors to custom improve WiFi signals

Researchers at Dartmouth College have discovered that 3D-printed signal reflectors made out of foil and plastic "drastically improve the wireless signal around a home".

The custom program analyses the layout of a space and designs an optimal reflector in a 3D printer.

The cheap technique developed by researchers at Dartmouth College and Columbia University essentially creates a "virtual wall" to improve Wifi signal in indoor spaces with multiple rooms. Not only does it ensure there's a strong Wi-Fi signal in the rooms they need it in, but it allows users to manually weaken or cut off signal where they don't. The team then increased range and prevented it from passing through to unwanted spaces.

"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users".

After that, they made a decision to get a little more sophisticated and used an app called WiPrint to develop a reflector that could bounce wireless signals around the home.

Previous research found that placing an aluminium soda can behind a Wifi access point can strengthen the signal in one direction.

The team simulated the spread of the signals, along with their interactions with objects in the environment.

After testing the reflector in two different rooms, the team found it was able to increase the strength of coverage by a whopping 6dB, the equivalent of one thick wall or ceiling.

Some earlier research had shown that putting an aluminium can behind the router can help send the signal in a certain direction. They then created a program called WiPrint using a 3D printer and fed their data into that program. The team also says it will investigate higher frequency bands such as millimeter waves and visible light.

According to the researchers, it algorithm can find the best shape in just 23 minutes, using information on the space, the access points, and the target area. The placement is created to stop signals from going in one direction and reflecting those trying to go elsewhere into an area where it's most desired.

'However, it is not easy to bend the cardboard to conform to an arbitrary pattern + the cardboard may bend out of shape'. 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.

"With a simple investment of about $35 (£27) and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars."

It's clever stuff indeed, and the researchers are now looking at ways to use different materials (other than plastic) to refine the WiPrint system further.

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