Printable Tags Turn Everyday Objects into IoT Devices


Paper-thin metal tags are designed to reflect specific signals within the Wifi frequency range to control home appliances

Engineers have developed printable metal tags that could be attached to plain objects like water bottles, walls or doors and can turn them into the smart Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The metal tags are made from patterns of copper foil printed onto paper-like materials. These paper-thin control panel can be used to operate WiFi-connected speakers, smart lights and other smart home appliances.

These tags work like mirrors that reflect radio signals from a Wifi router. When a user’s finger touches these mirrors, it disturbs the reflected Wifi signals in a way that can be sensed by a WiFi receiver, like a smartphone. Researchers named the technology “LiveTag.” These metal tags are designed to reflect specific signals within the WiFi frequency range.

Researchers also mentioned that changing the type of material they’re made up of and the pattern in which they’re printed, it can be redesigned to reflect Bluetooth, LTE and also cellular signals. The tags have no batteries, silicon chips, or any discrete electronic components, therefore, they hardly require any maintenance.

Smart tagging to control music player

The researchers used LiveTag to create a paper-thin music player controller complete with a play/pause button, next track button and the sliding bar for tuning volume. The buttons and sliding bar each consist of at least one metal tag and touching any of them sends signals to a WiFi device.

The researchers have so far only tested the LiveTag music player controller to trigger a Wifi receiver, but they envision that it would be able to control Wifi-connected music players or speakers when attached to a wall, couch armrest, clothes or any other ordinary surface.

Apart from a music player controller, they also adapted LiveTag as a hydration monitor. They attached it to a plastic water bottle and showed that it could be used to track a user’s water intake by monitoring the water level in the bottle where the water inside affects the tag’s response.

The tag has multiple resonators that each get detuned at a specific water level. The researchers imagine that the tag could be used to deliver reminders to a user’s smartphone to prevent dehydration.

Future applications to track human-object interaction

On a broader scope, LiveTag technology can be used to track human interaction with everyday objects. For example, it can be used to assess the recovery of patients who have suffered from the stroke. When patients return home, they can use this technology to provide data on their motor activity based on how they interact with everyday objects at home.

Whether they are opening or closing doors in a normal way or if they are able to pick up bottles of water. The amount, intensity and frequency of their activities can be logged and sent to their doctors to evaluate their recovery. And this can all be done in the comfort of their own homes rather than having to keep going back to the clinic for frequent motor activity testing.

Well, the researchers note several limitations of the technology where they are working on improving the tag sensitivity and detection range. Ultimately, they aim to develop a way to make the tags using normal paper and ink printing which will be cheaper for its mass production.