The technology could free engineers to extend the tendrils of the Internet and computers into corners of the world they don’t currently reach. Battery-free devices that can communicate could make it much cheaper and easier to widely deploy sensors inside homes to take control of heating and other services.
Smart thermostats on the market today, such as the Nest, are limited by the fact that they can sense temperature only in their immediate location. Putting low-cost, Wi-Fi-capable, and battery-free sensors behind couches and cabinets could provide the detailed data needed to make such thermostats more effective. “You could throw these things wherever you want and never have to think about them again,” says Shyam Gollakota, an assistant professor at the University of Washington who worked on the project.”