These Smart Tags Can Convert Everyday Objects Into Smart IoT Devices

The paper-like printable metal tags function like mirrors to reflect specific signals from a WiFi router when touched.
Kashyap Vyas

With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more devices are being connected to each other to make our lives comfortable. There are hordes of devices available today that utilize the power of the internet to make smart decisions, offering users a connected experience no matter wherever they are.


The recent advancements, however, have taken a step further to expand the capabilities of IoT and showed that printable smart tags can be used on any devices to make them smart.

These printable metal tags can be a big step towards revolutionizing the IoTs as they can be printed into thin, paper-like substrates that are flexible and are made from copper foils to reflect radio signals from a WiFi router. When the user touches these tags, the reflected signals are disturbed in a way that can be sensed by a remote WiFi receiver, similar to a smartphone.

Turning Everyday Objects to Smart IoT Devices

The technology is called “LiveTag” and can do live tracking of any device that is attached to it. The senior author of the paper, Xinyu Zhang, who is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Wireless Communications at UC San Diego said: “Our vision is to expand the Internet of Things to go beyond just connecting smartphones, smartwatches, and other high-end devices. We are developing low-cost, battery-free, chipless, printable sensors that can include everyday objects as part of the Internet of Things.”

For the proof of concept, the researchers developed a paper-thin music player controller consisting of buttons like play/pause, next track and volume sliding bar using the LiveTag. Each button consists of a metal tag which sends signals to a WiFi device when touched.

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These Smart Tags Can Convert Everyday Objects Into Smart IoT Devices
Source: Xinyu Zhang/UC San Diego

While the experiment only involved testing the capability of LiveTag on a remote music player controller, the researchers believe that a similar concept can be applied to control WiFi-connected music players or speakers when attached to any surface like a wall, clothes or even the couch's armrest.

Another example involved using the LiveTag as a hydration monitor where the metal tag can be attached to a plastic water bottle. The level of water inside the bottle acts as a touch input that can be used as a signal to track and remind users on their smartphones to keep hydrated.

Future Potential of These Smart Tags

The future of these smart tags or “LiveTag” seems very bright given the extensive usage of IoT and the popularity it has gained recently. 

They can especially help in the healthcare sector by allowing doctors to monitor their patients' activities after recovery. Mr. Zhang commented that “When patients return home, they could 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, for example." 


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