Ambient Backscatter

Wireless Communication Out of Thin Air

As computing devices become smaller and more numerous, powering them becomes more difficult; wires are often not feasible, and batteries add weight, bulk, cost, and require recharging/replacement that is impractical at large scales. Ambient backscatter communication solves this problem by leveraging existing TV and cellular transmissions, rather than generating their own radio waves. This novel technique enables ubiquitous communication where devices can communicate among themselves at unprecedented scales and in locations that were previously inaccessible.

Ambient Backscatter transforms existing wireless signals into both a source of power and a communication medium. It enables two battery-free devices to communicate by backscattering existing wireless signals. Backscatter communication is orders of magnitude more power-efficient than traditional radio communication. Further, since it leverages the ambient RF signals that are already around us, it does not require a dedicated power infrastructure as in RFID.


Vincent Liu
Aaron Parks
Vamsi Talla


Shyam Gollakota
Joshua R. Smith
David Wetherall



Ambient Backscatter: Wireless Communication Out of Thin Air
Vincent Liu, Aaron Parks, Vamsi Talla, Shyamnath Gollakota, David Wetherall, Joshua R. Smith
SIGCOMM, August 2013 [PDF] (Best Paper Award)


UW Networks and Wireless Lab
UW Sensor Systems Laboratory