Seemingly every connected device has at least one wireless radio in it. However, that often requires some big compromises. Those radios often chew up a lot of power, which isn't always practical with Internet of Things gadgets that may not have much room for a battery. Disney Research may have a solution to that problem: ditch the radios entirely. Its scientists have developed technology that uses ambient radio waves to communicate. The approach uses very low-power sensor nodes to reflect radio waves from virtually any background source, whether it's a distant tower or the phone in your pocket. RFID tags already use a similar approach, but the use of many more sources and multiple channels gives you a much longer range -- in tests, the researchers achieved data links at distances up to 164 feet.
Naturally, you won't see this in every device you own. You need other wireless signals for this to work, after all. That also rules out using the hardware in remote areas where there are few if any ambient radio waves. Disney's invention might be very useful in smart homes and other electronics-heavy places, though. At the least, it could lead to slicker devices that don't need big batteries. And at best, it could lead to smart devices that weren't even possible before due to size or power requirements. You might also see more connected electronics that run primarily or exclusively on solar power.