It sounds like something dreamed up by the foil-hat-wearing-brigade, but new research has proved that a simple 3D printed (specially shaped) piece of plastic covered with aluminum foil can work as an effective Wi-Fi signal booster (or rather, signal director).
The reflectors are made out of plastic and covered in aluminium foil, with a unit's shape determined by data fed into the WiPrint system.
Shaping the signal allows users to funnel the Wifi toward the areas it's most needed.
And while they used a special 3D printed material in the flawless shape, the researchers acknowledge that not everyone has access to the 3D printer.
The concept for the project is simple and was inspired by a previous research project which used soda cans to deflect and direct a WiFi signal in a particular direction.
"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users", said Xia Zhou, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth. Solutions that improve the strength of wireless connections can often be, annoying to say, bank-breaking.
"W$3 e aim to strengthen the signal in regions where high performance is desired, and weaken the signal in regions where malicious third-parties could potentially be eavesdropping", the study's authors wrote in their research paper.
For only $35 and 23 minutes, Wi-Fi users can increase signal strength and boost security in offices and homes.
As the team's WiPrint technology now stands, the program is capable of generating an "optimized reflector shape" in just 23 minutes, which takes into account the router location in an interior space as well as the target area for signal, etc.
The reflector itself is composed of plastic with a thin layer of metal on it that redirects the signals to desired coverage areas. By creating the reflector and combining it with aluminum foil, they were able to dramatically reduce the seeping of signal into the unused rooms and deliver far more signal to the room they wanted to deliver more wireless to. You can see a demonstration in the video below.
It's clever stuff indeed, and the researchers are now looking at ways to use different materials (other than plastic) to refine the WiPrint system further. How cheap it is. At the moment, however, the WiPrint software is not yet commercially available. This also leads to reduced interference. Researchers from Dartmouth have developed a customized reflector that can actually improve Wi-Fi speeds.
In the new work, the team build upon this idea, and designed an algorithm to optimize a reflector's shape to target more specific coverage areas.
The Dartmouth team will be presenting its innovative research this week at ACM's BuildSys 2017 in Delft, The Netherlands.