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Breaking the Bounds: Transmitting Radio Waves with Minimal Power

Also see: Reflecting on Rudolf Steiner: Entropic Waste and Its Impact on Modern Life

In a groundbreaking study that seems to flirt with the impossible, researchers Joshua R. Smith and Zerina Kapetanovic have introduced a new method of wireless communication that requires almost no power. This innovation, published on January 24, 2023, promises to revolutionize how we think about energy usage in wireless systems.

The Conventional vs. The Innovative

Traditionally, transmitting radio waves required a significant amount of power. A typical setup involved a powered oscillator linked to an antenna, oscillating billions of times per second to generate radio waves. This method, while effective, is energy-intensive.

Smith and Kapetanovic’s method turns this approach on its head. Instead of a high-energy signal source, their system utilizes the natural thermal noise present in all conductive materials. This noise, caused by the random motion of electrons due to heat, can be harnessed to transmit information—without the need for additional power.

How Does It Work?

The system operates on a surprisingly simple mechanism: a switch (specifically a transistor) connects a resistor to an antenna. When the switch is on, the resistor’s thermal noise is transmitted by the antenna, representing a digital ‘1’. When off, no signal is transmitted, representing a ‘0’. This method of using existing environmental energy to transmit information is not only ingenious but also highly energy-efficient.

Addressing Skepticism

Initially, the concept raised eyebrows. Critics argued that it might violate the second law of thermodynamics by suggesting a form of perpetual motion. However, the researchers clarified that while the transmitter uses negligible energy, the receiver does not. It requires power, much like a refrigerator, which maintains a cooler internal environment by expelling heat. Hence, the system adheres to thermodynamic principles.

Applications and Implications

The potential applications of this technology are vast. From sensors in smart agriculture that require minimal maintenance to medical implants that won’t need battery replacements, the implications are far-reaching. Furthermore, this method reduces the need for strong radio waves, which can be harmful to human tissue, thus offering safer alternatives for biomedical applications.

A Step Towards Sustainable Communication

This development could be a significant step towards more sustainable and energy-efficient communication technologies. By reducing the power requirements of wireless transmissions, we not only conserve energy but also extend the viability of devices in hard-to-reach or maintain areas.

The Future of Wireless Communication

The journey doesn’t end here. The team is focused on enhancing the data transmission rate and range of their technology. They are also exploring other natural signal sources, like biological thermal noise, which could further expand the utility of this technology.

This research not only paves the way for new forms of communication but also potentially deepens our understanding of the relationship between thermodynamics and information theory.


What Smith and Kapetanovic have achieved could redefine the boundaries of what’s possible in wireless communication. By effectively turning background noise into a reliable signal source, they challenge our conventional reliance on high-power transmission methods and open new avenues for technological advancements that are both innovative and environmentally conscious.



Radio waves carry both energy and information simultaneously. Nevertheless, radio-frequency (RF) transmissions of these quantities have traditionally been treated separately. Currently, the community is experiencing a paradigm shift in wireless network design, namely, unifying wireless transmission of information and power so as to make the best use of the RF spectrum and radiation as well as the network infrastructure for the dual purpose of communicating and energizing. In this paper, we review and discuss recent progress in laying the foundations of the envisioned dual purpose networks by establishing a signal theory and design for wireless information and power transmission (WIPT) and identifying the fundamental tradeoff between conveying information and power wirelessly. We start with an overview of WIPT challenges and technologies, namely, simultaneous WIPT (SWIPT), wirelessly powered communication networks (WPCNs), and wirelessly powered backscatter communication (WPBC). We then characterize energy harvesters and show how WIPT signal and system designs crucially revolve around the underlying energy harvester model. To that end, we highlight three different energy harvester models, namely, one linear model and two nonlinear models, and show how WIPT designs differ for each of them in single-user and multi-user deployments. Topics discussed include rate-energy region characterization, transmitter and receiver architectures, waveform design, modulation, beamforming and input distribution optimizations, resource allocation, and RF spectrum use. We discuss and check the validity of the different energy harvester models and the resulting signal theory and design based on circuit simulations, prototyping, and experimentation. We also point out numerous directions that are promising for future research.
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