Slideshow

In Pictures: Most wild, wacky and wonderful Wi-Fi installations

RF’s most odd, unusual, cool, intriguing network applications for work, fashion, health and play

  • There’s something about Wi-Fi that gets the creative juices going. Here’s a selection that shows the breadth of Wi-Fi creativity and innovation, some based on commercial products and some decidedly not.

  • A clamshell-style baby monitor with high-def camera, from France’s Withings, uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to let parents with iPhones or iPads remotely monitor an infant. It’s powered by Broadcoam’s BCM4330 chip, which combines Bluetooth 4.0, single-stream 802.11n, and FM radio. The Withings Smart Baby Monitor has a high-resolution 3-megpixel camera, extra-wide-view lens, nightvision with infrared LEDs, two-way microphone, and a 4x zoom feature. Flip it open, and it pairs via Bluetooth to an iPhone running the free WithBaby app, and via Wi-Fi with your home wireless router. You can even program alarms based on activity/movement, audio levels and temperature/humidity. Price: $300.

  • Wi-Fi cameras, motion detectors, and solar-powered, weatherproof Ruckus Wireless 802.11 access points [here mounted on a tree] capture images of the elusive mountain lions in Stanford University’s outdoor natural laboratory, the 1,200-acre Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. You can see a video of the big cats. The whole preserve, via Ruckus Wi-Fi meshing and bridges, now offers faculty and students broadband access for field studies.

  • Wi-Fi is being used in a variety of emergency location scenarios, such as “man down” and “no movement” alarm applications. Finland’s Ascom last year integrated its 802.11n VOIP Wi-Fi phone, the Ascom i62, with Ekahau Wireless’ Wi-Fi real-time location system. The phone, shown here, clips on a belt, and has a one-press button on its top to trigger the Ekahau tracking, which requires the Ekahau Positioning Engine appliance. Both voice and location tracking work over an array of popular enterprise wireless LAN brands.

  • Hundreds of sensors on Oracle Team USA’s race boats, prepping for next year’s defense of the America’s Cup, pass data on telemetry, wind and load data to an onboard server for processing. A Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 7982 802.11n access point carries the information to fixed and wearable displays, guiding real-time decisions on trimming sails to maximize the boat’s speed. When the boat docks, the data are offloaded via a Ruckus wireless mesh link for analysis at the team’s base in San Francisco Bay.

  • Wi-Fi monitored handwashing sounds Orwellian, but applied to healthcare, the idea is to increase hand sanitation to cut the risk of infections in hospitals. Ekaha combines its Wi-Fi real-time location system and Wi-Fi staff badges with Akron, Ohio-based GoJo’s SmartLink Series dispensers. You wave your hand to get soap, triggering an infrared pulse from the dispenser to the badge, which uses Wi-Fi to pass event data to the Ekahau server for processing. The two-way link means the system can send reminders and alerts to staff.

  • Cotemar, a Mexican oil-industry services company, deployed Areoscout’s Wi-Fi tags and infrastructure at four floating hotels (dubbed “flotels”) that house and feed offshore oil rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico. The system automatically tracks arrivals and departures, geo-fences secure areas and alerts if an unauthorized worker enters one, and can even be used to more accurately bill for meals and laundry services that Cotemar supplies to the oil company. For more details, check out this story at RFID Journal, by Claire Swedborg.

  • The Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor looks sort of like an upside down, fat-headed golf club: you stick the handle into the soil in a plant pot. It’s loaded with sensors to figure out moisture, sunlight, and surrounding temperature. A Wi-Fi radio connects to your home network and sends the data to Koubachi’s servers, accessed via a native iOS app. It’s priced at about $162. You only need to buy one: just keep moving it from one plant to the next every couple of weeks to collect data for the server.

  • Wi-Fi, combined with the low-power Zigbee wireless standard, is collecting street-level data in Salamanca, Spain, about air quality variables, such as temperature, relative humidity, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and even noise levels. The data is supposed to let the city make adjustments in traffic management to improve air quality. When the Zigbee-based sensors (Libelium’s WaspMote nodes) detect a change, the node uses Wi-Fi to link with Libelium’s Meshilium gateway to send data to a control center for processing. Follow the link for more details on the Salamanca network.

  • Wi-Fi links Lego’s way-cool Mindstorm modularized, programmable robots with the internet. Their brain is NXT, a computer-controlled Lego "brick" with an array of ports, sensors, and other features to bring the robot to "life." Dexter Industries offers a $99 Wi-Fi sensor for NXT, available at Amazon.com, connecting the ‘bot with the internet over Wi-Fi, and with other Wi-Fi equipped devices, and enabling the robot to send and receive data. The 802.11b/g/n sensor supports HTTP, TCP, UDP protocols, and WPA, WPA2-PSK, and WEP security protocols.

  • Paris’ Escale Numerique (meaning digital “break” or “stopover”) is intended as a stylish template for free, public high-speed Wi-Fi in Paris. Located at the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées, it offers concrete swivel chairs, with attached round tables for laptops and electrical outlets in the base, covered by a planted roof resting on a “grove” of wooden legs suggesting trees. Designer Mathieu Lehanneur, 38, in a recent interview sees the project as the digital broadband equivalent of the city’s famous Wallace fountains, created to bring clean, free drinking water to poor residents.

  • Peer-to-peer Wi-Fi links are being used by General Motors researchers to build a car-based system that can detect pedestrians and cyclists carrying Wi-Fi equipped smartphones or sensors on crowded or poorly visible streets, and then alert drivers. By eliminating a cell tower or access point, the peer-to-peer technology (based on the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi Direct standard), lets devices connect in about one second compared to seven or eight. The goal is to integrate the Wi-Fi sensing with existing vehicle sensor-based detection and alerting systems.

  • Belkin’s new WeMo is essentially a Wi-Fi power switch: you plug it into a wall outlet, then plug into it a lamp, fan or any other appliance, and the radio lets you remotely control it from your iPhone or iPad with the WeMo app. The base switch is $50, with motion detector (shown), $100. Check out Belkin’s video. But the real fun, says The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s Steven Sande in his review is that WeMo supports If This Then That (IFTTT.com), a collection of pre-built triggers and actions, including several for WeMo. Sande plugged in a fan and used IFTTT to tell WeMo to turn it on when the outside temperature reached 85 degrees, for example.

  • Take a full-length mirror, peel off a section of the backing in the top right corner, and mount a tablet with a wired webcam. The result is Israel-based Pickn’Tell’s recording mirror, installed in clothing stores (on the floor, not in dressing rooms): you try on an outfit, stand in front of the mirror, use the Pickn’Tell iOS or Android app and a unique code to connect to the mirror’s tablet. Then you tell it to take a short video or pictures, view them on your device, and post them to your Facebook or Twitter account: your friends can comment in real-time. HuffingtonPost has details of the Pickn’Tell mirrors at trendy Runway Couture in New York City's SoHo district.

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