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UW researchers have generated Passive Wi-Fi transmissions that use 10,000 times less power than current methods. (Credit: UW via YouTube)

A group of University of Washington engineers has raised capital to develop and commercialize a power-efficient way to generate WiFi transmissions.

Jeeva Wireless just reeled in a $1.2 million round, co-founder Shyamnath Gollakota confirmed with GeekWire. He declined to provide more details about the cash and how Jeeva will use it, as the Seattle startup is still in stealth mode.

The company’s co-founders are the same UW researchers who co-authored a study last year for a Passive Wi-Fi system that can generate WiFi transmissions using 10,000 times less power than conventional methods.

Not even low-power options such as Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee can match the system’s energy efficiency, based on the study that earned the UW team a place on MIT Technology Review’s top-ten list of breakthrough technologies in 2016.

With the fresh funding, it appears that the company is ready to commercialize its innovation. Other co-founders include Joshua Smith, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering; Aaron Parks, a graduate researcher at the UW’s Sensor Systems Laboratory; Bryce Kellogg, a graduate researcher at the UW’s Mobile Systems Lab; and Vamsi Talla, a research associate at the UW computer science and engineering school.

Gollakota, the other co-founder, was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for 2017.

Also listed on the SEC filing for the investment as a director is Easen Ho, an executive at Vantron Technology, a Silicon Valley-based provider of low-power embedded systems.

Passive WiFi could open the way for applications that currently require too much power for regular WiFi, according to a UW news release from last year. For example, other types of communication platforms have been required in the past for smart-home sensor systems that can detect which doors are open, or whether the kids have come home from school.

“Even though so many homes already have Wi-Fi, it hasn’t been the best choice for that,” Smith said in the release. “Now that we can achieve Wi-Fi for tens of microwatts of power and can do much better than both Bluetooth and ZigBee, you could now imagine using Wi-Fi for everything.”

The researchers could rev up Passive Wi-Fi to transmit standard signals at bit rates of up to 11 megabits per second, which isn’t as fast as the maximum rate for standard Wi-Fi but is 11 times faster than Bluetooth 1.0.

The secret to revving up the rate while cranking down the power has to do with digital vs. analog. The system developed by Smith and his colleagues uses a single plugged-in device for power-intensive analog functions, such as producing a radio signal at a specific frequency.

A separate array of sensors produces the Wi-Fi packets of information by reflecting and absorbing the signal, using digital switches that require virtually no energy. Prototype sensors could connect with a smartphone, tablet, or other device at distances of up to 100 feet.

“With Passive Wi-Fi, we can envision a true ‘Internet of Things’ in which household devices and wearable sensors will be able to communicate using Wi-Fi without worrying about power,” the researchers note in the description from the video below.

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