New low-priced device developed to boost wireless signal strength


"Not only do we strengthen wireless signals, we make those same signals more secure", Xia Zhou, assistant professor at Dartmouth College, said in a press briefing.

This new research is an improvement on previous research that placed an aluminum soft drink can behind the WiFi access point to strengthen the signal in one direction.

It involves a 3D-printed reflector with a particular wavy design, all wrapped up in aluminium foil. By using customized 3D printed models covered in aluminum, the team believed they could improve upon the soda can research and create bespoke WiFi solutions for people.

After that, they made a decision to get a little more sophisticated and used an app called WiPrint to develop a reflector that could bounce wireless signals around the home. For instance, if you want a particularly strong signal in one part of your house and want to cut the signal from going outside via a window, the WiPrint program will create a model of a WiFi reflector which will meet these demands.

The contraption works by directing Wi-Fi signals towards a specific area and away from areas where they are not needed. By contrast, a 3D-printed reflector can be custom created to maximize Wi-Fi performance in any particular space for a relatively small investment of time and money. After assessing interior layouts and the target areas to strengthen or weaken signal strength, the researchers placed a "computationally optimised" signal reflector around a wireless router.

If you don't have a 3D printer, because why would you, you could also do the same with cardboard, although researchers do note that the cardboard may "bend out of shape".

The results are impressive indeed, as the test in the above video shows, and this solution will only cost you around $35 (about £27, AU$45) - compared to a fully-fledged directional antenna which would be incredibly costly, not to mention impractical. At the moment, however, the WiPrint software is not yet commercially available. The team also says that this practice limits interference.

The computational system that the team developed was able to determine the optimized reflector shape in 23 minutes.

The Dartmouth team will be presenting its innovative research this week at ACM's BuildSys 2017 in Delft, The Netherlands.

It's hoped the techniques will solve a number of Wi-Fi problems and researchers are continuing to work to see if if reflectors could be made from different, more adaptable materials.