From The Editor | May 24, 2023

Frankenstein, Prometheus, And What They Have To Do With 5G, 6G, And The IoT

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor


Come for Frankenstein talk, stay for some fun stories about 5G, 6G, and the IoT. Also see if you can catch the Kermit the Frog, Charlie Sheen, and John Mayer references.

“Hey,” they said. “The next newsletter is about 5G, 6G, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Write something about that.”

This was either too much information or not enough. Truthfully? I’m still not sure which. But, after some digging around, I do believe I came up with a couple of interesting stories that satisfy the direction given to me.

So, sit back and enjoy this 5G/6G/IoT Frankensteining* of a story.

* Frankenstein, of course, refers to Victor Frankenstein, the young scientist who creates the nameless Monster out of materials from “the dissecting room and the slaughter-house.”**

** The full title of Mary Shelley’s 1818 masterpiece is “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.”***

*** Prometheus was the Titan who created humans in the image of the gods so that they could have a spirit breathed into them at the behest of Zeus. After a falling out with Zeus over giving humanity fire, Prometheus was fixed to a rock of Caucasus where each day an eagle pecked out his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day because of his immortality as a god. So, think about that next time you’re having an off day.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Wirelessly powered electronics developed by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) researchers could help to make IoT technology more environmentally friendly. This development comes at a time when the IoT is projected to connect trillions of devices, boosting the number of sensor nodes deployed in its platforms.

“Current approaches used to power sensor nodes rely on battery technology, but batteries need regular replacement, which is costly and environmentally harmful over time,” KAUST explains. “Also, the current global production of lithium for battery materials may not keep up with the increasing energy demand from the swelling number of sensors.”

But KAUST researchers believe a sustainable IoT can be achieved by using wirelessly powered sensor nodes that draw energy from the environment using so-called energy harvesters, such as photovoltaic cells and radiofrequency (RF) energy harvesters, among other technologies. Large-area electronics could be key in enabling these power sources.

“Large-area electronics have recently emerged as an appealing alternative to conventional silicon-based technologies thanks to significant progress in solution-based processing, which has made devices and circuits easier to print on flexible, large-area substrates,” writes KAUST. “They can be produced at low temperatures and on biodegradable substrates such as paper, which makes them more eco-friendly than their silicon-based counterparts.”

Key to the KAUST solution, according to Inceptive Mind, are “emerging forms of thin-film device technologies that rely on alternative semiconductor materials, which can be based on organic semiconductors, amorphous metal oxide semiconductors, semiconducting carbon nanotubes, and two-dimensional semiconductors.”


Initial 6G standards are expected to be released around 2028 but design and integration are happening even as I type this. So, how can 6G’s potential be assessed now, as well as the technology’s ability to integrate with 5G?

Dr. Rajive Bagrodia, writing for Electronic Design, suggests “a 6G integrated digital-twin testbed, as a composite of digital twins of the component, device, subsystem, and network elements, constructed at various levels of fidelity and interfaced using standard APIs.”

“Digital engineering in general, and specifically digital twins, offer a unique opportunity to assess the combined impact of these innovations at earlier stages of the product life cycle, perhaps before significant investments have been made to manufacture, integrate, and deploy them in 6G systems,” writes Electronic Design. “The use of digital twins, and the potential of digital engineering to shorten product development and deployment life cycles, has gained increased attention.”

Stacey Higginbotham of Stacey On IoT adds, “Digital twins are nothing new, but today the phrase is used to mean any sort of digital model of a physical item or physical space. The idea is that with today’s sensor technology and appropriate software, people can create digital twins of buildings that can accurately reflect their current state, build digital twins of manufacturing equipment to understand how that equipment is performing, and even use these models to make predictions.”

Higginbotham assumes the digital twin kinks will be worked at around the time 6G ramps up adoption allowing 6G to bring data where it is needed and computing that data in real time. She further notes that Peter Vetter, president of Bell Labs Core Research with Nokia, refers to this concept as Massive Digital Twinning and “believes that eventually entire factory floors or smart cities will have digital twins running in simulation alongside their physical counterparts. Closely tied to the creation of these massive digital twins, and a beneficiary of them is the second concept: using the network as a sensor.”

Your Body Is An … Antenna?

Coming soon, internet speeds will be 1,000 times faster than today. That’s one of the promises of 6G and helping to deliver on it will be Visible Light Communication (VLC), which is like a wireless version of fiberoptics using flashes of light to transmit information.

And by the way, a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (go Minutewomen and Minuteman!)**** announced they have invented a low-cost, innovative way to harvest the waste energy from VLC by using the human body as an antenna. This waste energy can be recycled to power an array of wearable devices, or even, perhaps, larger electronics.

“VLC is quite simple and interesting,” says Jie Xiong, professor of information and computer sciences at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author. “Instead of using radio signals to send information wirelessly, it uses the light from LEDs that can turn on and off, up to one million times per second.” Part of the appeal of VLC is that the infrastructure is already everywhere — our homes, vehicles, streetlights, and offices are all lit by LED bulbs, which could also be transmitting data. “Anything with a camera, like our smartphones, tablets, or laptops, could be the receiver,” says Xiong.

The path to the discovery began with the understanding that there’s significant leakage of energy in VLC systems because the LEDs also emit side-channel RF signals or radio waves. If this leaked RF energy could be harvested, then it could be put to use.

The first attempt at harvesting the leaked energy was to use an antenna made out of coiled wire. “The team experimented with all sorts of design details, from the thickness of the wire to the number of times it was coiled, but they also noticed that the efficiency of the antenna varied according to what the antenna touched.

“They tried resting the coil on plastic, cardboard, wood, and steel, as well as touching it to walls of different thicknesses, phones powered on and off, and laptops. And then Cui got the idea to see what happened when the coil was in contact with a human body.”

Surprisingly, the team discovered that people could amplify the coil’s ability to collect leaked RF energy 10 times more than bare coils alone. Fast forward a bit and the team created a simple coil of copper wire worn as a bracelet on the upper forearm called Bracelet+.

“The design is cheap — less than fifty cents,” note the researchers. “But Bracelet+ can reach up to micro-watts, enough to support many sensors such as on-body health monitoring sensors that require little power to work owing to their low sampling frequency and long sleep-mode duration.”

**** Maybe we should just call them “Minutepeople.”