In a bid to end poor wireless connectivity issues at home and other spaces, a group of researchers from Dartmouth College has developed a unique and affordable system that uses a 3D printed reflector wrapped in aluminium foil to direct signals to an area of choice.

According to a report in EurekAlert, the custom-built reflector, which is made of plastic and thin metal, essentially works as a signal-shaper. It gives enhanced Wi-Fi control by limiting signals to the desired area — a room for instance — and cutting off radio wave transmission to other regions.

This, as the report notes, could not only help users enjoy enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity by drawing wireless signals away from signal-blocking walls and other obstructions, but can also help bolster the security level of the connection by limiting signal reception only to where the user wants. In other words, you won't have to worry about sharing your connection with neighbours or others.

"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users," said Xia Zhou, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College.

The reflector developed by the Dartmouth research team was tested with a plethora of routers, including the ones with the latest Wi-Fi protocol 802.11ac. Surprisingly, signal strength in desirable areas increased by 6dB, while the areas where the signals were not wanted witnessed a decrease of up to 10dB. The whole unit (excluding the cost of the 3D printing), costs around $35 (£27), which is much lesser than directional antennas that cost thousands of dollars.

How was the reflector developed?

After noting results from a previous study in which an aluminium can was placed behind a router to direct radio waves towards one particular direction, the research team went ahead with the development of a custom-built reflector for different spaces.

They developed a program called WiPrint and fed it with specifics like router location and target area (where they wanted the signal strength to improve). The program generated a design for the area in just 23 minutes and it was finally 3D printed and wrapped in an aluminium foil for use and testing.

Moving ahead, the team aims to figure out a way to create a reflector from a material other than 3D-printed plastic, with the ultimate goal of designing an object that could actually change its shape according to the layout of the room.