Woodland wifi

Posted by sll33 at Apr 01, 2015 09:20 AM |
The University takes a leaf out of nature’s book by using campus trees to improve wifi connectivity

University of Leicester’s IT investment is branching out

Following recent research trends in bio-inspired networks that have seen chemically extracted leaf venation systems used in solar cells and metallised spiders’ webs in touch screens and flexible displays, the University of Leicester has found a way to expand the University’s existing wifi system through its arboreal network.

Even in this challenging financial climate, the University is aware of the need to invest in IT infrastructure to support staff effectiveness and improve the student experience. By working collaboratively as an interdisciplinary research group, Biological Sciences and Computer Sciences have been investigating the efficient solution of using trees as a readily available natural resource to expand the University network.

The group, led by Professor Joe Kerr, explains how the technology works:

“Imagine a tree like a telegraph pole, you have the trunk, the branches and then you reach the leaves, which have a network of veins that supply food to all parts of the leaf. Trees use energy from the sunlight to make glucose from carbon dioxide and water, so what you have are channels like our internet cables just waiting to be electrically charged. Using a Bio-battery on each tree, we are able to harness the glucose and oxygen to do this and create an organic wifi transmitter.”

Professor Kerr and his group have also been in collaboration with consultants Knott & Sirius who have been employed by the local authority to investigate expanding the network throughout Leicester for seamless, continuous wifi coverage across the city.

“The potential for this project seems endless” says Jamie Whitehouse, University Gardens Manager. “Students are always complaining about the wifi coverage, particularly at Oadby so we have been excited to support this venture. The University of Leicester has 9000 trees on its 305 acres that can now be linked to our software and I have been happy to advise what types of perennials might be best. Just an Oak is a great example of an efficient wifi-transmitter and is bound to put a smile on your face with its flawless downloading capabilities.”

The project has not been without its problems. As researcher Lai Ying explains, “we’ve found that fungal bodies can sometimes grow on the leaves, which look like black spots and so that can sometimes cause problems, but we believe we’ll find a solution to that soon. For some reason it doesn’t work so well with Apple trees, but they are difficult to match to our appliances and only work with certain software. However, once we have resolved these issues, we believe that the network can be expanded further to include household plants in Halls of Residence and private household to benefit students wherever they live and study.”

The group hope to launch the World Woodland Web, marketed as Tree-fi for the new 2015/16 academic year and to roll it out to the wider city early next year. When asked about the project students have responded positively, saying – “it’s great to hear that some importance can now be attached to trees on campus. This will encourage people to reconnect with nature now that we have a reason to look after them and we should make sure the entire University is green and leafy for the best coverage we can possibly get."

If you would like to know more about this project and track its progress, please contact environment@le.ac.uk