Earlier this month Wiliot, the semiconductor pioneer and innovator, had a successful demonstration of the first-ever sticker-sized Bluetooth sensor tag. The sensor works by incorporating an ARM processor powered solely by scavenging energy from ambient radio frequencies. In simpler terms, it is a tiny paper thin Bluetooth chip that doesn’t need a battery because it harvests energy from the air.
This demonstration of theirs earned them an extra $30 million series B for a total of $50 million in funding. Amazon and Samsung are the main investors. Wiliot announced the good news at the National Retail Federation (NRF) 2019: Retail’s Big Show in New York City.
The device is about the size of a postage stamp and it harvests energy from the ambient radio frequencies around us, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular signals. It uses the harvested energy to power its Bluetooth-equipped ARM processor that can be connected to a variety of sensors.
This battery-less paper-thin Bluetooth chip solves one of the biggest dilemmas of the Internet of Things. Ordinary devices require batteries to connect to the Internet of Things which becomes a problem since it limits how small or cheap they can become. Therefore, the promises that the Internet of Things makes to connect these billions of devices to the internet is limited. Wiliot’s chip solves this problem because the size of the Bluetooth chip, combined with the lack of any battery, means it can be produced cheaply and mounted on almost anything.
Tal Tamir, Wiliot CEO and co-founder said:
“We believe that disposable electronics based on battery-free, low-cost systems are the foundation for future IoT systems. We are on the edge of dramatically changing the way products are made, how they are distributed, where and when they are sold, and how they are used and recycled. Re-cycling the radiation around us to power sticker-size sensors can enable new ways for consumers to interact with products that were previously not feasible. Products can share when they are picked up, their temperature, or when they need to be replenished. Without batteries or other high-cost components, tags have unlimited power and lifespan, so can be embedded inside of products that were previously unconnected to the Internet of Things.”
The possible applications for Wiliot tags are wide-ranging – They can be used for tracking packages; they can monitor temperature or pressure of something; they can detect if a food container is empty and automatically order a replacement, thereby making so-called smart fridges truly smart; the possibilities are endless. Here are a few examples given in a press release of some real-life applications:
- Bluetooth tags can be embedded in the production phase of consumer goods, allowing real-time tracking through the manufacturing process, to the warehouse and from the store to the end consumer—all while being sensed for critical information.
- At the retail level, the Wiliot transponder can overcome the limits of human-readable product information on tags or packaging, unlocking interactive engagement through the consumer’s own phone or displays.
- At home, consumers can communicate with their products to get instructions and reminders of when and how to use them, and Wiliot-enabled containers can automatically reorder themselves when empty.
Valuable products can be tracked in case they are lost or stolen without having to add a dongle with limited battery life.
- Clothing with Wiliot tags can communicate with washing machines to ensure whites never turn pink.
The tags will be widely available in 2020, but Wiliot hopes to offer them as part of a limited release beforehand in 2019. People are all whole-heartedly anticipating a future where paper-thin battery-free Bluetooth sensors connect people with packaging and products. Francisco Melo, VP & Avery Dennison, GM, Global RFID say:
“Wiliot’s strategy for battery-free Bluetooth transponders, which sense and communicate without needing specific action by consumers, is very relevant to Avery Dennison’s intelligent label strategy. We believe in a future where every item will have a unique digital identity and a digital life, benefiting both consumers and brands, with relevant and contextual information. We see this as an extension to our world-leading RFID solutions, enabling consumers to connect with products through multiple smartphone and IoT devices from end to end.”