The Internet of Things promises to connect billions of otherwise ordinary devices to the internet, but when each one needs to have its own battery, there’s a limit to how small or cheap they can become. A new paper-thin Bluetooth chip that’s able to operate entirely without a battery could be about to solve this problem. The postage stamp-sized chip from Wiliot is able to harvest energy from the ambient radio frequencies around us, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular signals, and use them to power a Bluetooth-equipped ARM processor that can be connected to a variety of sensors.
Wiliot says that the size of the Bluetooth chip, combined with the lack of any battery, means it can be produced cheaply and mounted on almost anything. The company gives several potential use cases for the technology. For example, it could be embedded in consumer products to provide easy access to a digital manual when the original paper version is long lost, or it could be put on a clothing label and used to communicate the optimal settings to a washing machine.
However, the fact that it can also be combined with sensors raises more interesting possibilities. In addition to tracking items through a supply chain, a temperature sensor could also report when items get either too hot or too cold. Elsewhere, a pressure sensor could detect when a food container is empty and automatically order a replacement, thereby making so-called smart fridges truly smart.
Although a recent $30 million financing round means that Wiliot now counts on both Amazon and Samsung as investors, it will still be another year before its sensor tags are widely available. Wiliot says that it hopes to offer them as part of a limited release in 2019 before making then widely available in 2020.
By Jon Porter