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Burglars Stung by IoT Bees in Santa Clara

Technology startup Roambee helped police locate the company's own stolen goods with its Internet of Things devices used to track assets and shipments via GPS, cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy functionality.
By Claire Swedberg

Roambee offers its hosted software to manage the location data for users, as well as an app that they can download to their phone, enabling them to track the Bees from that phone. The device is powered with lithium rechargeable batteries that typically last for three months when transmitting every ten minutes or hour, or three years when transmitting less frequently. The bees can both send and receive transmissions via GSM cellular networks or a Bluetooth connection.

In the case of the office theft, which took place during Memorial Day weekend, the Bees were already powered up for transmission (they automatically transmit periodically as long as the battery is charged). Roambee's staff were able to put them into recover mode—at which time they beaconed every minute—via a command in the app, which was transmitted to the Bees over the cellular connection.

Roambee's Vidya Subramanian
Roambee was then able to ascertain where the devices were located; some were in neighboring Union City, while others moving toward the city of Alameda. The company could also determine whether they had been removed from boxes based on light sensor data—several had, and were in a vehicle being driven by two suspects.

When police arrived onsite, they called in their Special Enforcement Team to obtain a warrant for the stationary Bees in Union City, and to pursue the moving Bees. Because the devices had an accuracy of about 5 meters (16.4 feet), Moreno says, the police were able to determine in which self-storage unit the devices were located. They searched that particular storage unit and found not only the Bee, but also other stolen goods, including a World War II-era photo album that they were able to return to its owner.

Roambee reports that its technology is primarily being used in pallets and boxes by pharmaceutical companies and other businesses to identify where goods are located as they travel from one site to another, such as from a manufacturer or a distributor, and to issue an alert if the Bees detect light or shock, indicating they are being opened or removed from the truck. They can also send an alert if they diverge from the expected route.

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