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Wiliot Unveils Passive Bluetooth Sensor

The innovative semiconductor firm has also announced that it has raised an additional $30 million in funding from Avery Dennison, Amazon Web Services and Samsung Venture Investment.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 25, 2019

Wiliot, a fabless semiconductor company launched in 2017, has unveiled the world's first passive Bluetooth sensor. The device, which is still a prototype, can harvest ambient RF energy from Wi-Fi access points, as well as smartphones connecting to cell towers and other Bluetooth signals. It is also able to detect temperature, pressure and movement, then relay that information to any Bluetooth transceiver. The firm has raised an additional $30 million in funding from Amazon Web Services, Avery Dennison and Samsung Venture Investment Corp.

"This is the third iteration of our chip, and this one is actually transmitting," says Steve Statler, Wiliot's senior VP for marketing and business development. "It's sort of our first call across the Atlantic. This year will be about going from proving it's possible to create a passive Bluetooth sensor to scaling it. Having the investment from Avery Dennison, Amazon Web Services and Samsung will help us do that."

The device broadcasts part of a message once sufficient energy has been stored.
The current chip offers a communication distance of approximately 2 meters (6.6 feet)—or longer if there is a lot of ambient energy available to harvest. However, Statler believes the next version of the chip will be able to achieve a distance of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet).

The device does not use backscatter to reflect back a signal to a reader, as a passive UHF RFID transponder does. Instead, it harvests energy from any RF device and stores it briefly. When enough energy has been stored, it broadcasts part of a message, then waits to store up more energy. It then sends the next part of the message, and so on. This ability to break up the message and transmit it in phases, as the chip receives energy from its surroundings, is Wiliot's breakthrough innovation, the company reports.

"With a dozen conventional Bluetooth beacons costing $20 each, you can blanket a store and have them read the IDs in our tags on all of the products in the store," Statler says. "That way, you have real-time data instead of having someone go out with a handheld reader every couple of days to take inventory."

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