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Companies Testing Passive BLE Sensor Tag

Wiliot's battery-free sensor tag can incorporate temperature or other sensors and send encrypted data using ambient radio waves from Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth transmissions within the vicinity.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 26, 2020

Cloud technology and semiconductor company Wiliot has released a battery-free Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensor tag that detects data such as temperature and usage, then forwards that information to a gateway or a BLE-enabled mobile phone or device. The tag, which is currently being tested by approximately 20 companies ranging from brands to retailers, captures energy from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular transmissions within the area.

The company expects to have the product available in large volumes later this year. Printer, label and software company SATO recently announced that it will work with Wiliot to build a solution with which SATO printers can both read and print the BLE sensor tags for use in Internet of Things (IoT) deployments.

Wiliot's Steve Statler
Wiliot announced the first iteration of its product in 2019 (see Wiliot Unveils Passive Bluetooth Sensor), consisting of a tag that can draw energy from ambient radio frequency waves and use that power to send bits of data that amount to the tag's own unique ID number, as well as sensor readings. In that way, sensor tags do not require a battery and can thus be no larger than the size of a postage stamp.

The latest version, being trialed by companies this year, has a read range of about 3 meters (9.8 feet). It comes with encryption for security and a multi-core computer that recalibrates according to the RF environment, says Steve Statler, Wiliot's senior VP of marketing and business development. "This means we have more flexibility on putting our tags on different surfaces," he explains.

The result is a tag that not only operates on standard materials, such as wood or paper, but can also be applied to products such as wine bottles. The tag captures and stores ambient energy, then calibrates its responding signal based on the reflection and any variables caused by the wine bottle's surface. The collected tag data can then be transmitted to fixed beacons within the vicinity, or to BLE-enabled smartphones or tablets.

In a retail environment, the sensors provide information such as when a wine bottle is moved—on a store shelf, for instance, where it is picked up by a shopper—as well as that bottle's current temperature and what its temperature has been throughout the supply chain. In a consumer-facing solution, users could download an app that would identify when the phone was within range of a product. The user could then pick up a bottle of wine and view content on his or her own device, or on a dedicated screen, without the need to tap or scan a tag.

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