Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from semiconductor company Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. Instead, the paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals, allowing it to measure things like weight and temperature, and transmit the information to nearby devices. The company recently closed a $30 million funding round with investors that included Amazon and Samsung.

Wiliot’s Bluetooth chip is the epitome of discreet. About the size of a postage stamp, it can be cheaply produced and mounted pretty much anywhere — on shirts as a high-tech clothing label or on consumer goods as a way to track conditions during transport. The company says it’s in talks with device manufacturers interested in prototyping applications.

Steve Statler, vice president of marketing and business development at Wiliot, described some of the device’s myriad potential applications. “Products will be able to have the lost and found capabilities built-in so that many more items will be tracked if they are lost or stolen without the size or limitations in battery life that have limited this in the past,” he told Digital Trends. “Items of clothing with Bluetooth in their care label will be able to talk to your washing machine to make sure they are not ruined with the wrong wash cycle or turn pink by being mixed with other items. With your permission, your phone will be able to track what is in your wardrobe and when it is worn, so that styling recommendations won’t just be based on what you bought but what you like.”

Retailers could benefit from the tag’s ability to track inventory in transit to and from the store, while keeping track of the store’s inventory in real time to avoid items being stolen or going out of stock.

“We will even be able to detect which products are picked up and tried on in stores so that advertising and promotion will be more effective,” Statler said.

While we shudder at the thought of advertisers having access to our shopping decisions, Wiliot does offer compelling possibilities for the Internet of Things.

After its recent funding round, Wiliot now aims to build on its tag’s commercial scalability, while implanting features like encryption and biodegradability, before a commercial rollout in 2020. The company hasn’t yet determined a price for the device.

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