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The Basics

How a Bluetooth Sticker Makes it Easy to Track Anything

January 08, 2023
How a Bluetooth Sticker Makes it Easy to Track Anything
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This page is an entry in our extensive guide to Bluetooth Beacons.

How a Bluetooth Sticker Makes it Easy to Track Anything

A Bluetooth sticker is a small device that can be attached to virtually anything to track its location. These versatile tracking devices can help monitor the location of the supply chain components necessary to maintain assembly lines and business operations. Its small footprint enables a Bluetooth sticker to be used discreetly in enterprise settings to perform tasks such as monitoring compliance, location tracking, and managing inventory.

Features of Bluetooth Stickers

Bluetooth stickers, also known as Bluetooth tags or Bluetooth beacons, have multiple features that make them an attractive solution for many usage scenarios.

  • They can be used to track the location of items in a supply chain to ensure they are not lost and reach their intended destination.

  • Bluetooth tags can generate an alert, reports, and exceptions regarding the items being tracked via cloud-based applications.

  • Stickers don’t require frequent maintenance and can be installed (or embedded) as a long-term tracking solution. Battery-free stickers powered by harvesting available radio waves have what is effectively a limitless lifetime.

  • Stickers can be obtained with different physical characteristics to address specific user requirements. Some models are limited to reporting on an item’s location while other, more advanced stickers, can also provide details on temperature or other environmental conditions.

How do Bluetooth Stickers Work?
Bluetooth Stickers have two main components that provide their functionality.

  • Computer chips - A chip embedded in the tag manages its functions including establishing a unique ID associated with an asset and its location, sensing environmental conditions such as temperature, encrypting data for privacy, authenticity and data ownership. The advanced chips used in Wiliot’s IoT Pixels feature five main components:
    • Energy harvester to capture ambient radio frequency energy

    • Integrated sensing unit

    • Security unit

    • Processing unit

    • Bluetooth transmitter

  • Antenna - The tag’s antennas are used for two purposes. One is to harvest radio wave energy to power the highly efficient computer chips described above. The second purpose of the antennas is to communicate with the cloud so collected data can be collected, aggregated, and processed.

A Bluetooth tag employs a variation of the familiar Bluetooth connect technology. This technology is used to wirelessly communicate with smartphones, computers or devices like smart speakers or headphones. A major difference is that Bluetooth stickers use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) which operates with very low power requirements. Using Bluetooth Low Energy eliminates the power-hungry behavior of some networked connected devices.

Bluetooth transmits data over 40 channels in the 2.4GHz unlicensed ISM frequency band. It has a ubiquitous presence world wide and uses the same frequencies to operate in every country unlike other technologies such as cellular or RFID. It provides developers with the necessary flexibility to address distinctive connectivity requirements. The technology is extensively used as the positioning technology for indoor location services. It demonstrates high accuracy and can determine if a target device is present to indicate its distance and direction from the tracking device.

Bluetooth stickers make use of the cloud to track items and report on their location. Chips embedded in the Bluetooth trackers transmit encrypted and authenticated data packets to the cloud. The cloud decrypts the data, authenticates it, and performs smart-sensor processing. Using the cloud ensures data security, privacy, and authenticity while generating insights and actionable information regarding tracked items.

Types of Bluetooth Stickers

Bluetooth tags are available in a variety of configurations, battery-free and battery powered.

Battery powered tags are designed to address a variety of usage scenarios. Typically, most battery-powered tags have at least a one-year battery life during which they will never need to be recharged. Depending on the manufacturer and specific model, device life may be extended by changing a replaceable battery.

Some devices do not have this option and will need to be replaced when battery life expires.

Advanced technology is also being used to manufacture battery-free Bluetooth tags, often called Bluetooth stickers. These Bluetooth stickers harvest energy from available radio waves. These devices have much longer lifetimes and lower maintenance costs, as no battery replacement or device replacement is required.

The choice between devices with or without replaceable batteries can be an important one depending on how the tags will be used and how many will be deployed. Cost differences and the desire to reduce eco-waste can factor into the decision.

Bluetooth tags can be attached to the tracked device in multiple ways. Some stickers have small holes designed to attach to a keyring. Other models are adhesive-backed and designed to attach directly to items at all phases of the supply chain. Adhesive stickers offer more flexible use as they can be attached to anything that needs to be tracked. They can be used to track production, enhance the consumer retail experience, and implement intelligent labels that communicate with IoT systems.

In some cases the Bluetooth sticker may “disappear”. Battery-free Bluetooth has the ability to be embedded within the packaging itself, such as the layers of a corrugated cardboard box or inside the plastics of an injection molded case. This is helpful in further reducing the cost of the tags (the outer layers of a tag can add pennies (e.g. ~5 cents) that could double the cost to the core or inlay of a tag that could cost as little as 5 cents.

Uses of Bluetooth Stickers

Bluetooth stickers can be used in a wide variety of ways to track the location of items and ensure they are reaching their expected destination. Adhesive-backed stickers can be used on anything to which they will stick and are suitable for business and personal use. Following are some of the business applications of Bluetooth stickers.

  • Businesses can use a network of Bluetooth stickers to track devices and assets, verifying that they remain within a designated area. A “geofence ” can be configured between a sticker and a reader that generates an alert when a tracked item is taken outside the perimeter.

  • Bluetooth stickers enable companies to identify counterfeit or misdirected (grey market) items in their supply chain.

  • Real-time signals generated from stickers can be used to adapt production and distribution activities, for example detecting when temperature sensitive items are being held at the wrong temperature.

  • Operating procedures can be enforced through the use of the data gathered from Bluetooth stickers. For example, ensuring that perishable products are stocked and consumed in the order they arrive at a store (FIFO - First in First Out).

  • Products can be serialized to ensure traceability and authenticity - food and medicine.

  • The condition and location of every unit are available at all times without the need for scanning - inventory management with fewer staff and shorter search times

Selecting the Right Bluetooth Stickers

Several factors should be considered when selecting Bluetooth stickers to ensure they are suitable for their intended use.

  • Location accuracy - The accuracy of the system is a factor.

  • Maximum range - The tracker’s range can be an important consideration depending on what is being tracked. Extended range may not be necessary or desirable if localization is being done using the identity of the receiver i.e. items being tracked with long range radio technologies that are spotted by a base station a long way away from the object may be anywhere within a very wide perimeter..

  • Easy installation - Stickers should be available in a format that makes them easy to install on multiple supply chain items. Stickers delivered in rolls or reels streamline the installation process.

Innovations in Bluetooth Sticker Technology

Innovations in Bluetooth sticker technology promise to increase the ways they can be used. Wiliot is a technology provider offering IoT Pixels, an innovative take on Bluetooth stickers. The devices come in two forms, a postage stamp-sized model with no battery that powers itself by harvesting radio waves and has few limits to its longevity. A slightly larger, higher priced battery-powered device that is smaller than a credit card that lasts for years.

Both types of IoT Pixels are delivered in reels of stickers for easy application to all types of items. They have a range of 10 meters and provide security and data confidentiality with 128-bit AES encryption. The devices are compliant with the latest Bluetooth Core 5.x specifications. Wiliot Pixels work with the Wiliot cloud to transform sensory data into actionable insights that can be used to optimize business supply chains.