Mister Beacon Episode #86

Special Edition: Wiliot - Battery-free Bluetooth Sensor Tags

January 29, 2019

This week we talk to the Wiliot engineers behind the first sticker sized battery free Bluetooth tag about how it works and the approach to its design.

Wiliot envisions a world of smarter "Things" that can sell themselves and offer functionality not possible before. Apparel and pharmaceutical packaging become connected to the cloud. The Internet of Things can scale and offer real value as we understand where products are, who is using them and when they need to be replenished. Manufacturing, supply chain and inventory can be optimized. Makers of products and retailers can flourish in the face of disruption from online shopping. Anything we wear, touch or use can include sensing and connectivity, thanks to battery-free devices with an infinite lifetime.

Wiliot is a semiconductor company whose mission is to connect people with products with cloud connected sticker sized Battery Free Bluetooth tags. The company was founded by the leadership of the Gigabit Wi-Fi pioneer Wilocity, a group of wireless engineers experienced in building new products and the ecosystems required for their success. Wiliot has a research and development team based in Israel and a business development headquarters in San Diego, California.

Thanks to our partners at Beckermus for allowing us to capture footage at their facility of the system used to assemble Wiliot engineering prototypes.


  • Narration 0:04

    The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 0:12

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast this week is a very special episode, we're in Israel. And we've been skirting around the topic of Wiliot up for the last year and a half. And this week, we're gonna get right into it. I'm going to answer some frequently asked questions about what this company is doing in a really interesting area, energy harvesting battery free Bluetooth. The way we're going to do this is I'm going to interview myself for like two minutes. And then I'm going to turn the camera on some of my colleagues here at Wiliot. And we're going to hopefully answer some questions that are on the minds of people who care about how the Internet of Things is really going to scale. So our first question is, who is Wiliot, what is Wiliot do? Wiliot is a semiconductor company, developing the world's first battery free Bluetooth sticker, we develop the chip that enables this technology. And we provide a cloud virtual tag interface that makes it secure, and easy to program. Now, this has some really profound implications across the lifetime of products. And it's going to change how things are made, we'll be able to track them as work in progress through factories, how they're distributed, tracking products in vans and trucks and distribution centers, products will be able to help to sell themselves by communicating directly with consumers, verifying authenticity, and making new kinds of checkout experiences possible. And then most importantly, add value to the products themselves, when they're owned. If they're lost, if they're stolen, they'll be easy to be found. And then lastly, in the recycling phase, then products will be easier to recycle, because we'll know what's in them. So that's my answer to the first question. Now we're going to turn the question or the camera onto some friends and colleagues and ask them some questions. What is the one secret to making a battery free Bluetooth radio the size of a sticker?

    Yaron Elbion 2:32

    Okay, so it's not just a Bluetooth radio, the device Arvest compute, sense and transmit. And it's a way more than one thing? It's requires a system thinking of how to harvest energy in a really low sensitivity, how to do really low energy consumption device, how to change the software model to fit with all that, and how to transmit that. So that's fully system change in the implementation.

    Steve Statler 3:04

    What is nano? What computing and how does it work?

    Nir Shapira 3:08

    Nano computing. First, it starts with a really dealing with none of that power consumption, which means that the SOC must consume in the order of nanobots leakage, which is, I would say exceptional. In terms of a current date technology, it's like an orders of magnitude probably than what you'd find, usually in the market now for SOC s. So once you have this, none of that consuming a processor or SOC, in the during power idle mode, then you need to store your energy. So that's where you, you need to have your storage capacitor. And you need to have this power management unit that always monitors the amount of energy on the capacitor. And then it can schedule jobs can be processing jobs on the computer or on the CPU. It can be actually a job when dealing with the radio of the chip like a BLE transmission. So it always monitors the state of the energy on the capacitor. And it schedules the job just when the there's enough energy harvested in the storage, and the in between operations. The system just waits for energy to accumulate all this time consuming no more than nanobots have. Energy. So it's like a computing in waves. Whenever you have the energy. You do something you hold To harvest for some more, then you do a another operation, on and on. And so that's a pretty much none about computing.

    Steve Statler 5:10

    How does what Wiliot is doing relate to the RFID industry and the Bluetooth industry.

    Michael Zehnpfenning 5:17

    So what we are doing that essentially is we take parts from all of that ecosystems and build something new. With that. So from from Bluetooth side, for instance, what we are is where we have there is a huge infrastructure, existing devices. And we just use them by choosing the communication protocol that we that our chip speaks as Bluetooth. So we can connect to light bulbs, which are Bluetooth enabled or anything mobile phones, of course, so we the direct access to end users is really obvious. And it's very simple. And that's what's lacking in the RFID world that it's very easy to speak to all kinds of devices in infrastructure, at let's say, logistics processes, and simultaneously with end consumer devices. But from the RFID world, what we inherit there is the production the way of producing things. So we, we are looking targeting for low cost devices, and the RFID is brilliantly set up there. And they they offer huge volumes for a reasonable price for all kinds of use cases. And that's what we take as a big advantage. So combining these two setups there to create great new products. So it's

    Steve Statler 6:29

    really competing with the RFID industry.

    Michael Zehnpfenning 6:33

    No, not at all. So that the good part of it is that that just because of that setup, we all need them as partners. So we are building up an ecosystem of partners of friends helping us to be successful together.

    Steve Statler 6:46

    What kind of energy does the Wiliot chip harvest?

    Alon Yehezkely 6:51

    Well, will you have to devise a generate its own a power supply from the already available, radiofrequency energy in its ambient. This energy is available because we have several standards that are heavily deployed around us, such as Wi Fi, Bluetooth and cellular. Those standards require mechanisms of a radio frequency devices, which are repeatedly emitted electromagnetic energy that we can just utilize for our own power supply. For comparison, solar energy, based on the indoor lighting has four times four times of order of magnitude, higher power available pair area, comparing to RF ambient energy.

    Steve Statler 7:52

    What kind of processor does the Wiliot MCU have? And why is it useful?

    Dotan Ziv 7:58

    It's a good question in our tiny silicon, actually, we have two processor one is Cortex M zero plus, which is kind of the de facto standard for IoT solution, you will find it in any IoT device, a variable, name it, you'll find it there, it gives us the flexibility to do whatever we want. In terms of security, sensing and integrating with, with the external libraries. It gives us full flexibility that we need as a company. And we also have a tiny MCU, which gives us the flexibility to walk in extreme low power for very unique activities or actions we need fast.

    Steve Statler 8:42

    Why does the chip company need a cloud,

    Tsvika Rabkin 8:45

    eventually, our semi our devices, great data, and the data is in the physical world. It's interacts with people. And we need to preserve the privacy. So everything we make everything we send is encrypted. And the cloud is our means to make sure that privacy is not compromised. So since our sensors and tags are low priced, we need to make sure that the data is still high quality. So we use sophisticated algorithms in the cloud in order to make the telemetry good enough for our customers to use.

    Steve Statler 9:28

    What kinds of companies is really dealing with in the field,

    Slava Ross 9:32

    all kinds of current companies in the smart packaging, inventory management smart things in the technologies that want to have this things connected to the internet. It's basically it's smart clothing, and different kinds of retailers that manage the store management and storage management as well as A sense of different kinds of sensors measurement temperature sensor measurement

    Steve Statler 11:07

    what is the one song you would take on a trip to Mars?

    Yaron Elbion 11:12

    Okay, that's that stuff. I will choose scorpions, wind of change. I like changes.

    Nir Shapira 11:22

    Life on Mars, David boy would be on my shortlist. But it's not the song I would take maybe Major Tom, but it's bad karma for space travel. So I'd go with why is the wind David boy on the way? Well, it's like, says this story's like a full odyssey of a song like it feels like something that good story.

    Michael Zehnpfenning 11:57

    So quite recently, I visited a musical together with my seven year old daughter that was Mary Poppins. And she was so super excited about it and I loved her reactions. And I think to keep me reminded of that very special moment. I would choose one of that songs. I'm not sure which one but I think I love that.

    Alon Yehezkely 12:19

    That will be comfortably numb by Pink Floyd. Well never get tired of it. It has a dramatic opening to artic ending and it happens. Dramatic point in Aaron Parker's movie.

    Dotan Ziv 12:33

    The ones on the outtake is Space Oddity by David Boies. They are talking about morals and who is my favorite artist? It probably

    Tsvika Rabkin 12:42

    would be a kind of magic Queen song. And the reason why it's because of the wonder from universe in in the child's I show must

    Slava Ross 12:54

    go on by Queen because of different difficulties that we have. What we will overcome it all. I think this will be some