Wiliot Set to Disrupt the Beacon Industry

Last week we met with Steve Statler, better known as Mr Beacon. Steve has joined Wiliot at their SVP Marketing & Business Development.

Wiliot are interesting because they have the potential to disrupt the beacon industry. They have secured $19m in funding to create ultra thin beacons that use energy harvesting rather than batteries. In order to do this, they will become a semiconductor company much like Nordic, TI, Dialog and NXP whose system on a chip (SoC) products are used in existing beacons. Wiliot will create their own SoC that will be packaged much like current NFC tags that can be stuck onto things.

Proof of concepts are scheduled for 2H 2018 with production in mid 2019. The aim is to sell millions of these things in products such as clothing, packaging, electronics and toys. This scale will mean they will only cost of the order of tens of cents/euros/pounds. While Wiliot expect their beacons to be manufactured into things, they expect to offer stand-alone ‘stickers’ that can be attached to anything. They also plan versions with sensors that might also disrupt the IoT industry.

Energy harvesting will take energy from the airwaves from WiFi and similar 2.4GHz products, including ironically, other beacons! They won’t get much energy this way so the range will be small, a few meters, for initial devices. They aim to improve the range in later product iterations, presumably through the use of better energy storage devices such as supercapacitors.

We will be following Wiliot, hope to stock their products and will be offering consultancy and development based on their technology.

New Ultra Low Power Bluetooth Transmitter Chip

All beacons are currently based on System on a Chip devices that are essentially small computers. While they are low power, it’s possible to create Bluetooth transmitters that are just electronics with no computing element and thus significantly reduce development effort (for the beacon manufacturer) and save substantial battery power for the end user.

Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corporation has announced the AK1594, a new Bluetooth® Low Energy Transmission IC. As there’s nothing to connect to via GATT, settings are configured via EEPROM programming and external switching rather than via an app. It consumes only 9.1uA when transmitting 0dBm every 1 sec.

Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corporation also mention a new beacon, from Houwa System Design, the Beacon Tag BLEAD® Series that will use the new chip and will be available from May 2018.

9.1uA is very low current for a beacon and is the order of magnitude a normal beacon uses when it isn’t advertising. This low power requirement will allow beacons to operate for effectively the physical rather than electrical life of the battery that’s probably of the order of a decade. It also allows new types of beacon to be created that use RF or solar energy harvesting.

Setup via EEPROM programming isn’t that easy or possible for end users and we expect initial beacons based on this technology will have fixed iBeacon advertising with only settings like power and advertising period set via switches.