Battery-free IoT sounds good. So do printable RFID tags. Put the two together, and you potentially reinvent supply chains, product behavior, customer service, and more. Today Wiliot announced that Softbank led a massive $200 million series C funding round in that future possibility.
Wiliot makes tiny battery-free computers that harvest energy from ambient radio waves. They’re printable, and the company has a roadmap to take the cost down to “single digit pennies,” Wiliot senior VP Stephen Statler told me when I interviewed him in late 2020.
From that story:
“Imagine a printable computer the size of a postage stamp with RAM, ROM, onboard sensors, certified Bluetooth, an ARM CPU, flash memory, and secure communications that does not need a battery and harvests all required energy from ambient radio waves.
And it costs, literally, pennies.
It’s not science fiction. It’s the Wiliot bluetooth tag, and it is potentially the future of the internet of things.”
Apparently Softbank — which has been known to try to win categories by out-funding the competition — agrees.
“By inventing the first hyper-scalable, self-powered computer that uses AI to sense the world, Wiliot is positioned to bring together the digital and physical” Softbank’s Yanni Pipilis said in a statement. “We have always believed that with IoT and AI, people will live better and healthier lives – where any food or medicine has the ability to understand if it’s safe to use and communicate seamlessly with people.”
The other Wiliot investors offer a sense of how big a deal this technology is.
They include Amazon via its AWS cloud service, Merck (pharmaceuticals), Maersk Growth (an arm of the shipping company), Norwest Venture Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, Samsung, and Verizon.
The goal of the investment?
Taking Wiliot’s technology and achieving global scale.
The technology can be used to illuminate where products are in the supply chain. But since Wiliot tags have sensors for temperature, fill level, motion, location changes, humidity, and proximity, the tags can also provide information about the safety of the journey and the condition of perishable goods. Post-purchase, they can be part of a customer support and service solution that senses when a consumable is nearing end of life, or when a non-perishable consumable like perfume is almost used up. They can even be used to indicate how many washings a garment has been given, Statler told me.
The result is ambient intelligence, and a whole new way for manufacturers and brands to manage product and customer lifecycles both before and after purchase.
“Wiliot IoT Pixels can be integrated into vaccine vials, food packaging, and more, bringing real-time transparency to the supply chain, and the ability for brands for the first time to understand inventory levels throughout their retail channels,” the company says. “They can even understand how their products are used in customers’ homes through a highly secure, privacy-protected platform.”
“Wiliot has created a vision of the future of AI-enabled IoT, and we are delighted that SoftBank is supporting us in making this future a reality,” Wiliot CEO Tal Tamir said in a statement. “IoT is a vision created around Things and our mission at Wiliot is to use cutting edge hardware, AI based sensing and an innovative business model to implement a safer and more transparent world, a world in which all the things around us help consumers use them better and suppliers avoid waste.”