Battery-free IoT chip claims to harvest energy from thin air

18 Jan 2019

The battery-free Wiliot IoT chip. Image: Wiliot

This week in IoT, a new chip claims to be able to power itself solely off the deluge of radio signals surrounding us.

If you hear about a device that can be powered passively just by the air around it, you might be (rightly) sceptical. However, according to The Verge, a start-up going by the name of Wiliot seems to be on to something with a new super-thin Bluetooth chip that it promises could revolutionise the internet of things (IoT).

Smaller than a credit card, the battery-free chip supposedly harvests its energy from the ambient radio frequencies that surround us constantly, such as Wi-Fi signals and our own mobile phones.

The fact that it can be produced very cheaply and fit into most spaces has led Wiliot to suggest it could be used for almost anything. One example would be to include it in the label of an item of clothing that could communicate with a washing machine to let it know what the right setting to wash it would be.

The future of the idea and the company seems quite bright, having recently secured $30m in a funding round, as well as having both Amazon and Samsung as investors. Wiliot hopes the new chip will be commercially available in 2020 following a limited release this year.

‘Fungus’ tech to stop your smart speaker listening

Designers Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen have raised a few eyebrows with the showcasing of a ‘teachable parasite’ called Project Alias, which claims to be able to stop smart speakers from listening in to your conversations.

With a number of news reports lately showing these smart speakers are listening a little too often for our comfort, the fungus-shaped device placed on top of the smart speaker feeds the speaker interference when it isn’t active.

According to TechCrunch, through its own local neural network operated via a smartphone app, the user can change the name of the device. Once Alias hears the new name being spoken, it will stop feeding the smart speaker noise and let the user ask whatever question they want.

It begs the question as to whether we want an unknown party listening to us instead of Google and Amazon, but it is certainly an interesting experiment.

Healthcare spend in wearables to reach $60bn by 2023

New findings from Juniper Research revealed that wearables – including health trackers and remote patient monitoring devices – are set to skyrocket in demand in healthcare, with $20bn forecast to be spent annually on these devices by 2023.

Meanwhile, assistive hearables, or connected hearing aids made available via healthcare providers as well as directly to customers at varying price models, will mean this sector generates revenues of more than $40bn by 2022.

The research forecasts that the advanced ability of AI-enabled software analytics to proactively identify individuals at risk of their condition worsening will witness increased confidence among medical practitioners and regulators with regard to sensor accuracy.

“It is vital that patients are made aware of how their personal data will be used,” said Michael Larner, research author of the study. “If not, making wearables a ‘must have’ to provide personalised care or receive medical insurance risks a backlash from patients and heightened regulatory scrutiny, stalling the effectiveness of remote monitoring.”

Sweden to open new autonomous vehicle testing facility

Chalmers University of Technology and the state-funded Research Institutes of Sweden have backed a new autonomous vehicle testing facility in the Scandinavian state in collaboration with start-up AstaZero.

According to Computer Weekly, the AstaZero 5G site is based in the town of Borås in western Sweden and will test the latest 5G technology and other in-car innovations.

Speaking of the move, AstaZero CTO Monica Ringvik said: “The nature of the data varies depending on the purpose of the test, but could include anything from road and weather conditions to sensor data flows, decision-making logs and positioning data.

“Data is collected in huge volumes and there is ongoing research using AI in the analysis.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic