Is IoT about software or hardware?
As always with difficult questions like this, the answer is yes. Essentially, hardware is cool (and necessary), but software provides the value.
As the internet of things has developed slowly over the past decade, we’ve seen huge amounts of cool hardware: tags, sensors, and internet-connected smart devices. Wiliot’s recently-unveiled Pixel2 bluetooth tag, which is essentially a postage-stamp-sized three-core ARM computer that doesn’t need a battery and has multiple sensors for everything from movement to fill levels to temperature to humidity to tamper detection, is at the top end of that scale: very cool hardware. And it’s hardware that could potentially take IoT from billions of smart things to trillions.
“It’s a computer the size of a postage stamp. There’s no batteries. You don’t plug it in. It powers itself by harvesting the energy from radio waves,” Wiliot vice-president Stephen Statler told me recently on the TechFirst podcast. “So IoT Pixel is a big step forward on what we see as a journey to transitioning from the Internet of Expensive Things to the Internet of Everyday Things, or the internet of trillions as we talk about it, which is essentially a hundred-fold increase in the number of things that are connected.”
That’s great, but it’s not enough. It’s software that actually delivers value, and that’s why the company also recently introduced a no-code automation platform, which not only collects the data from potentially millions of smart devices in its supply chain, factory, or stores, but also makes it usable, digestible, and accessible in the enterprise platforms they use to manage their business.
That, Wiliot CEO Tal Tamir says, will take IoT beyond seeing and sensing to inferring and automating.
To enable that, the company has released a set of “playbooks:” pre-built zero-code integrations and apps to automate integration into communication platforms like Slack or business systems platforms like Salesforce. The question is whether that’s enough.
The IoT platform space is jammed with massive competitors from Particle to IBMs’ Watson IoT, Amazon’s AWS IoT solutions, SAP’s Leonardo, Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central, and multiple other players including Google and AT&T. They’ve been growing quickly at 39% annually to reach what one company projects to be a $53 billion market in 2028.
That’s a challenging space for an upstart like Wiliot, even one that has raised almost $270 million in five rounds.
To even the odds, Wiliot is licensing its innovative Pixel 2 hardware to smart tag manufacturers for free.
“We’re no longer going to charge for our part of producing the Pixel ... we’re essentially licensing it to people that do make smart tags for free,” Statler told me. “We asked ourselves how can we accelerate adoption? And one of the things we can do is not load the cost of the smart tags ... we only charge for the cloud connectivity and the edge processing, which is what allows you to start to unlock the data, do the sensing, and achieve the scalability that allows you to have, for instance, a hundred thousand tags all on items of apparel in a store.”
This is a very significant step, because the IoT Pixel is a very significant tag:
3-core ARM chip at 1MHz
1KB of memory
Powered by ambient radio waves
Senses temperature and location (proximity and fill level “coming soon”)
Size of a postage stamp embedded in an adhesive label
Wiliot is not releasing the cost of this tag publicly beyond to say that it is “cheap” and “near free.” When I asked Statler about it I got the sense that while the goal is pennies per tag, it’s probably somewhere near a dollar right now. The goal with releasing it for royalty-free production is to make that development cost almost nil.
That, along with a no-code development platform with a starter kit for testing at only $500 makes dipping your toe in the IoT water very easy, and very inexpensive.
And that would significantly change IoT.
Not only by making it more accessible to start and more affordable to scale, but also by marrying it with buzzy concepts like the metaverse. Imagine the knowledge that your Louis Vuitton bag is authentic, and where it came from, and how it arrived at your home, but also having a NFT of your bag for your virtual avatar as well as having the actual bag for your real-world body.
“If you look at most ERP systems, they assume that you have SKUs, but they’re not really built around the concept of every product having a digital twin,” Statler says. “But there are products from a whole range of really interesting startups and established companies that are being built around managing this unique identity, so that every Ralph Lauren pullover has an ID.”
Besides, of course, the more prosaic but arguably more useful things like managing things like traceability of food for recalls or customizing shelf life of perishable goods because you know what temperatures they were shipped, stored, and displayed at.
There’s a lot to do in IoT before it become so ubiquitous and normal we don’t even think of it. But something like this technology — and platform — seems essential to making that happen.