Fujitsu develops thin, solar-powered IoT beacon

In a move that could help spread IoT (Internet of Things) devices, Fujitsu has developed a thin, flexible IoT beacon that can send out location and ID information to smartphones and other mobile devices.

Measuring 2.5 millimeters thick and weighing 3 grams, the beacon is mounted on an elastic silicone substrate and can be rolled up and attached to curved surfaces as well as corners or even clothing. It uses a Bluetooth Low Energy module to send out pings at regular intervals.

Most IoT tags use coin-type batteries that have to be replaced every six months to a year, but the new device uses a small solar cell and doesn't require such maintenance, according to developer Fujitsu Laboratories.

While it needs a light source to work, the device could help put more IoT tags on everything from fluorescent light bulbs to critical equipment in hospitals to parts of subway stations to help commuters navigate.

Fujitsu's tag can activate its beacon using stored power from the solar cell, eliminating the need for conventional power-management chips. The storage element is only one-ninth the size of similar components used in earlier tags, the lab said.

"The power-control technology used here can manage the limited generated output from the solar cell and make devices and wireless communication modules work with lower energy consumption," a spokesman for Fujitsu said via email.

Fujitsu said it will continue tests of the beacon and plans to make it ready for commercialization in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.

Japanese electronics makers such as Fujitsu have been trying to use their components expertise to create new businesses in the expanding IoT industry. Earlier this week, Panasonic's North American arm said it would provide royalty-free access to some IoT software and patents from its products.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Tim Hornyak

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