Tagging the IoT

Tagging the IoT
Tags could be applied to boxes, sending a signal when they are broken and thus allowing the monitoring of their integrity

Semtech’s Marc Peglu describes the company’s new LoRa Tag™ which can be deployed across numerous Internet of Things (IoT) verticals.

Semtech Corporation, a leading supplier of high performance analog and mixed-signal semiconductors and advanced algorithms, announced its new nano-tag reference design, a disposable, ultrathin and low-cost tag that can be integrated into disposable systems or attached to assets to communicate a specific trigger of an event. The LoRa Tag™ can be deployed across numerous Internet of Things (IoT) verticals that utilise the event data to enable smarter decision making.

The nano-tag is equipped with an ultra-thin printed battery and is designed to be integrated into products or systems that send messages to the Cloud when a simple event is detected. The LoRa-enabled reference design will work with existing LoRaWAN™ networks and enable the proliferation of completely new types of IoT applications, requiring real-time, reliable feedback.

SciTech Europa Quarterly spoke to Semtech’s Marc Peglu about the new tags and some of their potential applications.

Given that the new LoRa Tag will be deployed across the Internet of Things (IoT), what do you feel are the biggest challenges posed by the IoT when it comes to the incorporation of new technologies such as this?

It is perhaps the diversity of the types of application that exist within the IoT and the subsequent need for multiple types of technology – and the adaptation of others – that poses perhaps the biggest hurdle. Indeed, this is the reason that we wanted to develop the LoRa Tag, because they will enable a whole segment of the IoT that couldn’t be reached before.

A further challenge we have encountered is related to the battery. Indeed, a key issue in the IoT stems from the fact that many devices require a battery, but these will need to be created from a material with much lower levels of toxicity than, for instance, lithium-ion batteries, which are difficult to recycle. As such, we have recently announced an investment into a battery company that produces batteries which can be printed on anything – paper, for instance – and which use non-toxic materials.

Why was it important to develop this kind of battery?

We had received several requests for very thin tags, and the profile of traditional batteries simply wouldn’t work here. If a tag is printed on paper, for example, then the accompanying battery must also be extremely thin. Otherwise you stand to miss many opportunities.

As such, the LoRa Tag is a disruptive new technology and will find applications in any area requiring some form of compliance. For instance, when items such as food or medical supplies are being transported from one place to another there is typically a mechanism such as a seal which is in place to prove the authenticity of the content. A simple and cost-effective way of checking this authenticity is thus very important. This could therefore be a tag or sticker which, when it is broken, sends a message to a pre-defined end-point.

Until now, such a solution has been impossible to achieve due to issues concerning the range of the devices, which has meant that the receiver needed to be in close proximity of the device being tracked. Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology is a long-range, low-power solution to this, and also means that the cost of the infrastructure can be significantly reduced.

Regarding the infrastructure, we are first using the LoRaWAN network so that the new tags are fully compatible with any kind of deployment of LoRaWAN. Indeed, that was a prerequisite for us because numerous companies have expressed an interest in deploying this with LoRa technology, and we wanted to make sure that the same network can communicate with the LoRa Tag.

You have used the examples of in the logistics of drugs and food as areas where the new tags will find applications. Are there other sectors which also stand to benefit from this new technology?

The food industry is certainly one area which stands to benefit. For example, LoRaWAN devices can be used when food items are placed on pallets and wrapped ready for transportation, thereby providing the ability to check whether the film has been broken. Similarly, stickers or tags could be applied to boxes, sending a signal when they are broken and thus allowing the monitoring of their integrity.

These are very simple actions and a very small number of events need to be tracked – it could be a seal which has been broken, or a threshold of temperature which has been exceeded – and a message needs to be sent just a few times throughout the life of the device (which itself would be relatively short). This is what I term an ‘ephemeral’ type of usage, and it complements the LoRaWAN devices very well because they are both small and relatively inexpensive.

Is the infrastructure there to mass produce this technology?

Yes; we have recently announced that we are engaging in with customers on first concepts as well as working with a large manufacturer to move towards mass production. Indeed, that will be our main focus in the coming months.

We are also working on real use cases in the field, as well as an ecosystem of compact manufacture which will be able to cope with very large volumes. This exists already – a large manufacturer is producing similar tags, we are simply adding the battery. We know that the battery works, and we are now working to scale up the industrialisation to millions of units per month.

What do you predict the future looks like for long-range, low-power and low-cost connectivity? Where does LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology fit into this?

In the long term, we see LoRaWAN being the key driver, and I believe the new tags will, eventually, become one of the branches of the family of LoRaWAN devices.

Because the types of communication between tags and endpoints may differ, with some requiring more advanced sensing technology, or with a need to combine multiple types of sensors for things like temperature, humidity, air quality, and so on, then they will need more advanced types of end node. LoRa Tags are ready for that.

Overall, it is hugely important that we are feeding more information into the Cloud, as this will enable the applications to be more instructed and make the right decisions in a better way moving forwards.

Where will your priorities now lie?

Regarding this tag specifically, our priority is make the network available. Because it is quite low power, we need what is known as a ‘dense network’, which we will go on to deploy. To achieve this, we will work with the LoRa alliance network provider and, in parallel, we are now involved in proving disruptive use cases – one of these in the food industry, but we also have others in the media and advertising. Here, a typical advertisement contains graphical information but there is absolutely no behavioural information that can be captured in order to record feedback and measure the efficiency of an advertising campaign. We believe that our technology can enable that.

Once we have established the networks and have identified and proved the disruptive use cases, we will simply expand the model across the world.

 

Marc Peglu

Vice President

Wireless and Sensing Products Group

Semtech

https://www.semtech.com/

This article will appear in SciTech Europa issue 26, which will be published in March, 2018

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