Estimote, the company behind a battery-powered Beacon that provides location and other information to smartphones, has shrunk its form factor into a sticker. It’s calling these stickers Nearables and it’s releasing a developer kit version today that offers 10 stickers for $99. My hope is with such a tool, developers can move beyond using Beacons merely as a way to promote goods in shops.
Estimote apparently has the same idea, because the video accompanying the product launch includes existing location apps such as using a sticker on your purse and then getting a notification as you walk too far away. You could also pop a sticker on your dog’s collar and get a similar notification if she runs away. In a future iteration, the Beacon sticker might also be able to store ownership info, or even transmit your dog’s information to those around it also running the app if you trigger an alert.
That fits with the use cases offered by many of the Bluetooth trackers on the market, but other ideas in the video were more interesting, such as using a sticker to provide context about your presence in the home. Developers could use the stickers to build a better alarm clock app that knew you were in your bedroom, took in traffic information and your schedule and decided the optimal time to wake you up.
I’d like to use stickers build an app that reduces some of the noise provided by sensors in my home. For example, I used to have an open/close sensor on my liquor cabinet, that sent me a text if it opened (I have a child). I got a lot of texts. But if I popped an Estimote sticker on the cabinet as well, when my husband or I opened the cabinet the sticker would know it is us and could prevent the notification. Of course, then all my kid needs to do is steal my smartphone if she wanted to go on a bender undetected.
This is pretty exiting, and the price makes these close to disposable. I’d pay $100 a year (which is how long the battery inside lasts) to add stick-on presence to my home. As for disposal, though, it’s going to take a bit of work. The inside of each sticker packs a powerful dose of electronics, with a microcontroller, memory and radio on a single die and then an accelerometer and gyroscope on the board. Feeding power to the electronics is a Lithium ion battery.
Steve Cheney, Co-Founder and SVP of Business, at Estimote wrote me the following when I asked about disposal:
As far as disposing, they have a lithium battery cell so ideally they are disposed responsibly. They are encased in a silicon enclosure but it’s possible to cut this and remove the battery. Everything we use (like our current beacons) is super environmental friendly, these are manufactured by us, not by an ODM in Asia.
While these stickers offer a lot of potential, and thanks to Apple, beacons are seemingly becoming a mainstream technology, I have seen similar efforts before. Back in 2008, Alcatel Lucent created a spin out offering RFID stickers called Tikitag that offered similar promises. More recently, Norwegian firm ThinFilm has teamed up with partners to print out circuits that contain memory and NFC radios that can offer information. These printed electronics are designed to stick onto packaging and help track data about everything from equipment to food.
The Estimote stickers are not flat and are much too expensive for tracking food or low-end stuff, but as a way to offer cheap presence or detailed context about a high-value object, I’m intrigued.