SoftBank Invests in Startup Making Battery-Free Wireless Sensors
(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund 2 led a $200 million investment in Wiliot Inc., a semiconductor company that is developing ways to gather data in manufacturing and logistics using battery-free, stamp-sized sensor tags.
Vision Fund director Amit Lubovsky will join Wiliot’s board, the Israel and San Diego-based startup said in a statement. The Series C financing brings the total raised by the company to $270 million and some of Wiliot’s earlier investors, which include Amazon Web Services, Samsung Venture Investment Corp. and Avery Dennison Corp., also joined the latest round.
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son is stepping up investments in tech firms after a number of high-profile debuts in recent months such as Coupang Inc. and DoorDash Inc. helped push his company’s profit to an all-time high last fiscal year. Over the past month alone, more than $5 billion of deals involving Vision Fund 2 have been announced, spanning a range of companies from an alternative protein maker and a cloud kitchen operator to a dog DNA startup. Son has also doubled the pot for the fund, where SoftBank is a sole investor, to $40 billion since the end of March.
“By inventing the first hyper-scalable, self-powered computer that uses AI to sense the world, Wiliot is positioned to bring together the digital and physical,” Yanni Pipilis, a managing partner at the Vision Fund, said in the statement. SoftBank has demonstrated a focus on startups developing artificial intelligence with its recent investments. “We have always believed that with IoT and AI, people will live better and healthier lives – where any food or medicine has the ability to understand if it’s safe to use and communicate seamlessly with people.”
Technology futurists have long envisioned the Internet of Things as a trillion-node network of tiny machines embedded in everything from clothing to soda cans and paving bricks, gathering and crunching data to enable previously unimaginable services. But powering such devices with batteries makes them big, expensive and difficult to maintain.
One solution is to scavenge ambient energy from the environment, such as vibration from car wheels or heat from living bodies and electromagnetic waves from nearby Wi-Fi signals. Wiliot’s IoT Pixel product harvests radio-frequency energy to power low-cost sensors and send data to the company’s proprietary cloud platform via Bluetooth. Unlike conventional electronics, which are expensive to produce, the adhesive Pixel tags can be printed cheaply and come on a reel.
Attached to product packaging, IoT Pixels could help a retailer track shelf inventory, remind a patient to take medicine and reduce food waste by tracking the location and condition of perishable goods. The company said it plans to use the funds to expand its team and channels as it prepares for the release of a new version of the product.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.