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Supply Chain 6 min read

Imagine a paper-thin, disposable tracker on every parcel

Imagine a paper-thin, disposable tracker on every parcel

That future is close, says Sony's Steve Beck. He explains how highly-precise location is changing the game.

The semiconductor shortage has been in the news a lot recently, but what are these devices, and why are they so important?

At HERE Directions, Steve Beck, General Manager of Semiconductor Solutions at Sony, was on hand to shed some light on the potential for devices that are lighter, smaller and can function for longer on a small amount of power, which is exciting for countless industries.

“Semiconductors are circuits, generally built from silicon,” explained Steve. “They integrate a huge amount of circuitry and processing power into a very small space.”

Parcels could now be equipped with paper-thin tracking devices.

Open a device such as a laptop or a smartphone, and you will see the circuitry inside. These little gadgets can do everything from control microphones and speakers to handling wireless connectivity and managing the power to conserve battery life where necessary. They can range from the powerful engines inside your desktop computer to the tiny devices embedded into wearables that deliver wireless connectivity while consuming very little power.

The amount of processing power for the space they take up has gradually increased, as has the amount of circuitry for the same power. But what makes this a critical moment for semiconductors is how accessible they have become, especially when paired with location technology.

“In the last three to five years, what we're seeing is an emergence of devices that are very easy to use and accessible,” Steve said. “They provide cellular wireless connectivity in a very usable way. They provide positioning using satellite constellations, again in a very usable way.

“And it's becoming easier and easier to design products with less and less knowledge about the exact detail of the processing or wireless connectivity protocols that are behind it.”

Small devices can report an accurate position through a wireless network, and applications in the cloud can report on where these devices are and how they are performing. This unlocks intriguing possibilities for industries including transportation, supply chain management and insurance.

How semiconductors with precise positioning are improving the way we live and work

Driver behavior trackers

Large trackers once had to be professionally fitted onto vehicles, but these have been replaced by items as small as 20cm that can be posted to the client. The trackers can then be stuck to the windscreen by the driver, and work for 1-2 years.

Insurance companies can measure risk far more accurately thanks to trackers than report driver behavior accurately. This can bring reduced premiums to the consumer and more information to the provider in the event of a crash.

These can now offer continuous monitoring with long battery life and accuracy of less than one or two meters, thanks in part to advanced silicon pressing techniques and improved design, as well as more precise location.
Vehicle and asset tracking

Now that some of the analytics and processing of a device can be done in the cloud or using edge computing, information can be sent back from the device to a control center in real-time. This helps companies to gain visibility into their supply chain and to make better decisions in a timely manner.
Micro-mobility: e-bikes and e-scooters

Positioning of micro-mobility options such as e-scooters is important for pedestrian safety, as well as to help micro-mobility service providers locate their vehicles after they have been used. But satellite signals can be unreliable in built-up areas, where the signal can bounce off buildings. When combined with algorithms that tackle this, an accurate position can be delivered even for these small vehicles in cities, making these eco-friendly modes of transport more viable.
Parcel tracking

Expect to see paper-thin labels that are attached to disposal devices providing the position of that parcel constantly whenever they are in the range of a cellular network very soon.

Connected future

These advances in technology mean that today's consumers can enjoy the kind of precision and fast acquisition that was once only achievable with a professional satellite receiver, according to Steve.

“You can combine low-power electronics at the edge in the device, or in your tracking device, with the computational power of the cloud," he said. “And if you can facilitate that combination with a low-power wireless connected connectivity function, then you suddenly open up the capability to provide this kind of professional-grade positioning with a very low-cost device."

It was exactly this combination that has led Sony to partner with HERE.

Algorithms can improve satellite signals in areas with tall buildings, making micro-mobility modes of transport more feasible.

“We combine our low-power electronics and the algorithms that are running in the device with your algorithms and expertise in the cloud. And those two things are brought together by the wireless connectivity," he explained.

Tests and trials are now taking place for several products created by this partnership. But expect to see wearables and other devices — containing a seamless positioning service between indoors and outdoors — arriving soon.

Bring high-precision location awareness to your apps and devices, even in challenging indoor and outdoor environments.

Beth McLoughlin 2023

Beth McLoughlin

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