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Sign of the future: Sensors that stick everywhere

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StickNFind has created colorful sensors the size of a quarter, its own Bluetooth software stack, and an open developer platform. What more do you need for the Internet of Things?

Lose your keys? Your cat? The TV remote? StickNFind has an app for that. Better yet, StickNFind has colorful sensors the size of a quarter, its own Bluetooth software stack, and a developer platform that could turn this crowd-funded Indiegogo product into a foundation piece for the coming "Internet of Things" revolution.

StickNFind Technologies, based in Davie, Fla., shipped its first products in March after raising nearly a million dollars in a campaign that ended earlier this year. The company's low-power Bluetooth sensors are irresistible for the most mundane of reasons. Put a StickNFind sticker on virtually anything, and you can track it from your smartphone up to 100 feet away. In the company's own survey of 12,000 users, about a third put the stickers on their keys, 20 percent on their wallets, and another 20 percent on pets (mostly cats).

"Some guy, he emailed us that he lost his keys at the beach," says CEO Jimmy Buchheim. "He opened the app, and he found it in a matter of seconds. And he was really thankful because [the keys were] actually in the sand."

Buchheim notes that about 40 percent of users are also female, making StickNFind "a product that actually breaches this orthodox of the male geek consumer."

It's not just the key-finding function, however, that makes StickNFind so compelling. The commercial potential is huge, both for the company's existing tracking application, and for its forthcoming task-launcher feature. The launcher will automate smartphone functions based on proximity to a Bluetooth sticker. Location plus automation means smarter homes, cars, factories and more.

One developer has suggested creating an application that sends out an automatic check-in email when a user gets home. Another wants to prevent texting while driving by setting a lock on smartphone keyboards that activates when a user gets into a car with a Bluetooth sticker in it.

StickNFind wants developers to get creative, and the company has released a software development kit (SDK) to encourage innovation. "We have our own team of developers ... but we realized that we cannot make everything so we released the SDK," Buchheim says. "[It's] completely open."

So far, the commercial applications getting the most attention include inventory management, security and indoor navigation. One bakery is using StickNFind for automatic inventory counts in its walk-in freezer. A retail company is investigating the possibility of using the Bluetooth stickers to trigger a display of product details on in-store screens when a tagged package gets within range. And StickNFind says it's working with two large security companies to replace employee passcards with Bluetooth stickers and a smartphone application.

While it would be easy to get carried away with the application potential, Buchheim says his first priority for StickNFind is to keep improving product quality. The company is working on supporting more mobile platforms, adding directional capabilities that don't require GPS services, and making the hardware smaller and cheaper.

"We are working with the chip manufacturers, the Bluetooth chip manufacturers. We are working with them, and we're trying to see how we can present together with them in lower cost solutions," Buchheim says.

Future ambitions aren't stopping StickNFind from selling products today, however. The startup has shipped close to 300,000 stickers and has its first retail distribution deal with Brookstone. Current features for the smartphone application include radar visualization for tracking the distance to tagged objects, and a virtual leash that notifies users when a sticker comes back within range.

Buchheim believes StickNFind "can actually help change the world for the better." Maybe it can. One sticker at a time.

(Images courtesy of StickNFind)

Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure