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Amazon will launch a new location-tracking mesh network system later this year

Amazon will launch a new location-tracking mesh network system later this year

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Amazon Sidewalk will leverage connectivity through Echo and Ring devices

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon is preparing to launch an ambitious networking and location system later this year under the name Amazon Sidewalk. Sidewalk will link smart home devices and other Amazon products using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), connecting beyond the range of a standard Wi-Fi network.

Meant to be operated at the scale of a neighborhood, Sidewalk would turn devices like smart floodlights and home assistants into network bridges, passing along security updates and commands from a central Wi-Fi hub. In addition to transmitting software, the signals allow Sidewalk to triangulate a device’s approximate location based on its contacts with other Sidewalk-enabled devices.

The system will be built into the Echo, and Tile has also joined the project as the first third-party platform to support the system. Amazon plans to add Ring cameras to the network later, notifying device owners directly when Sidewalk is available to use. A full list of Sidewalk-compatible devices is available on the project landing page.

Similar to a mesh network, adding more devices will extend Sidewalk’s range and functionality, so it’s critical for Amazon to integrate Sidewalk into as many home devices as possible. As Amazon puts it on the landing page, “when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger.”

Amazon first unveiled plans for Sidewalk last year but revealed more detail in a blog post and white paper on Monday. According to the post, Sidewalk will be used “to simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices and help devices stay online and up-to-date even if they are outside the range of home wifi.”

Still, location-tracking functions are likely to be central to Sidewalk’s success, differentiating it from more conventional Wi-Fi mesh systems offered by Google and Eero. Amazon had previously demonstrated Sidewalk using Ring Fetch devices, which clip to a pet’s collar to track them — essentially creating a geofence and alerting you when a pet strays outside the designated area.

Amazon also laid out a number of privacy features, meant to prevent unauthorized users from collecting data. If you have an Echo on the Sidewalk network, you won’t know what other devices are pinging it, and a person using their Sidewalk-connected Tile (to locate their keys, for instance) won’t know what device they’ve connected to. The signals themselves are also encrypted to prevent intermediaries from collecting data in transit.

Amazon is actively soliciting third-party device partners for the project. To demonstrate Sidewalk’s usefulness, the company has also entered into a partnership with the American Red Cross to see if the system can be used to track blood collection supplies between distribution centers and donation sites.

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