Read how TE Connectivity (TE) supported Littlebird with an antenna solution that could address cellular, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity, fit into an ultra-compact device, support a long battery life, and withstand daily wear and tear.
Customer: Littlebird Connected Care
Focus: Connecting parents and caregivers to their children through real time biometrics notifications
Solutions: Littlebird Toddler CareTracker wearable device and secure digital platform
Location: Seattle, Washington
• Real-time connectivity
• Ultra-compact form factor housing multiple multi-band antennas with wireless carrier compliance
• Long battery life
Littlebird Connected Care (Littlebird; www.littlebird.care) is a pioneering digital health company that has created a unique care connection SaaS AI platform and IoT wearable device.
Littlebird's cellular/GPS/Bluetooth enabled device has received accolades such as Fast Company’s Wellness Design and Innovation Award honors alongside Fitbit and Oura Ring products; JPMA: Built for Baby 2022 Technology Innovation Award; named as a Geekwire Award’s “Invention we Love;” and a Top 2023 Start to Watch, among others.
Created in a data demographic greenspace, Littlebird’s Bluetooth chain-of-custody approach to tethering aims to reduce the risk for parents and caregivers and improve long-term health outcomes. Littlebird enables caregivers to answer the three most important questions about those they care for: Where are they? Who are they with? How are they doing?
Given the need for low latency and seamless connectivity, the Littlebird device needed an antenna solution that could address cellular, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity, fit into an ultra-compact form factor, support a long battery life, and withstand daily wear and tear. Additionally, there were regulatory challenges that needed to be addressed.
“There is a critical need to stay connected with loved ones under care supervision, such as the very young, differently abled, and elderly populations. TE immediately saw the $45B gap in digital healthcare connectivity and jumped in as a trusted consultant and resource to our team. We are thankful for their support and contributions to our national awards and press in our first year,” commented Monica Plath, CEO, Littlebird Connected Care.
• Custom multi-band multi-mode high performance antennas using laser direct structuring (LDS) technology
• Applied knowledge of RF and performance
• Close collaboration with the customer, design house and vendors
• RF system design expertise to comply with regulatory and carrier performance
Given the ultra compact form factor of Littlebird's CareTracker device, TE’s robust portfolio of standard off-the-shelf Bluetooth, LTE Cellular and GPS antenna solutions would not meet the device’s design requirements. The design called for a novel out-of-the-box custom RF/antenna architecture in order to comply with challenging carrier requirements. That’s when TE was brought in to review the device design and requirements and make recommendations during the initial stage of product development.
Numerous factors can affect overall antenna performance, including ground plane dimensions, distance to nearby metallic components, antenna position, RF feed placement, PCB layout and component selection. Over the course of six months, TE’s global development team closely collaborated with Littlebird, their design house, contract manufacturer, and others to creatively design, optimize and test an antenna architecture solution to meet the system level requirements and achieve FCC approval.
The final design utilizes custom LDS antennas with LTE Cellular, Bluetooth and GPS functionalities combined in a single trace. LDS is a state-of-the-art technology used to create molded interconnect devices (MIDs) and can save space within the application by integrating high frequency, mechanical and electrical functionality into one component. LDS enables three-dimensional design/routing capability, versus the limitations of two-dimensional placement on a PCB or other substrate. LDS also allows for better antenna performance by utilizing 3D surfaces on the antenna carrier (which can’t be used by traditional manufacturing methods) to provide wider bandwidth and higher efficiency. The housing of the CareTracker’s LDS antenna also features a ring for ultrasonic welding, which helps seal the assembled device for waterproof, IP67-rated performance.
TE’s spring finger contacts were also integrated into the design to connect the RF signals to the antenna. Spring fingers (also known as shield fingers, grounding springs or universal ground contacts) are single-contact, surface-mountable internal connectors with multiple functions on a PCB. In miniaturized applications, spring finger contacts offer one of the best choices for grounding, antenna feeding and electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding, given their small footprint and scalability.
The final design solution is among the smallest and one of the highest performing LTE, GPS and Bluetooth enabled wearable devices on the market. The YMCA of Seattle, WA, will be the first organization to pilot Littlebird’s Toddler CareTracker as part of a larger daycare program. Thanks to the close collaboration between TE, Littlebird and their design house and vendors, the Toddler CareTracker has become a reality with the potential to make a positive impact on the broader care economy.
TE Technical Project Manager, Jung Hyun Kim, stated, “We are very pleased to have supported the development of this innovative product capability. The collaboration in the design efforts, coupled with TE’s global team of experts, made the project a success.”
TE RF Engineer, Il Yong Oh, added, “With TE’s goal to make every connection count, we are glad to have supported, and will continue to support Littlebird in their success.”
The wireless industry demands increased complexity and miniaturization of antennas, combined with a need to integrate a multi-radio environment into one component. We offer a wide array of customized antenna solutions to accommodate the mechanical constraints of your application, design and manufacture antennas that comply with the most stringent operating requirements, and are a pioneer of customized embedded antenna solutions.
PCB Spring Contacts
Spring finger contacts (also known as shield fingers, grounding springs, universal ground contacts, or clips) can be used in all types of small printed circuit board applications across all industries. It can be used for antenna feeds, low voltage electrical connections, or for grounding to prevent EMI noise and static caused by a speaker, motor, microphone, or any other vibration within an application