We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dave DeMona, Arrow Electronics’ engineering manager for lighting, about Arrow’s new smart horticulture platform: Arrow Growhouse. Concerns about global population growth, sustainability, and ecologically friendly farming are encouraging growers to adopt innovative technologies to improve farming practices.
Late last year, Arrow Electronics – one of the leading electronics distribution companies – introduced a new IoT platform with superior lighting controls. These controls help the commercial farming industry improve crop yield and gain better control of their indoor crops, decreasing water, space, and pesticide usage. The platform also equips growers with remote wireless control and monitoring of indoor farming operations and conditions. The demand for smart agriculture products such as this one has been growing rapidly. Dave explains below what prompted Arrow to build the scalable and smart horticulture system and how exactly it works.
Can you tell us about Growhouse?
The Arrow Growhouse platform is a flexible, scalable, smart agriculture solution for monitoring and controlling key aspects of a commercial growing environment. It combines environmental and plant-level monitoring and multichannel lighting control into a single, cloud-based user interface with both a web and mobile app. It's compatible with most of the horticulture luminaires currently in the market, and the underlying architecture allows for easy development of additional sensing and control modules based on a customer's individual needs.
What components are included in the platform?
The system can be bought either piecemeal or as a complete system, depending on what the user needs. The basic kit includes a gateway that communicates back to the cloud and a multichannel LED controller that connects to the horticulture luminaire itself, allowing the user to control the different color channels. The kit also includes a soil sensor to monitor the moisture level and the pH of the soil. Customers can add more sensors and controllers as needed.
The architecture of the system is customizable: if a farmer has unique needs and wants to monitor aspects of the system that the base package doesn't cover, it's easy for us to develop additional sensor modules to fit their needs.
What was the inspiration behind creating this smart horticulture solution?
Over the past few years, we've been involved with a number of different horticulture and horticulture-adjacent customers. We noticed that – although clients had great ideas on how to optimally grow plants – there was an underlying set of fundamental requirements. This client base is predominantly growers, not hardware and software experts, so we thought: What if we built a base platform that could be individualized and customized for their unique needs?
How long has the product been available?
The product was launched last year and was enabled by a combination of recent technology advancements:
The maturation of LED technology enables practical implementation of controllable LED luminaires for horticulture. Suddenly, farmers could control the spectrums that a plant sees throughout its growth, which can trigger specific characteristics.
In addition, advances and cost reductions in communication and sensing started to allow for better monitoring of what's happening at the plant level.
These combined factors sparked a revolution a few years ago and this reflects on the feedback surrounding Growhouse to date. Systems have historically been disparate and manual (such as lighting, environmental controls, and fertigation), but Growhouse integrates all of the monitoring and control capability into a single, intuitive user interface.
Why did you select Silicon Labs’ technology for your platform?
Like many IoT platforms, Growhouse involves a gateway, end devices, and communication to a cloud and a user interface. Communication between our end devices is via Zigbee, and communication for commissioning is via Bluetooth. We chose Silicon Labs Zigbee modules for the radio because it’s a high-performing, integrated dual technology that tackles our needs.
What are the primary market drivers of smart horticulture?
Growth in the market is due to a variety of needs: resource conservation, population growth, a desire for local production, reduced transport of produce and grown items, and the reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers. A lot of these needs tie back to the intent of creating an ecologically sustainable method of farming.
Smart agriculture also provides a highly controlled environment, so growers end up with not only faster-growing crop yields, but more consistent yields with less waste fallout. Adding control to different aspects of the growth environment allows the grower to ensure their crop is behaving the way they want it to, when they want it to.
There has been a boom in indoor horticulture in recent years. How is indoor farming better for the planet?
It really is all about the control of the plant environment. When you're growing outside, you're subject to the whims of the weather. With indoor horticulture, the grower has complete control over that environment, leading to significantly reduced water usage and needs for fertilizers and pesticides. Indoor agriculture also allows for farming in regions that may be unsuitable for certain outdoor crops. For example, in some areas in Africa where you really can’t grow certain crops in the ground, growing food within a warehouse or container allows people to cultivate locally.
How do you see IoT technology supporting sustainable agriculture in the future?
We look at the evolution of farming as the evolution of human history. Until recently, we haven't had a lot of insight and data into how to farm better. The direction I see IoT going in smart agriculture is in the implementation of AI: doing something with all the newly derived data now being gathered on a more and more granular level. I think we will see a continuation of automation from the time the seed is planted in the ground until it's ready to harvest.
Everything will be based on the sensors' data and the rules developed, enabling better quality and crop consistency, less fallout, and more locally grown crops. We'll start seeing smaller versions of these systems at a local level – whether that be for a small city or a college campus – all the way to the point where we may have these systems in our own homes, much like a micro-garden in your kitchen. Regardless of how green your thumbs are, you'll be able to create quality produce at home, and get rid of all the transportation needs and other external factors.
We recently had the chance to speak with Morten Møgelmose, Co-Founder and CEO of Zliide, a Danish company merging the digital and physical realms of the fashion retail world. Zliide’s Bluetooth security tags bridge the gap between virtual and in-store retail experiences, providing a seamless and heightened customer experience. Zliide tags connect with shoppers’ smart phones, allowing them to conveniently self-checkout at any moment and access product information, photos, and videos to enhance their shopping experience. The tags also provide valuable data for retailers, giving key insights into specific stores, items, and customer preferences. Below Morten shares background on the company’s overall mission and insights behind how the company’s innovative tag technology works.
Can you tell us a little bit about Zliide?
Zliide is a Danish company founded in 2016 with a vision to always take the consumer’s point of view first. Fashion retail has always been really good at providing consumers with a great “wow” experience when they come into the stores, but a lot of the stores have forgotten the digital evolution of customers. Our solution enables fashion retailers to provide an omnichannel experience, combining offline experience with online experience. This is done through what we call the Zliide tag, which goes onto every piece of merchandise in the store. The tag operates like a standard security tag, but allows users to scan the tag with the Zliide app and gain access to a digital version of the item in the app. This can show videos and images of the item on a model or in motion, allowing shoppers to really envision themselves in the merchandise. The consumer can then pay for the item on their phone, using a mobile payment application. Once the item is paid for, the security tag unlocks, and the customer is able to leave the store with their purchase. Right now, our technology is only available in Denmark, but we are looking to expand to other Nordic countries and perhaps the U.K. in the next couple of years.
Why was the Zliide tag created?
The whole company started based on an experience I had in a Nike store in London. When I arrived in London, I used Airbnb and Uber, and everything was with one click. Then I went into a store and actually had to wait for someone to help me get rid of my money and make a purchase. I was really frustrated because over the last few years I had become accommodated to using numerous cool technologies with easy user experience and convenience across all different channels. This experience led me to start a company with a vision to always take the consumer’s point of view first.
How is your Zliide tag different from other commonly seen security tags in fashion stores?
The basic purpose of a conventional tag is securing a piece of clothing. The conventional security tags business is great and meets a basic and much-needed functionality. We definitely believe tags have a place in the market indefinitely, but we also believe that if you already mount a piece of hardware onto every single item in a store, there is so much potential to build on top of the tag for data collection and a better consumer experience.
With our product, we enable customers to interact with every item in the store and access pictures and videos of everything they want, anywhere they want. It’s all about freedom and convenience for the stores and the consumers, along with the possibilities of building a data collection for retailers. We allow communication with the end user’s mobile device by introducing Bluetooth to the tag. We've done this in the Zliide tag version we are introducing to the market now with Silicon Labs' BGM220. Also, in recent years, we’ve seen a rise in RFID tags that allow resellers to do a limited inventory count with RFID scanners. With our solution, retailers have the added benefit of doing an immediate daily inventory count.
Why did you decide to use Silicon Labs' solutions for the product?
We were introduced to Silicon Labs through Arrow and have been extremely impressed with the company's representatives, who introduced us to the BGM220 and its features.
All of the functionality we wanted was met in terms of security, battery lifetime and the possibility of over-the-air (OTA) updates, as it would be a big risk to not be able to easily update the software. On top of that, by using the module we were really able to minimize the size and the number of components on the PCB. Another important factor for us was to reduce cost of the device due to mass production – one fashion store can easily have 10,000 Zliide tags.
I would say one of the things that really made a difference for us was the superior level of support we have received from Silicon Labs. For us, it's really about the support and the commitment we've received to help a young company like ours to really thrive in a competitive world. Getting access to those valuable and knowledgeable resources to build a better product is really what made the whole difference for us.
Where do you see fashion retail IoT going in the next 5-8 years, and how has COVID-19 affected the market?
From a technology perspective, we see a lot of technology evolving in the retail sector at the moment. Recently we've seen a lot of investments going into the back end of retail companies to optimize the supply chain. I believe if you have a big footprint of stores, you need to take those stores and elevate them to the next level with consumer-facing technology. I think we will see technology in the fashion retail industry still being a little bit behind some of the other retail outlets such as supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. The fashion industry has high-value items that they want to protect, whereas in convenience stores and supermarkets, there's basically no security there; you can just use a barcode scanner to speed up the customer experience. Our technology will be the fastest solution to allow self-checkout for more high-value items.
COVID-19 had a major impact on more than just revenue streams in these fashion retail companies, and collectively the industry has realized how vulnerable it is. When it comes to shutting down all your stores, you’re losing 80-90% of the revenue from one day to another. I think it made retailers realize two things: For one, they need to do something different now. And two: they need to realize that digitalization is the only way to go. If COVID-19 restrictions go into effect again, retailers would still have access to users on the Zliide online platform with the ability to purchase something from their store. Even though stores would be physically closed, retailers could still ship out from the stores through this massive footprint.
In five years, we'll see a lot changing in the industry, and the ones who don't keep up with technological advancements will be the losing companies, no doubt about it.
Find out more about how our BGM22 Series here.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with two authors using new and unconventional animal tracking research: biologist Simon Ripperger of the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University and engineer Niklas Duda of the Institute for Electronics Engineering, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany. The talented duo’s animal tracking research went viral in October when one of their new studies confirmed that vampire bats in the wild socially distance themselves when sick.
The social distancing study was one of several consecutive case studies published since 2019, detailing the first-of-its-kind wireless biologging network they designed to track and study wild bats. The new biologging technology allows for simultaneous direct proximity sensing, high-resolution tracking, and long-range remote data download – all of which enabled their team to collect never-before-available data and observations on bats in the wild. The wireless sensor network has not only resulted in riveting findings about the social nature of bats, it has also opened the door to a new realm of scientific knowledge concerning the spread of infectious diseases, wildlife resources, foraging strategies, and physiology. The two brilliant scientists explain how their research came about and how new technology is enabling scientists and animal conservation experts to break boundaries in animal biologging.
Tell us how you all started working together and give us some background on your bat studies.
Simon: I’ve been involved with this project since the end of 2013 and was inspired by my advisor, who is also a bat biologist. He used to go to Greece for field work all the time, but their method of tracking and biologging bats was a bit unbelievable – he was essentially running behind bats, chasing them with an antenna. We knew there had to be a better way to do this, and the university had a long history of cooperation between computer scientists, engineers, and biologists. They decided to create a big, collaborative project on wireless sensor networks using a fully automated tracking system for bats.
Bats are a great species to start with because they’re elusive –it’s hard to observe them, and they're nocturnal and tiny. If your project can succeed with bats, it can probably work with most species. This was the motivation for the research unit, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG – Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).
Can you tell us more about the wireless sensor network and how it gathers information?
Simon: I would say it is the most sophisticated sensor network for biologging –the degree of automation and data quality is certainly unique because we’ve combined different functionalities. We have high-resolution tracking to allow us to track animals with tags at small scales, and we also do proximity sensing. The tags can be as light as one gram, including housing and battery. If you look at systems for GPS tracking, the remote download function costs several grams because it’s so expensive in terms of energy. This all adds considerable weight to the tags, so it’s amazing to have this 1-gram tag with the option to retrieve data remotely.
For me as a biologist, the most exciting function is the proximity tracking. The tags talk to each other and exchange information, so we can get social networks of an entire group of animals every few seconds—simply mind-blowing if you have been studying social networks in animals—and the data quantity is amazing.
Why did you choose Silicon Labs for your wireless network?
Niklas: We have used Silicon Labs EFR32 SoCs since 2017 in all of our studies. Our tags have proximity logging and localization functions that operate at two different frequency levels. Before using Silicon Labs, we had to use three separate ICs to accommodate these functions. However, the Silicon Labs Flex Gecko integrates transceivers for both frequencies and a microprocessor core in one component. The ability to scale from three components to one makes the PCB smaller and makes it easier to control the radios, resulting in overall improved performance. We also wanted the Silicon Labs Gecko solution for its ultra-low-power functions. When tagging animals, we need our solution to be as small, light, and low power as possible, and Silicon Labs solutions support this need.
Can you tell us more about what you have learned about bats from your studies with the technology?
Simon: The first study we conducted was on noctule bats: European bats that live in city parks. Every few days, the bats switch their roosting site; therefore, we wanted to find out how offspring know where the group’s ever-changing roosting sites are located. Up until now, this has been impossible to track. With our wireless network, we found that mothers actually guide their pups to the new roosting sites; they leave the roost together, fly together, and arrive at the new roost together. This first simple application of our proximity sensing discovered a whole new form of maternal care in bats.
We then moved on to studying vampire bats, the most social species of bats. They have social connections similar to human friendships as they recognize each other, prefer to associate with certain individuals from a group, groom each other, and even share food. This behavior has been studied mainly in captivity because it’s so hard to observe bats in the wild. We were able to use our proximity sensors to see whether these social behaviors are simply an artifact of captivity or whether they held up in the wild. We took bats in captivity that we knew had social relationships with one another and released them back to the wild after two years. We could track associations between all the bats in their natural habitat and show that these social relationships were maintained in the wild, even with new bats to interact with and in a totally different setting. It showed for the first time that these relationships are very stable and persist in the wild. There would be no way to observe these behaviors without this technology.
One of your studies was widely covered by international media this past fall. Can you tell us about what you found?
Simon: We used our wireless network to observe bats' social networks and how they are affected when a bat is sick. We gave half the group an immune-challenging substance—a substance that doesn’t actually make them sick but makes the immune system react. With our high-resolution data, we could observe what happens to the network when the bats get sick. We found that their social encounters decreased –what we call social distancing –and after this period of sickness, the level of interaction with the “sick” bats went back to normal. Essentially, we found they manage to distance themselves from the group when they feel sick.
What are your future plans for studies?
Niklas: We’re spinning out a company, Dulog, to sell this technology to use with other animals. The technology is in development with several pilot customers and should be commercially available later this year.
Simon: The applications have no end – from preventing the spread of infectious diseases to studying information flow among social animals on food resources and even mating behavior—the sky is the limit! Why do social animals behave the way they do? With our technology, you can now observe their natural behaviors without interfering, but you can also use it to see how animals react to experimental approaches in the wild.
Where do you see the IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
Niklas: As IoT develops, sensors are getting smaller, which really benefits the scientific community – we reap the benefits of IoT that the larger commercial markets drive.
Simon: For biology, leaps forward have always been inspired by technology. Animal tracking has been around for 50 or 60 years, but advancements in IoT have allowed these recent developments to create a true renaissance in biologging and animal tracking. You can use benefits from ultra-low-power computing in various aspects of biology studies, and we not only get better data, but we can get it for a much wider range of animal species.
For more information on our EFR32 technology, visit https://www.silabs.com/products/wireless/technology.
Home security device manufacturers in the UK are required to adhere to a complicated set of British and European standards before their products can hit the market, which typically requires professional installation. A consequence of this relatively high barrier to entry is that most of the available alarm solutions are professional grade and, due to these regulations, must be segregated from other smart home assistance. Scotland-based Boundary is working on bridging this gap with a state-of-the-art alarm system that consumers can install themselves and monitor through their smartphones. We recently sat down with Boundary co-founder, Paul Walton to learn more.
Tell Us About Boundary.
Boundary was founded in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, producing a smart intruder alarm system for the UK market based on Z-Wave technology. Our co-founder, Robin Knox, had the idea when he was on his honeymoon and realized the limitations of his existing alarm system meant that if his home was broken into, he would be unable to actually do anything other than watch the events unfold on a CCTV camera. Immediately upon his return, he set out to find a reasonably priced self-install security system but had little success. This gap in the market for DIY home security was the catalyst to build something that looked great, was user-friendly, and provided better features at a reasonable price point.
Internally, our company’s goal was to develop a great mobile app that provided a much more intuitive and enjoyable user experience. With a focus on the user journey and hardware design, we are anticipating launching our first product, a smart IoT alarm system, this month. This system consists of four components: the central hub (which is the Z-Wave gateway), a motion sensor, a contact sensor, and an external siren, all of which connect to the central hub advisory.
One thing that sets Boundary apart from our competitors is its EN50131 European Standard for Intruder Alarm Systems compliance certification. Achieving this level of certification requires some pretty tough validation, dropping the hub from two meters and making sure that it's still operational, for instance. The rigorous design detail has made us the first manufacturer of a Z-Wave 700 device that is currently undergoing this certification, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year.
Why Did You Choose Silicon Labs Z-Wave Solutions for Your Products?
When it came to selection criteria, we had many requirements that needed to be met. Some were driven by the standards and some were simply a matter of the target data transmission rates the team wanted to meet. Developing a product that did not require complicated setup and provided the range required to cover a medium-to-large sized house was also important, as was maintaining connection for all devices on the network. Z-Wave emerged as the standard that could meet these challenges. Set-up is incredibly simple, requiring the customer to simply scan a QR code to pair the device.
The result is an alarm that is easy to use and exceeds the highest regulatory standards. Our product features a motion sensor with always-on detection that can be used for home automation routines like powering down smart lighting and regulating heating when a room is not in use. With a door/window sensor, any unauthorized entry will immediately set off the alarm. Users can also see the status of a window or door from the app at any time.
Looking Forward, Where Do You See the Smart Home Security Market Heading?
We believe that within the next five years, we’ll see a bit of a shift in the home security market towards proactive security. For Boundary, our focus is on bringing another product to market, one that utilizes machine vision, and to expand into Europe.
For more information on how Boundary used Silicon Labs Z-Wave solutions to deliver professional-grade security to smart homes, check out our case study and learn more about smart home offerings. If you’d like to leverage the benefits of Z-Wave technology for your smart home applications, we’d love to hear from you.
We recently had the chance to speak with Kevin Kim, Vice President of Rainus America, a South Korean-based company focused on elevating the retail experience using digital technology. The company’s smart retail solutions allow retailers to update their prices in real time, maximizing retailers’ efficiency and simplifying customers’ shopping experiences with personalized and convenient digital solutions. Customers can also engage with Rainus’ touch display technology in-store. In the interview below, Kevin shares insight on the company’s products and where he anticipates growth for Rainus and the industry in the coming years.
How long has Rainus been on the market?
Rainus was founded in Seong-Nam, South Korea in 2014. We are one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, specializing in electronic shelf label (ESL) technology. Seong-Nam is about five miles south of Seoul, in an area referred to as the “Silicon Valley of Korea.” We set up our first international office in Switzerland, Europe, in 2015 and opened the second one in Tokyo, Japan due to our international business growth. The third one will be in the United States and will open in October of 2020.
Tell us about your products
One of our primary products is InforTab, which is our e-paper display product line. InforTab is a full graphic label based on customized wireless technology and brings huge benefits to retailers such as price automation, store efficiency, accurate pricing, operation cost savings, and additional functions like dynamic pricing. Another product line of ours is called InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch, a bar-type display suitable for the digital shelf. InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch can take today's retail store to the next level. This technology can deliver not only price information, but also advertisements via diverse multimedia formats and has a touch display functionality, enabling interaction with shoppers for more customer engagement. InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch will eventually function as the real-time interaction between the customer and retailer via touch, visuals, and voice, and we have a clear roadmap for making this happen.
We offer a single platform that connects all our product lines. InforTab, InforTab+, and InforTab+ Touch are IoT devices and work with our access points for data transmission. Information to be displayed is fed to the InforTab platform from the customer's legacy system, then transmitted to the Rainus devices whenever necessary. Our network system is very secure, accurate, and robust, ensuring fast data transmission and the widest coverage possible for big organizations.
Most of our customers are grocery retailers, though we are seeing growing demand across other sectors, such as drug stores, health and beauty, and consumer electronics. The common issue retailers are currently encountering is a store inefficiency. Price changes for all products in a store take at least a couple of days with a conventional method. Also, a price mismatch between the Point of Sale system and a paper label is another pain-point for retailers. With InforTab, prices of products can be automatically changed in real-time, which brings operational excellency to stores. The ESL providers are trying to improve it’s the technology’s accuracy and robustness. At Rainus, our core technology uses a concentric network system with a minimum infrastructure cost and a maximum number of ESLs, providing the highest level of accuracy and robustness within the industry.
How do your products differ from others on the market?
We take a lot of pride in the high performance of InforTab's advanced architecture. This capability sets us apart from others in the market. Recent benchmarks with potential customers in Japan continue to prove our leadership in performance. For example, after several rounds of an intense performance test, a leading electronics retailer selected us as a sole ESL provider, where we then successfully deployed 200,000 ESLs in a single store, which is record-breaking in our industry. At this time, no other company can support this many ESLs with the lowest server specification.
From a shopper's perspective, they can see the right price and information at the right time. Near Field Communications (NFC) embedded InforTab gives an enhanced customer experience by allowing them to use their mobile phones. Tapping phones on InforTab can link shoppers to product details or reviews on their own phones.
Why did you decide to use Silicon Labs?
Silicon Labs has cutting-edge technology and is known as a leader within the industry. We are currently using the Silicon Labs FG22 Series 2 Wireless 2.4 GHz SoC. We are very happy with the performance capabilities of the wireless solution and the excellent Silicon Labs technical support we have received throughout our product design life cycle.
How do you see your company evolving in the next 5 years?
Our company initially started out focused on ESL, and there is no question our ESL solution is our primary business. As demands grow in other sectors along with retail, we expect to see more opportunities to integrate smart retail technologies. We have a lot of R&D and partnership activities underway as we see the growth potential for a transition to a broader IoT business. Many people are talking about digital transformation, yet we are seeing huge changes in retail right now. Smart retail technology will play a much greater role in people’s shopping experiences in the future. Many consumers and businesses have yet to imagine the new conveniences and operational gains to be experienced by digitalization. Rainus is excited to be involved in such a rapidly changing industry and we see smart retail technologies evolving into all types of retail environments in the future.
To learn more about how our FG22 Series 2 SoC optimizes retail ESL technology, check out our Rainus case study.
Last month, we had the chance to speak with our customer Christine Horton, VP of Global Marketing for Nonin Medical, a global medical monitoring solutions company that has been leading the way in pulse oximetry technology for the past 30 years. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Nonin has been on an overdrive to meet the surge in demand to design, build and ship personal hundreds of thousands of fingertip pulse oximeters to healthcare facilities and homes to help people better determine virus exposure before debilitating symptoms set in. These small, Bluetooth-based non-invasive oximetry devices can detect decreases in blood oxygen levels, which is one of the first signs that a person has been infected with COVID-19. Christine shares background on the company’s overall mission and insights behind how the valuable medical technology works.
Tell us about Nonin.
Nonin was founded in 1986 by Phil Isaacson, our current Executive Chairman and Chief Technology Officer, with three other engineers. Phil was the visionary and driving force behind the operation, and he continues to be dedicated to our innovation efforts. While Phil was not the inventor of pulse oximetry, he was the first person to envision using a person’s finger without wires as a way to determine oxygen levels. His foresight led Nonin to launch the world’s first fingertip pulse oximeter in 1995.
Creating a non-invasive oximeter device was the goal at the time, and non-invasive devices are still our focus today. The word “Nonin” is actually short for “non-invasive.” Today we are a global company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, often referred to as “medical alley.” Minneapolis is a center of excellence for medical innovation and technology advances, so it’s an ideal location for us to evolve our medical innovations.
Our mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives throughout the world. We want our highly reliable, accurate, and high-quality devices to be empowered by individuals and healthcare providers to help them make better medical decisions.
Why was the product created?
We developed the technology for the same reason it is so critically important today – to help save lives by enabling pulse oximetry outside of the hospital. The pulse-ox measurement is an early indicator in detecting COVID-19, even before high temperature, of raising a red flag if a person’s oxygen saturation has fallen below healthy levels. Taking this measurement every morning can provide a good baseline while you’re healthy. If you start to see changes, you can address the condition, or potential condition, sooner. We seek to empower self-care in the home, which can allow for earlier detection and may improve the chance for a better outcome.
While Nonin had products before 1995, launching the small fingertip oximeter was a game-changer for healthcare and personal health. Even though we really didn’t talk much about personal health in 1995, there were pockets of people who were paying attention to their pulse-ox levels. Now it is more mainstream, and our current connected devices are evolving rapidly. It also goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has also put pulse oximeters in the spotlight as an easy to use but potentially life-saving tool.
When we talk about personal health, or population health, we talk about a connected product, which is our consumer pulse oximeter fingertip device. Our 3230 Bluetooth Low Energy oximeter allows information to be shared so that you, your physicians, or other people you want to enable can see it. Data can be sent and received from the comfort of your own home, which is such a convenience and helps to free up space in hospitals and healthcare centers. For many patients and family members, it provides tremendous peace of mind.
How does your oximeter device work?
We use a technology called PureSAT®, one of our largest differentiators for quality, accuracy, and reliability. There are a lot of things that can influence a fingertip reading, such as movement and low perfusion in the patient. PureSAT has advanced algorithms that filter out artifacts and interference to provide a true, accurate measurement using infrared light and photodetectors to measure the amount of light getting through the fingertip to calculate the oxygen saturation of a person’s blood.
Accurate readings take just seconds. If the green quality indicator light is on while applying the device to finger, the user knows an accurate and correct measurement is being taken. Our product is FDA-cleared, and this an important distinction to ensure the safety and efficacy of the product.
What are your future plans for the product?
We support the push and pivot to telemedicine. Healthcare is rapidly taking place outside the clinic and hospital settings. Healthcare is happening right where people are at the time they want care. We have a team focused on our connected devices, and we see the market growing rapidly and continuing at a strong and sustained growth rate. For Nonin, this means we’ve increased our capacity for production two-fold to keep up with COVID demand. For the long-term, innovation in the personal health sector is focusing increasingly on home self-care – essentially telemedicine – becoming more mainstream. The rise of telemedicine ensures the continued need for device connectivity to the cloud is crucial for all of our future products.
Why did you choose Silicon Labs?
We use Silicon Labs’ chipsets for the majority of our Bluetooth-enabled products. For the 3230 oximeter product, we use the Bluegiga Legacy Model Bluetooth Low Energy Module. The Silicon Labs module enables us to get our products to market more quickly because they are easily integrated with a pre-certified Bluetooth radio that covers many geographical markets for us. The power-efficiency of the Silicon Labs module is also a very important feature for healthcare solutions like ours.
How has the pandemic changed the demand for your product?
In a word, yes. In fact, we have doubled production from March to June to try and keep up with the demand. We are still - like much of the medical essential and critical suppliers and medical devices - trying to make sure we keep up with the global needs of the healthcare systems. Fortunately, we were able to ramp additional production effectively and hired more staff in a very short amount of time.
From nearly the outset of the pandemic, it became clear that pulse oximeters could provide critical early insight to people before more serious COVID-19 symptoms presented. Patients will come into the ER, and maybe they don’t feel well, or they are a little short of breath, but they will be talking. One of the first signs of being in respiratory distress is having a hard time talking because you have to breathe well to hold a conversation. These patients will be breathing just fine, and two hours later, they will be on a ventilator. We’ve heard a lot of cases about the rapid progression of going from “hey, I can talk, and I kind of feel sick” to “my pulse-ox is now in the 80s or below.” This signifies something very dangerous for a patient. If a patient can see that their oxygen levels are decreasing before symptoms get to that life-threatening point, they may be more likely to get the care they need early on and avoid a potentially life-threatening onset of symptoms.
Right now, we are constantly evaluating what changes are temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent within the healthcare industry. We are closely looking at a variety of indicators, such as medical device access, hospital partnerships, and supply chains every day. Day to day, minute by minute, the pandemic has been a learning lesson for the world.
In addition to ramping production, what other steps have you taken during this uncertain time in our world?
As a medical device organization, we are squarely focused on mitigating risk within our supply chain to ensure we can continue supplying as many devices as possible.
We are a for-profit company, but we made the decision early on during the pandemic that we would not increase pricing, despite the escalating demand for the product.
Where do you see medical IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
I’ve been in the medical device field for 28 years, and this is the biggest and most rapid shift I’ve ever seen. The transformation is definitely driven by connected devices, personal health, and telemedicine. We were already moving in that direction, but because of COVID-19, telemedicine is now a proven concept that millions of people have come to trust and rely on. We anticipate telemedicine to remain at the 90% growth rate we see today.
Connectivity in medical devices is no longer a nice to have, and it has rapidly become a requirement. The Internet of Medical Things will become the norm in healthcare because it delivers so much value for a patient’s continuum of care. Medical IoT devices enable doctors and other healthcare professionals to track and treat a patient throughout the entirety of their life.
The data derived from medical IoT is also extremely valuable for healthcare economics and health insurance payers. If you have a finite amount of money, how can you best use the funds to care for the maximum number of people in the highest quality way? For example, if a doctor knows that you are not in crisis and can see from your pulse-ox level that the medication or therapy administered at home is working, you do not need to come into the emergency room. This frees up healthcare workers to give people care who really do need it, which ultimately benefits everyone.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Russi Netto, Co-founder and Commercial Director, and Airton Hess Jr., Co-founder and R&D Director of SmartGreen, a Brazilian IoT company focused on sustainable smart lighting and smart metering automation solutions. Headquartered near Sao Paulo, SmartGreen works closely with cities and utilities to build end-to-end IoT integrated solutions, such as the 200,000 smart street lights the company is planning to deploy in Brazil by 2022. While the majority of SmartGreen’s customers are currently located in Brazil, Daniel and Airton share their valuable insights on the growth drivers their company is seeing in municipal lighting and where they see the potential for smart cities in the future.
Tell us about SmartGreen, how did it get its start?
The company was founded in 2012 after merging with another company called Radio Telecom. Today we have 35 employees. From the beginning, our goal has been to offer an integrated IoT solution to customers that encompasses hardware, communications, gateways, the processing layer, and the software and apps needed to manage a device.
Who is your competition?
We have two kinds of competitors. We have local start-ups, but their technology is not as mature as our solutions, and they cannot scale to the level of devices that SmartGreen can handle. We also run into international competitors from time to time, but these companies tend to have challenges entering the Brazilian market due to local pricing and technological barriers.
What sets SmartGreen apart from other companies with similar offerings?
We can operate more devices in our mesh network using Zigbee 2.4GHz than the competition and remain competitive on price. We also have close relationships with our customers. Most of our lighting customers have limited technology expertise. Therefore, they depend on us heavily because of our technical expertise, and this dynamic helps us establish strong customer relationships.
What is driving the demand for lighting projects?
We see some of the demands driven by regulatory issues. However, we also see a lot of the demands coming from city managers who are interested in automating city infrastructure to improve overall operations of their city, and municipal lighting is a good place to start. City managers value the energy savings and the reduced workload for fuel operations teams.
Tell us about your commercial lighting product.
Our primary smart light product is the SGIP7, which replaces the photocell and gives the luminary the intelligence it needs to be automated. We sell the hardware, gateway, and endpoint for street light projects and offer SaaS packages, including software licenses, upgrades, cloud capabilities, and ongoing technical support. Our network communications standards are high, but even if the network goes down for some reason, our devices can continue to work and communicate with other sensors and devices. The Zigbee mesh network, combined with Silicon Labs’ wireless technology, enables the sensors and devices to communicate with each other without the gateway.
What about your smart metering solutions?
For smart metering, we sell two different kinds of endpoints to utilities – network interface cards and smart meter modules. We have two types of modules for residential usage, including external modules that connect to standard meters and modules for smart meters. Our smart meter modules remotely read energy consumption for utilities, which reduces the need for utility workers to be dispatched to residential homes for readings and turning on/off electricity connections.
How is business right now for lighting and metering applications?
We see significant growth in our smart lighting business, while smart metering projects move more slowly. Utilities have a more complex decision-making process, and they are still waiting for a wireless standard for smart metering to emerge, so between that dynamic and this space being fairly regulated, projects can be delayed and/or slow to start. Yet, smart lighting purchasers are not concerned with technology standards but are focused on performance and cost benefits instead. Of course, they want the technology to be certified, but smart lighting is not regulated like smart metering, so we see a lot more activity and growth.
Why did you decide to use Silicon Labs?
We use Silicon Labs’ first-generation Zigbee module after coming across this Bluetooth chip when we acquired Telegesis. We recently decided to upgrade our IC modules and tested several other competing devices, and Silicon Labs performed the best. Therefore we plan to upgrade to the MGM13P Mighty Gecko Zigbee Module in the near future. Silicon Labs solutions have always worked very well for us.
Zigbee modules continue to be our preferred protocol for our products. We have tested quite a few different protocols in the past but ran into performance and cost issues. The Zigbee protocol and architecture, along with Silicon Labs’ Bluetooth mesh module, works exceptionally well for street lighting applications because of its reliable high performance, low power, and built-in security capabilities.
Where do you see IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
We are excited about our energy management applications in the enterprise market and see a great deal of potential in the future. Because our technology platform is already built into many Brazilian city infrastructures and the contracts are long-term (lasting anywhere from 20-30 years), we see a major opportunity to evolve into a multi-service network for cities. Our municipal customers want to explore other automated services on our platform, such as using environmental, traffic, and utility sensors to help them operate their cities more sustainably and efficiently. Silicon Labs’ Mighty Module solution is helping SmartGreen make this extension of our customer offering possible because of its cost-effective performance abilities.
We recently had the chance to speak with Craig Henricksen, VP of Marketing for Kinestral Technologies, a natural light management company based in Hayward, California. Kinestral has perfected the smart window experience after designing electrochromic glass technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and the OpenThread wireless protocol to adjust natural light within buildings and homes continuously. The smart windows are based on Silicon Labs Wireless Gecko technology and can reduce building energy usage by up to 20 percent, an amazing feat for any type of product. Below, Craig shares how the company got its start, how the technology works, and some glimpses of potential future applications.
Kinestral’s smart windows are a great example of smart home solutions Silicon Labs and our partners are working on every day. We encourage you to register for our Smart Home Webinar on June 10, 2020, where you can learn how to build smart home products that work across any ecosystem. And if you missed it live, you can always watch it again on-demand.
How did the idea for a smart window come about?
Our two founders got together in 2010 after each having success at other material companies to create disruptive technology on their own. Howard Turner, now CTO, who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and Sam Bergh, our COO, who has a Ph.D. in Engineering, discovered their combined expertise fit well with a class of products called electrochromic technology. The process creates a smart window by applying a voltage or electrical impulse to a class of materials that causes a chemical reaction and controls light passing through a substrate. At the time, the technology had been around for 20 plus years, but several flaws were limiting its adoption by the market.
Price, of course, was an issue, but the primary reason was related to performance. Previous smart window technologies in a clear state tended to be yellow and/or honey-colored, then as they were tinted, the glass would become blueish and/or purple. The tinting process was also slow, often taking up to 30-40 minutes to take place. When I started at the company five years ago, I realized the founders had spent their first five years at the company perfecting the materials. When I joined, they showed me a piece of glass that looked like normal glass in a clear state, but it changed to a cool gray color extremely fast. Since then, we’ve been focused on commercializing the technology.
Can you tell me about the product?
Halio is a smart-tinting glass based on advanced electrochromic technology that is controlled through a building automation system, a home automation system, a smartphone app, or our Halio dashboard. We built a cloud infrastructure system to manage the AI to control the building and glass environment. The window looks like natural glass, but it tints to cool gray shades when the sun gets a little too hot or a little too bright. We have been shipping Halio for four years from our pilot plant in Hayward. We now have a new large-scale manufacturing facility that can produce up to 5 million square feet of glass per year, and it has been shipping products for the past year and a half.
How do you differentiate yourself from competitors?
Halio offers aesthetic differences, such as how we removed a lot of the unwanted color in the clear and tinting states. With 60 patents, our glass also adjusts 10x faster than the competition with much more uniformity because we invested in a process that allows the tint to be distributed across any size panel. The fact that it is cloud-based reduces the need for in-building infrastructure. Another major differentiator is our high-yield manufacturing process.
Who are your primary customers right now?
We are currently selling our product in more than 30 countries, and we have numerous commercial and residential customers. One of our largest customers is a Southern California based REIT. We also have a strategic partnership with the largest glass manufacturer in the world, AGC Inc.
What is the primary driver for customers buying your product?
When I first started at Kinestral, I assumed it would be all about energy efficiency. But for early movers in the energy-efficient building space, they were already addressing energy improvements with LEED building standards. Interestingly, the big driver we see among customers is the amenity of natural light - the connection to the outdoors and the people inside. This experience within a building is the leading reason for adoption. The energy benefits cement the deal, but energy savings is not the primary reason for the initial purchase.
How exactly does Halio work?
If you’re lucky, your office building has a view, and you have something nice to look at every day. In the morning when you get there, it’s dark, and there are no blinds on the windows, as blinds aren’t needed. Instead of being blinded by the light when the sun comes up, Halio AI predicts when the sun rises based on the building location, time of year, angle of the sun, and other factors. People inside don’t need to do anything for the light to be adjusted; they can still enjoy the sun coming up through windows, but the tint level is comfortable - thermally and glare-wise. Throughout the day, as the light changes outside, the façade will automatically adjust to keep people inside comfortable.
Can people still look out of the windows?
Yes, the dynamic is no different than traditional glass except the tint, but it is a bit more difficult to see in. Many customers also use the glass for indoor glass conference rooms, which can be manually tinted depending on privacy needs.
Tell me about your relationship with Silicon Labs – how do we fit into your product?
We use Silicon Labs’ Wireless Gecko SoCs throughout our Halio product. Our design team has a long history with Silicon Labs after working with technology at other companies, as well.
Originally, our product was based on the Thread protocol, but we are now moving to OpenThread. The cohesion on this move with Silicon Labs and the company’s ability to support this protocol was important for us. All of our units must talk to each other wirelessly, and Silicon Labs provides the underlying mesh network making all of this happen. Our system has numerous nodes, and when you’re putting infrastructure into a building, you need to have confidence that you’re not going to have connectivity or debugging issues.
Did you have any design challenges while creating the product?
The two big ones were low-power and the robustness of the mesh network itself. We offload most of the heavy lifting to the cloud, but we push instructions down to the individual nodes, and the nodes must be smart enough to follow directions (and have enough processing power). At the same time, the nodes must be low power and have a robust wireless connection. We get all of these critical functions in the Silicon Labs Wireless Gecko offering.
Do you anticipate any regulatory changes around climate change that could affect your future growth?
The origins of the company were not necessarily about saving the world. We set out to disrupt a market. But as we dug into the product, we realized we could make a big impact. What other building product out there can save 10-15 percent energy just by installing? This scenario isn’t a typical find. Not only do we provide a great product, but we contribute to sustainability, as smart glass is just a better way to design a building. And anyone who has spent time in a naturally lit building can attest to the fact that you feel it right away. It’s a better place to be and a better place to work.
The commercial market is ripe with opportunity, and it has been easier for us because competitors had already educated the market before we entered it. But where we see a great deal of excitement is in the residential market – people see the glass and want it in their kitchens and homes. The other market on the horizon is transportation, such as cars, airplanes, and trains.
Where do you see the future of IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
In architecture, you often hear about the trend of building personalization using technology. Still, I’ve been in marketing for 15 years, and that’s always been the case – the human need for individualism. But we’ve all had the experience of sitting next to someone with a different temperature profile than us, where the person is too hot, or too cold, or the room is too bright or too dark. Then you look at IoT, and the cost curve of technologies addressing these space personalization needs is coming down, so I think we’ll see a lot more personalized space technologies for people that actually travel with people - where space conforms to make you comfortable versus you adjusting to space.
The technology exists now, but today it’s more of an integration challenge.
To learn more about how Silicon Labs can help you develop your smart home project. Register for our Smart Home Webinar on June 10, 2020, where you can learn how to build smart home products that work across any ecosystem. And if you missed it live, you can always watch it again on-demand.
Last month, we had the opportunity to speak with the CEO and founder of OnAsset Intelligence Adam Crossno. OnAsset Intelligence is a leading provider of supply chain monitoring and tracking technology that helps companies track high-value or mission-critical assets across the global supply chain. The company works across a wide range of sectors and tracks everything – from life-saving immunotherapy treatments and vaccines to perishables and high-value goods. The company has created Bluetooth sensing devices that track valuable assets throughout an item’s travel to give asset owners continuous visibility into the object’s location and shipping conditions, along with a guarantee the item is getting to the right location.
Adam explains how the company started, how the technology works, and why the adoption of asset-tracking technology has ramped up dramatically in the past few years.
Can you provide some examples of the types of mission-critical assets you track?
We do a lot of work in the life sciences, electronics, pharmaceutical, and food industries. We track items not only requiring rapid transportation but some form of conditioning involving temperature handling parameters.
We are among the few asset tracking providers in the world that are fully compliant with airline regulations, and the aviation supply chain carries 35% of world trade by value. Our customers are diverse, from manufacturers to logistics companies and airlines, to specialist transportation security providers. We handle anything you can imagine that someone wants to ship that is mission-critical or high value. Customers are willing to put additional solutions in place to have visibility beyond what logistics providers typically offer. Some of our assets are extremely fragile, such as human organs for transplant that must travel within a matter of hours, and clinical trials with cutting-edge apheresis treatments that must be processed and returned to the patient in less than 48 hours. We also support the transfer of high-value servers and IT assets that need a guaranteed secure chain of custody and other theft-prone items, including truckloads of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms and even items such as high-end military equipment with special conditioning and access requirements.
How did OnAsset Intelligence get into this business?
We found our way into the market starting with RFID technology in manufacturing for visibility of goods and process flows inside a facility, and then ultimately grew into providing the same level of visibility for shipments. As you can imagine, there are numerous items within the global supply chain where the people shipping product want better visibility than entering a tracking number into a web site to see the last place the bar code was scanned. Our customers expect their items to be connected and to be visible at any point and time during shipment – that’s the service we provide.
How does your product work?
The highlight of our solution is the SENTRY, which is a fully autonomous, reusable tracking and sensing device that can be applied all the way to pallet and package level. To support the SENTRY, we recently launched Sentinel tags. The SENTRY coordinates and reports the status of a shipment while also acting as a gateway for Sentinel tags. Even if the shipment may have 50 or 100 pieces, a Sentinel captures environmental parameters for each piece, and that data is transmitted to our cloud platform through the SENTRY. The SENTRY can also be installed as a fixed gateway at origin or destination to enable Sentinel tags to be read when they hit certain supply chain milestones.
What makes this solution unique is it can be deployed at a facility or can work on the move and create seamless visibility. We are capable of moving high volumes at high velocity because we can read tens of thousands of Sentinel tags very quickly, which is critical as some of these distribution centers that have cross-docking operations and are moving hundreds of thousands of individual packages and assets through a facility. We also gain secondary benefit from the network of fixed SENTRY gateways because they provide real-time sensor information for facilities monitoring. Our cloud platform captures this data and provides a dashboard delivering real-time location and condition while alerting upon any excursions detected.
What do the Sentinel tags look like?
The tags come in a variety of sizes, depending on what the customer wants to do. The most popular size is about two-thirds the footprint of a credit card. We even have smaller devices with a slightly larger footprint than the coin cell battery powering it. We also have quite a few customers that integrate Sentinel technology into other assets, such as smart packaging and intelligent containers.
Our tags also work directly with smartphones and other Bluetooth enabled devices. Silicon Labs’ Bluetooth SoCs allow us to leverage all of these compatible devices that exist within the industrial environment. We are fortunate to be in a position where we can leverage this standardized technology instead of requiring our customers to buy a highly proprietary solution. Bluetooth becomes the bridge, providing a guaranteed compatibility path, and customers don’t need to worry about being engineered into a corner.
How has the market reacted to your asset tracking technology?
From the outset, we were a bit ahead of the curve. Most people were in a tire-kicking mode or were skeptical about the visibility we offered and struggled to recognize the value that our data delivers. But the smartphone revolution convinced people this technology could perform accurately. Ever since then, our growth has been steady, and in the last three years, we’ve experienced our most explosive year-over-year growth to date. Potential customers used to debate if they should deploy the technology or not, but now it’s not a question of if, it’s about which partner will we pick and how quickly can we roll it out. Online retailers are out there providing visibility for shipments arriving at customers’ doors, and people expect the commercial supply chain to be doing the same thing.
Why did you select Silicon Labs’ wireless technology for your solution?
Our initial exchanges with Silicon Labs’ staff were warm and accommodating, while some of the other players in the market were more standoffish. But really, Silicon Labs’ wireless product (EFR32 Bluetooth LE SoCs) performs better than other options. We tested all of the alternatives, and at the end of the day, performance wins. And Silicon Labs’ product, in conjunction with our designs, outperformed everything else. Not only did we enjoy the relationship and spirit of innovation and your product roadmap direction, but Silicon Labs simply has a better product.
Did you have any design challenges when building the product?
Our biggest challenge was network density. Bluetooth is a great technology, but it’s not known for its range and density characteristics. Bluetooth opens the door for its ubiquitous global compatibility, but it required some special engineering to make it work in industrial scenarios. These scenarios involve heavy equipment surrounded by other heavy metal and machinery. It’s not hard to design devices and conduct a small-scale trial and show customers you can capture data, but where you really differentiate yourself is deploying technology at scale in a demanding industrial environment. We also tackled real-world challenges, such as provisioning 12,000 devices in rapid succession and ensuring the data is captured, and nothing is lost when the devices transition from one location to another. It’s also important to prove in these settings that the people managing the process can do so easily, especially as many workers are often apprehensive about adopting new technology in day-to-day operations.
Have you worked with any COVID-19 related customers?
I initially thought business might slow down during the pandemic, but it’s been busier than expected. Our customers have shifted to moving a lot of COVID-related material, and we have also been tracking cutting-edge vaccine trials. Many of our airline customers are now adapting aircraft to move more cargo. The focus has shifted, but the need for real-time visibility has only increased. The pandemic is highlighting the value of this level of visibility because companies that were prepared with technology have been able to move product more quickly and offer specific information on location and delivery. But companies that are not forward-leaning on technology have experienced strains because there are so many issues impacting final-mile delivery right now, such as personnel available for transport. Many of the benefits of our tracking technology are being magnified under the current pandemic environment.
Where do you see the IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
Pressure always exists to bring solution costs down. Ideally, our customers want every single unit tracked if they can afford it, but that can sometimes be cost-prohibitive. Not long ago, if someone was looking to do this, they used a fully-featured device with its own cellular communication capabilities. Now we see a future where many wireless sensors will work together collaboratively to get the job done, making each one less complex and more cost-efficient. IoT is going drive proliferation of less complex, more cost-effective devices used in much larger volumes rolling up to more feature-rich devices. Today our technology can support tens of thousands of units sitting at a dock door or port, whereas in 3-5 years, I see it being millions of units.
Additionally, there is an increasing focus on AI and supply chain automation, and our solutions play heavily in this direction. To make more efficient decisions and self-manage certain aspects of the supply chain process, more assets and shipments need to be connected and communicate with each other – this is an evolution that we are calling Cognitive Logistics. We’re excited to be collaborating with Silicon Labs to make it a reality.
Recently we had the opportunity to speak with Gabi Daniely, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of CoreTigo, an Israeli start-up founded by two wireless engineers with experience from companies such as Texas Instruments and Apple. In the two and a half years since CoreTigo’s inception, the company has driven the IO-Link Consortium to launch a new wireless standard developed specifically for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and mission critical environments. The new IO-Link Wireless protocol helps manufacturing companies solve the universal challenge of reliable wireless solutions fit for harsh industrial requirements on the factory floor for reducing complexity. CoreTigo enables solutions that cannot be implemented with cables, increasing flexibility and mobility and adding intelligence anywhere in the most cost-effective manner. Gabi explains how CoreTigo came about and how early adopters of the standard are using it to improve their manufacturing processes and yields.
Tell me about the origin of CoreTigo, how did the company get its start?
Our two company founders are veterans of the wireless market. Our CEO ran the wireless business unit for Texas Instruments, and our VP of R&D spent time designing and developing wireless solutions at both Texas Instruments and Apple. As wireless experts, they both saw a void in the industrial market for mission-critical wireless networks. Typical wireless networks, such as Zigbee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, are not designed for meeting the harsh demands at the control, or actuator, level of factory automation. In these environments, machines require low latency, cable-grade reliability, and a deterministic and scalable network to manage dozens of devices within a machine area.
Based on these needs, our founders approached the IO-Link Consortium, and along with its members defined the IO-Link Wireless protocol, a new reliable wireless communication solution tailored for factory automation. With that vision in mind, CoreTigo was able to secure $14 million in Series A funding in 2018, and the IO-Link Wireless standard was officially launched in 2018 with the support of the consortium and many key industrial leading companies.
How are industrial companies using the new wireless protocol?
Machine builders, industrial equipment manufacturers and manufacturing plants are starting to use the protocol across many industrial applications where cabled systems were previously used, which greatly improves the flexibility and agility of the machinery and reduces complexity. Popular areas where IO-Link Wireless solutions are being deployed include transport track systems to reduce changeover and tooling setup time, rotating and dynamic components to add intelligence, machine retrofitting and condition monitoring for pressure, level and flow sensors and end-of-arm devices, such as grippers or vacuum pumps, on robots and collaborative robots to improve flexibility and reduce complexity.
What are the major drivers for industrial connectivity?
Industry 4.0 is the underlying macro trend driving many of the IIoT demands. Companies are seeing the convergence of information technology (IT) with operational factory floor technology and are assessing ways to update their systems and gain major efficiencies. Industrial giants are looking for ways to improve functionality of existing and aging equipment without adding more cables. As we often hear in the industry, cables are the enemy of flexibility and modularity. At the same time, companies are looking to simplify processes while increasing efficiencies as much as possible, and wireless connectivity helps them do this effectively and design new solutions and machines that were not feasible beforehand with cables.
How does Silicon Labs fit into your technology offering?
We are currently using low-power EFR32 Wireless Gecko modules within our TigoAir Low Power modules, which extends IO-Link Wireless to support low power applications even with batteries with a lifetime of 5-10 years. The IO-Link Wireless stack for devices is ready for stack integration with other vendors of industrial equipment and devices. We have plans to eventually deploy Wireless Gecko technology across all of our other solutions. An FCC/CE certified radio module will be ready by the end of the year, thus enabling smoother and faster integrations. Silicon Labs gives us the low-power processing and connectivity we need without adding another MCU or wireless SoC to the architecture, reducing our costs and footprint and keeping the design simple. Silicon Labs’ global support teams in France and Israel. have also provided us great support.
Where do you see IIoT going in the next 5-8 years?
I see a great deal of potential in the future to reduce the complexity associated with industrial manufacturing. Finding easier ways to extract data flow information from industrial processes and connect it with enterprise systems can deliver major efficiency gains for industrial operators. Many companies struggle with successfully pulling data out of the factory floor and visually seeing areas of improvement with enterprise technologies. Then when it’s time to make the improvements, it’s just as difficult to integrate intelligence back onto the factory floor. This is where IoT technology stands to make a tremendous positive impact on the industrial market.