Posted IoT Hero M2COMM Leads the Way in IoT Intelligent Retail and Logistics on Blog
In recent years, the growing wave of Internet of Things (IoT) applications has spread to many highly specialized market segments, including industrial automation, intelligent retail, intelligent logistics, and intelligent transportation, which are all blue ocean markets with high expectations. However, the solutions needed for these various segments have something in common: they all require a very stable and secure network architecture with multiple nodes and low power consumption.
To overcome this complex technical challenge, M2COMM, a leading provider of low power consumption IoT communication technologies, has developed its own proprietary protocol, called Platanus. Boasting a battery life of 5-10 years, Platanus provides a reliable network physical layer solution for intelligent retail and logistics systems by taking advantage of outstanding RF sensitivity and linearity technologies and ultra-low power consumption EZRadio PRO series Sub-GHz RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. This protocol is poised to greatly accelerate the commercialization of IoT technologies.
We were given an opportunity recently to interview Dr. Derrick Wei, CEO of M2COMM. We asked for his observations on specialized IoT applications and overall technological developments to help us see IoT business opportunities from another angle.
Please tell us about your experience and unique perspective regarding the IoT market and product design.
IoT is an application concept involving many fields, with high vertical integration and highly compatible software and hardware. People started discussing IoT as early as 2008, but the IoT market is still in its infancy. Compared to IoT applications in consumer electronics, such as wearable devices and B2C business models, I think it is easy to see the commercial value of specialized IoT market segments, including logistics, retail, industrial and B2B applications, and they are very likely to take off rapidly.
The key problem in IoT applications is the stability and reliability of the network physical layer, which is even more important for system integrators and service vendors in certain market segments. M2COMM, ever since its initial involvement in the IoT market, has targeted the intelligent retail and logistics segments, which have highly anticipated business opportunities. It has specialized in overcoming various network communication protocol challenges, and developed a proprietary protocol which is highly reliable, supports massive numbers of nodes, and features low power consumption.
What sets M2COMM’s company culture apart, what makes its strategies unique in IoT markets?
M2COMM was founded in 2012. We specialize in developing unique, multifunctional WLAN and LPWAN wireless communication protocols with low power consumption. Currently, we have offices in Taiwan and France to provide products and technical support for our customers. Our mission is to use our solid technical foundation to create a highway for IoT applications so as to bring togehter our partners into a brand-new IoT era.
Just as IoT is an application concept with high vertical integration and mutually compatible software and hardware, naturally, team work and close cooperation becomes the company culture of M2COMM. Within the company, software and hardware developers must synchronize their steps, and software and hardware engineers must work closely together. Outside the company, we are eager to vertically cooperate with the value chain, from network communication protocols to wireless communication modules, end-user solutions, and cloud services, to co-build the IoT ecosystem.
M2COMM has already implemented its proprietary hive-type low power consumption communication protocol (Platanus) in the Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) system, and has developed Uplynx, a highly integrated wireless communication SoC for the Sigfox standard, which has greatly shortened the design time for manufacturers and achieved unprecedented success in the specialized intelligent retail market segment.
Tell us about the features and advantages of IoT products marketed by M2COMM and their benefits to IoT applications.
M2COMM has focused on mid-distance IoT (IoT LAN) and low power WAN (LPWAN) wireless communication technologies that both work in Sub-GHz frequency bands with or without authentication, ideal for connecting intelligent devices to the Internet. The LPWAN technology allows communication distances of several meters to 10 km, and offers the stability of a telecom network. The power consumption of IoT LAN is less than one-third that of Bluetooth Low Energy protocol, so you could say they are designed specifically for IoT use cases.
Recently, the Uplynx wireless communication chip M2COMM designed for the Sigfox standard passed Sigfox certification in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia, which is not only an important milestone for worldwide application of LPWAN communication chips, but also marks the beginning of the global adoption of a single IoT design.
Uplynx is a highly integrated wireless communication chip that is specifically designed for Sigfox and its ecosystem partners and vendors, fulfilling their requirements of low cost, low power consumption, and small size. Such requirements were consequently reflected in the reference designs for certification, in which Uplynx uses a quartz oscillator instead of TCXO to allow its output power to reach 22 dBM without any extra power amplifiers. What is more, the built-in powerful 32-bit micro-control unit (MCU), 128 KB flash and 24 KB RAM in this chip, with a size of only 7×7 mm, provide ample computation capacity and application flexibility for developers. In addition, system manufacturers can produce products for different regions by designing only one PCB board when using the certified Uplynx chip, which will greatly shorten the design time and reduce problems in product management.
Building on the above efforts and product lines, M2COMM has also developed ELSA, a wireless electronic shelf labeling system with the smallest size and lowest power consumption in the world, utilizing the EZRadio PRO series Sub-GHz RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. Not only can this product provide a battery life of over 50 years, but it also fulfills the requirements of networks with large numbers of nodes. We believe that it will be very popular in the retail and logistics segments for its small size makes it easy to install and maintain.
Using its hive-type communication protocol Platanus, M2COMM built the ELSA wireless electronic labeling system in 2014. It shows excellent performance in data transmission and ultra-low power consumption. The brand-new ELSA also performs better in terms of software and hardware compatibility, system stability, and multi-node management, thereby allowing corner retail shops to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of the Retail 4.0 era.
Among the new ELSA series of products, the ELSA integrated access point (iAP) is the world's smallest electronic labeling AP, with dimensions of 100 x 68 x 25 mm. The combination of a retail store’s intranet and an ELSA router (iRT) is all that is needed to manage all data transmissions effectively within 30,000 square meters, an area equal to six soccer fields, without needing to go through the store’s computer or other servers. The compact iAP provides an SD card slot on the side for backing up of the store's data, and a flexible magnet on the back for fast and easy installation.
Both iAP and iRT can operate in WiFi-only environments, and include backup batteries to maintain stable data transmission during power outages. However, the function of intelligent electronic labeling should not be limited to showing prices on demand or updating labels. ELSA also provides cloud applications to let business owners easily manage and monitor all their installed electronic labels, making retail business operation more immediate and efficient.
What Silicon Labs solutions are you using now? What specific functional advantages have they provided for your products?
We have adopted the EZRadioPRO series Si4460 and Si4464 RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. They operate in Sub-GHz bands of 119–1,050 MHz, performing excellently across many RF performance indicators, such as linearity and sensitivity.
Please share your views on the future of IoT and the future focus of M2COMM
We think the focus of IoT will be on business and industrial applications in the near future, such as intelligent logistics and intelligent retail and industrial automation. More and more B2B business models will surface in the IoT market. Today, the development of logistics in Mainland China is sophisticated. The next stage will be intelligent logistics applications for intelligent management and wireless ESL tracking, which will create another huge wave of business opportunities.
In terms of intelligent retail, ESL will play a key role in the Retail 4.0 revolution. ESL will not only allow store owners to update product prices instantly upon stock quantities and bidding status, but also significantly reduce human errors in updating prices. Store employees, therefore, can serve the customer more attentively to increase customer satisfaction.
For the convenience of more retail store owners, M2COMM’s ESL system can be integrated with all POS systems in the market. In addition, M2COMM's ESL system promises an over 5 years service life with just an ordinary button battery, and is a very sustainable and environment friendly solution. We are dedicated to providing the most excellent IoT solutions to our customers, enabling our clients and consumers to enjoy better retail environments and services.
In the next phase, we plan to expand the application of our proprietary wireless communication protocols, IoT SoC and modules, and wireless Electronic Shelf Label system into the new filed, the factory automation market.
Nov 08 2017, 4:04 PM
Posted Illuminating the Path to Health: IoT Hero Monitors Critical Vitamin D Intake with Style on Blog
We recently spoke with CEO Marina Nikeschina of e-Senses and Pim van der Meer, project lead development at HYB, a fresh team on the IoT scene that just celebrated its first birthday. e-Senses is focused on health and wellness and is determined to help people achieve the vitamin D levels they need in a way that’s never been done before - with a cutting-edge ring.
For folks just now hearing about you, tell us about your business; how did you get started?
Well, our original inspiration was actually due to a friend of the founders who had concerns about elderly patients. Essentially, in his research he realized that light had a profound effect on happiness and quality of life in the individuals he saw. Seniors who get outside are eating better, sleeping better, virtually everything better than people who stay inside. Older patients who are aren’t going outside, they get depressed, they get sick.
So he asked if it was possible to make something that you can put on people to see how much light they receive. Troubleshooting this idea, we realized that the only two parts of our body typically not completely covered in clothes as the seasons come and go are our face and hands. So we decided to make a ring, because a ring is one accessory that’s unisex and just not really intrusive for people to adopt. That’s how our Helios Smart Ring was born, and it’s the first vitamin D tracker in the world.
Starting out, we decided to look at a lot of medical studies about light, vitamin D, and sunlight. And we were surprised to learn about the many advantages you can get for free from the sunlight. So we ultimately decided to make a very serious product, not just a small, simple tool to measure basic light exposure, but a wearable device for everyone.
And we designed a corresponding app that helps breathe life into the data the ring collects; it has three modes or “coaches.” Mode one is a “Vitamin D Coach” that shows how much vitamin D you are absorbing every day from the sun by the minute. Mode two is the “Sunlight Coach” that helps measure the strength of the sun and tells you how long you can stay outside without any danger. Then we have a “Daylight Coach” mode that calculates the minimum amount of light that you need every day and displays in percentages how far along you are for your daily goal.
Tell us about some of the challenges you faced in developing such a small device. I know you had to hit some hurdles getting this much functionality out of such a small, unobtrusive object.
I would say we faced two main challenges in development. The first challenge was how to charge the device. The first prototypes used contact points for charging, but the low pressure on the charging pins that the limited weight of the ring gives will result in bad contact due to corrosion of the contact points. So we retooled the ring to have its own charging coil inside and make the charging process exclusively wireless, eliminating that issue entirely.
Secondly, achieving a long battery life was challenging. Our initial goal was to have at least a 24-hour battery life, but our initial prototypes were only holding a four- to six-hour charge. That obviously wasn’t acceptable to us. After what could only be described as a bout of sheer obsession to solve this problem, a very talented engineer got the battery life up to two to three days of wear, which we’re really pleased with because of the ease of use that grants our users.
Well, we think this is a really amazing health application. Can you also tell us what Silicon Labs products are you using in the Helios and why?
In your view, what does the future of IoT look like in the next 5–8 years given your experience?
It’s obviously been amazing to witness how widespread the IoT has become now that network and power solutions have evolved to allow so many product designs actually come to life. That said, what we most hope to see is that we don’t overly automate the human experience itself. Such as with the Smart Home concept, it’s great that you can open and close a window and control a thermostat remotely—those are things that can save energy costs and add a level of convenience that is enriching for an end-user. But there is no reason to automate someone’s blankets being rolled off of them in the morning or every other small detail of every daily routine in life. We hope that the IoT’s biggest gains will be rooted in truly enriching people’s lives and health in ways that can matter the most.
Nov 08 2017, 4:04 PM
Posted IoT Hero Nanoleaf Breaks Down Barriers Between Doing Good, Looking Good, and Feeling Good on Blog
Tell us a little about Nanoleaf; how do you describe your work to people?
Your award-winning design work certainly speaks for itself. How did you even begin to approach smart lighting in the way that you do? You’re very unique.
Despite the distance, we kept in touch. And more important, we kept trying to brainstorm ways we could work together again, what we could try and make together that was completely different. Because that’s another one of our drivers: we want to make things that just don’t exist in the market. After many late-night Skype sessions, we landed on lighting as a great way to contribute to sustainability.
Our first product we made together was actually a standard light bulb, but it was actually the most energy-efficient light bulb in the world; and we actually still offer a Classic Series of light bulb technology. But then the market demands of the IoT called us, and the necessity to play in a system where people could control their light bulbs, and where the light bulbs could talk to other devices as needed—that’s what we dove into.
Our forays into the IoT spaces included the Smarter Kit we crowd-funded on Indiegogo—an Apple HomeKit-compatible offering. It was outfitted with a Nanoleaf Hub that allowed integration with Apple and a Nanoleaf Smart Ivy bulb. The Smart Ivy bulb still has more power than any other smart bulb on the market today. It’s a 60W equivalent bulb that uses only 7.5W of energy to produce 800 Lumens, and we managed to give it an Art Deco design no one had ever seen before in a light bulb.
And our newest product offering is the Nanoleaf Aurora. It’s a set of modular LED panels that truly lets people customize and illuminate their space in ways that simply weren't possible before. You can control it and customize it completely to your taste and space—even with your voice. The Aurora was largely inspired by the idea of recreating natural light, so that people could experience the same warm soothing qualities indoors as well—especially during winter when there’s less sunlight hours.
And what’s next for Nanoleaf? Where do you see Smart Lighting itself heading?
Can you elaborate on your approximating a candle comment? That’s intriguing.
What Silicon Labs product are you using at Nanoleaf, and why did you go with it?
I will also genuinely say that we’ve truly valued our partnership with Silicon Labs. Our R&D team has spent time with your R&D teams. The environment is collaborative with an openness to help each other and share knowledge. This kind of collaboration has helped us push boundaries and reach our goals. It’s been a trusted, pivotal partnership in my mind.
Where do you see the collective IoT heading in the next 5–8 years in your opinion given your overall exposure to the space?
Nov 08 2017, 4:04 PM
Posted IoT Hero: ASUS Builds Smart Home System Solutions on Blog
We had the valuable opportunity to interview ASUSTeK Computer (ASUS)—an internationally-known technology company. We spoke with Yeh Ching-hsin, a senior manager of Smart Home Marketing at ASUS New Product Planning, to learn how ASUS expanded its business to include Smart Home devices in the IoT market and other new business opportunities through its experience and technology in ODM and brand management. We also discussedSilicon Labs’ reliable ZigBee® wireless protocol software and hardware solutions.
“IoT is rapidly growing, and Smart Home has the most potential,” says Yeh Ching-hsin, a senior manager of Smart Home Marketing at ASUS New Product Planning.
Please tell us about your experience and thoughts in regards to the IoT market and product design.
There are various applications in the IoT market. If we use consumers’ future demands as the main observation indicator, we can see that there is a very large potential demand for family applications. Therefore, when developing its new IoT business, ASUS sets Smart Home applications as its primary goal in order to adapt to the market.
Smart Home product design can be divided into Point Product and Whole Home Solution. The former is single-function products such as IP CAM, and the latter is a complete system. Typically, Point Product focuses on “N+1” function innovation, while Whole Home Solution focuses on the “N2.”
For that reason, ASUS not only brings Point Product innovations, but understands the great value Whole Home Solution can bring to the customers. ASUS has recently launched a set of ASUS Smart Home System solutions based on Smart Gateway, including smart electronic door locks, smart sockets, door and window opening/closing sensors, smart alarms, temperature and humidity detectors, motion sensors, and other devices. All these products support the ZigBee Mesh Network as the main home backbone network, creating a vertical integration system from the cloud to the device.
In addition, the system can work with software, expand to different IoT application markets, and provide comprehensive Smart Home services. Such a complete system solution can be used as the core technology and demonstration solution in the future Smart Home industry.
ASUS Smart Home System Concept Map
Please tell us about the ASUS company culture and its strategies in the IoT market.
The ASUS culture is striving to be “unparalleled” and “the most admired company in the digital age,” as our Chairman Shih often stresses. With such core values, ASUS not only competes in the IoT market with its Smart Home system solutions, but also applies its values in product design and strives to provide highest-quality products and best user experience.
In the current IoT market, many different standards exist and compete against each other, and there is not one mainstream standard yet. In order to meet the current needs of IoT market development in this chaos, ASUS sticks to its main product development strategy, which is “maintaining flexible design architecture and integrating international mainstream technologies.”
In terms of the ASUS Smart Home System, the development strategies not only include individual product innovation, but also vertical integration, horizontal expansion, and providing services. For example, the ASUS Smart Home System is the first complete Smart Home solution to integrate the industry standards of home appliances in Taiwan. This provides an additional option for electricity power distribution during Taiwan's summer peak load period by integrating the Smart Home system with the national electricity energy program.
Derived from Smart Home, this innovative application will have significant impact on the whole IoT industry from inside to outside and from small points to large areas. It not only helps individual families enjoy a smart life, but also provides to the government an additional energy control option other than electrical energy resource development.
Please tell us about the features and benefits of the ASUS Smart Home System.
In the Smart Home IoT applications, the ASUS Smart Home System can provide various smart network application services, including home automation, security, power saving, environmental comfort detection, and video streaming. The overall system solution has the following main features:
The ASUS Smart Home System supports a wide range of applications
What made you choose Silicon Labs as your semiconductor partner?
In ASUS Smart Home System devices, we’ve widely adopted Silicon Labs’ ZigBee solution to achieve a reliable and seamless ZigBee mesh network connection and ensure the best user experience for home network and link stability while connecting a large number of IoT devices.
As mentioned earlier, it’s essential for a Smart Home to provide a stable, reliable network. And Silicon Labs has extensive experience in ZigBee protocol wireless semiconductor solutions and provides high-quality products, as well as complete hardware and software technical support. That’s why ASUS chose Silicon Labs as its partner.
In fact, Silicon Labs is a leading provider of ZigBee and Thread wireless mesh network semiconductor solutions, and it can provide the latest-generation standard ZigBee/Thread wireless system-on-chip (SoC), modules, software development tools, and a full range of IoT reference designs for home automation and intelligent lighting applications.
Silicon Labs’ ZigBee platform is a highly integrated and complete solution with rich features. Silicon Labs has also recently announced the industry-first EFR32TM Wireless Gecko multi-protocol wireless SoC products. Based on a 2.4 GHz transceiver and ARM® Cortex™-M4 microcontrollers, EFR32 Mighty Gecko SoC integrates the most reliable, scalable, and advanced software protocol stacks with best-in-class development tool support. And it can at the same time meet the design requirements of ZigBee, Thread, Bluetooth Smart, and exclusive protocols.
Introduction to wireless Gecko multi-protocol wireless SoC series products
Importantly, Silicon Labs also provides complete, optimized, easy-to-use ZigBee home automation and lighting application reference designs for Connected Home applications. Based on the ZigBee HA 1.2 profile, it helps simplify the ZigBee wireless mesh network design complexity and minimize power consumption.
Please tell us about your opinion on IoT development and also the future of the IoT market in mainland China and Taiwan.
The IoT market has a very large potential. For IoT, the most important thing is the “standard.” Currently, there are a lot of IoT platform standards available in the market competing for their IoT market share. However, the companies who want to enter the market aren't sure what to choose among such a large number of standards.
This holds back the market development. The IoT challenge does not come mainly from technology, but rather from the communications between cross-industry standards. Therefore, developers hope to have an integrated mainstream standard in different application areas as soon as possible. This will make the entire IoT application market grow rapidly.
As global giants focus on building IoT platforms, Chinese companies also place an emphasis on it. For example, Tencent introduced an open IoT platform, “QQ IoT,” and Alibaba also launched the overall IoT strategy this year in order to build an IoT platform by integrating Ali Cloud, Ali Smart, YunOS, and other business areas. In addition, telecoms carriers are also developing their IoT strategies. The mainland China market is large enough to form a standard for its own platform, which is a development indicator that the industry must pay attention to.
As for Taiwan, due to its strong upstream and downstream electronics industry chain, it will play an important role in the global IoT supply chain. The Taiwan market is not big in itself, but complete integrated solutions can be built for different application areas and then be tested in its market before exporting total solutions to other countries. As a result, Taiwan not only provides the IoT components, but also provides total solutions to enhance its value and competitiveness.
Nov 08 2017, 4:03 PM
Posted University of Antwerp Professor Uses IoT as Inspiration for Coursework on Blog
I recently had the opportunity to interview Professor Maarten Weyn at the University of Antwerp. If I ever choose to go back to school, I hope my professors are just like him. Here’s why:
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your method of teaching as a professor.
While starting as a researcher, and later as a professor, I was always inspired by the real-world challenges embedded device companies face. In academia and research, you aren’t as obliged to follow the design requirements and user expectations of the industrial world. This is why I want to combine academic with industrial innovation. I don’t want to be a professor that is disconnected from the industry.
I use industrial challenges as inspiration in my curriculum at the Applied Engineering Department of the University of Antwerp and my research within iMinds/MOSAIC group. I ask students to build IoT prototypes combining different sensors, actuators, and communication technologies while taking into account things like low power consumption, form factor limitations, and communications regulations.
How did you get into IoT?
The funny thing is while I was studying as a graduate student, I was doing sensor fusion and programming, yet I tried to avoid all things electronics. But once I became a professor, I realized that once you combine hardware, software, and communication, you can do very interesting work. Designing IoT devices combines all of those disciplines and this appealed to me.
Tell me more about what students can expect in your classes.
In most of my courses, instead of starting my lectures with theory, I start by asking students to find embedded design applications online: they must come back to class with videos, blogs, and forum posts that capture examples of real-world challenges. And they, themselves, must find examples of real-world solutions. In this way, they help design my curriculum. They decide what problems to address and they find the solutions. Together, as a class, we spend time discussing the concepts and theory behind them.
Here’s what I want my students to learn: when designing for embedded IoT, it’s not just a matter of acquiring data and sending it somewhere. They need to think about other design requirements such as energy consumption. How should this device be powered? Will it be a continuous load or pulsed load?
To make things even more challenging, I have them take into consideration environmental challenges, like perhaps designing a water sampling system. Can it fit into a small form factor? Can it survive extreme conditions under water? Ultimately, I imagine students appreciate this learning style.
Sounds like students can get really creative with their design solutions. How do you outfit your lab with the right tools?
We need tools that can be used for a variety of applications and designs, especially when designing for the IoT. We took this into consideration a few years ago when our legacy tools approached end of life; we needed something new.
Through cooperation with another tech company, we had worked on a project using Silicon Labs’ Gecko products around that time. In our case, our learning curve with the Gecko was much shorter than others we had worked with. On top of that, it wasn’t difficult to port our existing APIs from other hardware platforms to the Gecko. It met our requirements for low power and wireless communication, so we adopted it.
Today, our lab is built around the Gecko architecture. We give students their own development tools which include a Gecko development kit with integrated power measurement, sensors and actuators, and an USB scope and logic analyzer. In this way, they have their own individual lab and all for a limited amount of money.
How do you think your students are prepared for the real-world when they graduate from your curriculum?
Most of them already have signed contracts before they graduate. Companies come to us to recruit our students because of their versatility. So yes, I’d say my students are very prepared.
Can you share some of the cool solutions you are working on/have worked on?
An example of some researcher and student prototypes is the DASH7 (a sub-1 Ghz Active RFID/WSN communication technology) extension for tablets to enable accurate localization in a museum. This allows the museum to offer a smart, location-based tour guide for their visitors.
In another interesting project, we built a prototype for bird tracker that weighs less than one gram.
In another application, students built an underwater device for water quality management.
Students are currently working on a version of this device based on the EFM32 Happy Gecko Starter Kit.
Another prototype we have built is a smart badge for events and conferences.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to wide-spread IoT development?
Time! IoT is happening today, but there is a huge battle around what will become THE IoT platform standard. More and more, people are understanding that there cannot and will not be one defacto standard. We must create solutions which are agnostic to multiple technologies.
I also believe that most applications need a winning combination of technologies. There currently is a big gap between IoT prototypes which you see every day on the internet and real products. This is mainly because to make this transition, for example, power consumption, network architecture, and price becomes very important. A good prototype will never become a product if there is not a matching business model.
And lets not even start the discussion of privacy and security at this moment; that might require another interview session of its own. But for now, as long as developers think about privacy in the initial phases of design, hopefully we can solve this issue as well.
What does the future of IoT look like?
The future of IoT is one without IoT. Connected objects will become so ubiquitous and such a commodity that we will not think about the fact that they are objects and that they are connected. It will be obvious that information from sensor, actuators, devices, people, and services are used together to control, monitor, and maintain daily applications.
Nov 08 2017, 4:02 PM
Posted IoT Hero Revolar: Keeping Loved Ones Safe with the Tap of a Button on Blog
Silicon Labs recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrea Perdomo to discuss the personal safety company she co-founded, Revolar. Perdomo, who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia as a child, shares her personal inspiration behind the product and explains some of the design challenges she experienced launching a simple yet powerful IoT technology that alerts loved ones if the user is in danger.
Can you tell us a little bit about your company Revolar?
Revolar is a personal safety technology company. We created a small device that you clip onto your clothing, key chain, handbag, etc. The device is for those moments where you just need to connect with your loved one. The device is connected to your phone via Bluetooth. There are three different alert levels. The first is a “hey, I’m home or I’m safe” alert. Two clicks is a yellow alert, which is for when you are uncomfortable or just want someone to be with you virtually. And the third alert is for full blown emergencies. We launched our first product in 2015 and launched the new version in April of this year.
What prompted you to create the technology and the company?
My co-founder, Jackie Ros, and I were close friends before we started the company together. Jackie’s younger sister was the ultimate inspiration for Revolar. Her sister was assaulted twice by the age of 17. In both circumstances, her sister didn’t have time to reach for her phone and call for help. Jackie wanted to create a magic button that her sister could press that would let people know where she was and that she needed help. And that’s pretty much what we did. We realized nothing like this existed yet. There were products such as Life Alert and 24/7 trackers for your kids, but nothing in the middle. We had no technology background at all, but we figured out how to do it.
I’m originally from Colombia and I moved to the U.S. for safety and security reasons after my grandmother was kidnapped for eight months. She’s OK now, but if she would have had Revolar, we would have known her last whereabouts and known something was wrong. Then we could have started looking sooner. Instead, we went a whole month without knowing where she was.
What were the circumstances? Was she held for ransom?
Yes, ransom. It was back in the 90s – everybody was getting kidnapped left and right. And my Dad said, “This is it, we can’t live here anymore.” So I’ve been surrounded by the mentality of “stay safe” or “don’t talk to strangers.” Moving to the U.S., it’s definitely safer here. But at the same time, Revolar is for those moments where you just can’t predict it. We started Revolar in Denver – just the two of us – and we slowly grew our team. I went to business school and I’ve always said you don’t know how to start your own business until you do it. We eventually figured it out and found a team of advisors and investors who believed in what we were doing.
What kind of stories and feedback have you received from the users?
We have learned that our customer base is broad – we have male and female users from every age group above 13 years old. So customization of the experience is important. Not everybody is the same – a red alert for one person might be totally different for someone who has food allergies versus someone who is a runner. So we started enhancing our software. Now users can customize messages and change contacts for each alert level. We also learned that people were using Revolar just on the weekends or when they thought something would happen. So in our new version we created ways people can use the device regularly and not just when they need it. For example, the new version will beep so you can find your keys or phone. We also activated step-tracking for active users who want to use Revolar to count steps.
That’s great you’re learning how people are really using it.
Interestingly enough, people are using it for reasons that I never thought of. I kid you not, I know people are using it to let friends know what bar they’re at. Or if they go on a hike, they use it to show people what hike they went on. Or they take check-ins while they are shopping to remember where they were.
Is there a way to aggregate the data about where people of certain ages congregate or use their devices most frequently?
When we talk to police or governing bodies of cities or universities, we always get that question. They say, “You’re telling me that we will know when people are feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable?” A perfect example is if we’re getting a bunch of yellow or red alerts from a certain fraternity at a college campus. We know a lot of this information is sensitive and personal to our customers and we want to respect everyone’s privacy. But at the same time, if we can get our users to let us know why they are using Revolar, we can help people in the future.
Can you tell us about the process of building the device?
Our proof of concept was built by an engineer we contracted with in Colorado. Within three months, we had a functioning prototype. It was jankie and we had to unplug it to set off the alert. We also had to convert our phones to Androids because that was the only way to build the app. We later brought on an advisor who was both an electrical and a mechanical engineer. In two weeks, he built the prototype we ended up using in the first version of our product. We then found an industrial designer to contract for us and that part was fun – making sure the design was pretty. Once we started the manufacturing process, our contract manufacturer brought on the CTO and started putting all of the pieces together.
Was the design of the product a challenge since it hadn’t been done before? Or was it a process smooth?
Oh, no. It was really hard. I remember every engineer I talked to said “Oh, that’s easy, we can do that.” But then there was always something. One of the challenges was size. The battery life was another challenge. And the button, making sure the button was concave enough to remove the risk of false alerts. And features – there were so many features we wanted, but we couldn’t compromise the size or battery life. Initially, we thought it would be a great idea to have four buttons. Then we learned how much it would cost and how much it would drain the battery. Most of the Bluetooth chips that existed at the time powered cell phones or sent messages with high-bandwidth, and we didn’t need all of that. We ended up going with Bluetooth Low Energy because everything else would have taken longer to make. It took us over a year to have the final product.
What specific Silicon Labs products are in the device?
The Wireless Blue Gecko SoC. The product helped us achieve a longer battery life and create our small form factor.
Where do you see IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
I think we’re going to start seeing people consolidate IoT. Especially as we hear people say they don’t want to charge another thing – they want devices to do multiple things. Most people have no idea what IoT means – I’d say 80 percent of the world or more. I still run across people who don’t know what Bluetooth is – or what a wearable is. So although technology is moving fast, there is still a big gap in education. I also think we’ll see wearables and IoT in places that you would never imagine, such as clothing and handbags. I believe tech will become fashion. Probably not in the next 5-8 years, but in the next 20.
Oct 28 2017, 12:12 PM
Posted IoT Hero Q-Free Moves Excess Traffic Off-Road by Helping People Park Faster on Blog
Intelligent transportation system provider Q-Free has been working in the transportation management market for the past 30 years. Based in Norway, the global company plans to roll out a new parking IoT product this fall. According to an INRIX study published in USA Today, American drivers spend 17 hours a year searching for parking spots and a whopping $20 billion annually in garage fees, parking tickets, and fuel burned while searching for a spot. Silicon Labs recently had the chance to sit down with Q-Free Project Manager, Brage Blekken, to hear more about the new sensor parking product.
So for people not familiar with Q-Free, can you give us a brief overview of the company?
Q-Free delivers a broad portfolio of intelligent transportation systems for the global market. Our systems include solutions for electronic road tolling (DSRC systems), vehicle counters and classifiers, traffic control and surveillance technologies, and parking management solutions. Our product installations can be found in more than 20 countries around the world.
How did the company get started?
Our company started in the eighties after building electronic toll collection technologies in Norway. Since then, we have greatly expanded our product offering to include numerous intelligent transportation technologies, with recent expansions into Europe, Asia, South America, and we are now entering North America. We’ve built some of the largest nationwide road tolling systems found in the world today.
Can you tell us a little bit about your parking sensor technology?
We actually used technology from our toll road technology products and applied it to our parking sensors. Over the past five years, we’ve been offering indoor parking technology, which are systems you find in indoor parking lots, such as shopping malls. These systems hang over the parking space to detect, track, and monitor parked cars.
Now what is the IoT parking technology you are planning to launch later this year? How does it work?
Our new smart parking sensor product helps users find parking spots on the street level by using wireless technology. Most people don’t know this, but typically 20 percent of the traffic on the roads in an urban area is generated from people looking for parking spots. So our product is essentially removing excess traffic off the roads, which is Q-Free’s primary mission as a company – remove the Q’s (vehicle flow), or the excess traffic flow on the road.
The product uses radar-based technology to sense with 99% accuracy whether a vehicle is present in a parking space. The sensor transmits the information regarding parking space availability using Narrow Band (NB) IoT communications, which can be sent to a variety of outputs, such as Variable Message Signs located near the parking site, and it can also go straight to end-users through websites or mobile phone applications. The neat thing about NB-IoT is it allows everyday objects to have Internet connectivity to communicate their status and needs with end users.
Is there a product like this on the market right now already?
The parking sensors currently out there today have an accuracy limitation, which can negatively impact a person’s parking experience. Our new parking NB-IoT product greatly improves the accuracy of the parking guidance for users. We also have a rock solid dual communication interface, which is a real edge for us because it gives sensors the ability to communicate directly over the existing 4G telecom networks or proprietary ISM radio whenever needed. The NB-IoT product uses existing communication infrastructure, which will be a huge step in the right direction towards realizing next generation smarter city connectivity.
What Silicon Labs product is used in this product?
The Silicon Labs EZR32 Wonder Gecko MCU is used for both sensing and wireless communication.
What kind of design challenges did you have when creating the product?
The combination of the high accuracy components with extreme low power consumption was our primary challenge when building this product.
The sensor is expected to live for a minimum of 10 years without swapping batteries. This means we cannot afford to use more than a few microamperes on average while maintaining the high performance data link and intensive signal processing required to operate the radar circuits.
We also have been an early adopter of the NB-IoT standard. Since last autumn, one of the world’s first live mobile networks was built right outside of our headquarters in Trondheim, Norway. I’ll say that was a truly exciting moment when this ultra-low power sensor got access to the powerful 4G network using no more battery resources than a normal Bluetooth connection would have required.
Can you tell us why you picked Silicon Labs as the supplier?
The main challenges for us in building this product were related to extreme low power consumption. Silicon Labs is one of the top players in the world for low power electronics, and also wireless communications components. That’s the main reason we selected Silicon Labs, you have the top solutions for our specific design challenges that help us design the right product for the market.
Where do you see IoT in the next 5-8 years?
Look at Internet access on cell phones – everyone has it now, though that was not the case 5 or 10 years ago. I think IoT will definitely go the same way as mobile phones - everything in our lives will all be connected to the Internet. And people will not be thinking about the technology behind it, they will just expect it to be there.
That means that we as solution providers need to converge towards standards for wireless IoT connectivity, which ensures easy interoperability between devices and online services. My bet is that the new low power IoT standards, NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1, which right now are being released into existing 4G and the upcoming 5G networks, will be one of the standardized ways to connect our devices to the Internet.
Oct 28 2017, 12:12 PM
Posted Join Us to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims on Blog
Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit Texas in 50 years, wreaked havoc on Friday. The area of Texas that's currently underwater is comparable to the distance between New York and Boston. And the worst is yet to come.
Now a Tropical Storm, Harvey will continue to devastate this large geography for the next several days, delivering as much as another 30 inches of rain and producing destructive tornadoes.
Walking around the Silicon Labs headquarters in Austin today, it was impossible not to stop and talk about the devastation impacting fellow employees, family and friends who live and work in Harvey's destructive path.
Thousands are without power and stranded in their homes. Major roads flooded, rail lines shut down, and schools, airports, hospitals, and nursing facilities closed – and the storm isn’t over yet.
During this challenging and emotional time, we need to come together as a community. Businesses, government agencies, non-profits, faith-based organizations, and others must contribute and coordinate emergency relief efforts to help as many people as quickly as possible.
"I am calling upon other technology community leaders in Austin to make sure Harvey’s impact is met with an equally strong response – a commitment to provide disaster relief, infrastructure repair, and help rebuild lives and our economy in the wake of this storm," said John Hollister, Silicon Labs CFO and chair elect of the Red Cross Central Texas board of directors. "Silicon Labs is donating $50,000 to the Red Cross for disaster relief and will match contributions up to $2000/employee."
How You Can Help
We must do everything possible to support our communities during this natural disaster.
How Your Donations Will Make an Impact
We will feel the devastating aftermath of this storm for years to come, so please continue to provide your time, talents, and financial resources to help.
Oct 28 2017, 12:12 PM
Posted Smart Jewelry: IoT Hero WiseWear Takes Safety Wearables to the Next Level on Blog
Silicon Labs had the opportunity to sit down recently with our customer Jerry Wilmink, CEO and Founder of WiseWear. With a Ph.D. in optical-sensing and biomedical engineering, Wilmink built a company that creates connected IoT devices that can predict, prevent and alert users in times of potential danger.
Can you tell me about where the idea for the WiseWear application came from?
In 2010, I lost my grandfather shortly after he fell in his home and never recovered from the fall. After the loss, I asked the CTO of the Air Force if I could get a bunch of smart people to come to my house in San Antonio and build a product that could predict and prevent this from happening in the future. We built a bio-sensing hearing aid that could detect and alert a senior when they were dehydrated or when their gate or balance was off. With this prototype in hand, I completed an executive MBA at the University of Texas and put together a business plan. After winning several competitions with the prototype, I decided to build a business. So I cleaned out my retirement account and started WiseWear in 2013.
We’re now making a whole family of connected safety and security devices that keep everyone in your family safe and secure. We launched our first consumer product last year at CES where we actually fused advanced-antenna technology and sensors for safety and security into a jewelry offering. We’re now making a standalone connected device using low-power and a wide access network with extended battery life that does not require a cellular connection for children’s health & safety.
So you were able to marry your personal interests with your background. Tell me about some of your design challenges. What were some of the hurdles you had to make? Especially around the design to create something that people want to wear.
We are primarily technologists with an eye for design, but we ended up partnering with Iris Apfel, former interior designer for the White House and a bunch of New York-based jewelry executives. We had them fly down to San Antonio in the initial product design meeting, given we didn’t know what jewelry should look like. They flew down and it was like the Devil Wears Prada visits the nerds. We sat at the table and fused together these two worlds of fashion and engineering. And we had a tug of war about what’s possible and what’s not possible in terms of form factors. The thing about connected technology design is the product is never done – you’re always updating firmware and apps. But in fashion, once the product is made, it’s done.
The challenges of this process were significant because this was the first kind of fused jewelry with sensors and electronics. Most wearables are made of plastics or elastomers or use a watch screen to transmit the signals through. Our patented technology allowed us to transmit the Bluetooth signals right through the metal material.
Was there any distortion or does that impact the signal at all?
Yes, but we have two patents to address this problem. For Bluetooth, we’re actually seeing the range from the bracelet to the phone is actually further than the phone to the bracelet, so the antenna works quite well, including distances of 50-70 feet. Manufacturing is a whole different challenge because we had to manufacture the jewelry piece with extensive orders for jewelry cuts. The cuts had to be precise enough that we could fuse the sensors and electronics into the jewelry piece while keeping quality and high fidelity signals.
I imagine size was an issue when getting the right components, such as sensors and chips?
Yes, we developed custom designs to get the right chips and components. We actually have one of the smallest boards inside any wearable. We couldn’t use anything that was off the shelf in terms of a complete board, so we had to design our custom builds with the antenna inside.
Tell me about how Silicon Labs got involved? What was it about our products that stood out over the competition?
You guys make the best components. Right now we’re using the Wonder Gecko 32-bit MCU and in some of our products going forward we’re going to be using even more of your components. We’ve always loved working with Silicon Labs and your components are just always the best that we come across in the industry. Given that we make a whole array and family of different types of products and services, Silicon Labs always seems to have some of the best in terms of quality and price.
Where do you see connectivity and IoT heading in the next 5 years?
Technology continues to gets closer to the body as we move from desktops, to laptops, to wearables, to smart apparel, to implantables - technology is invading us. The connectivity part is really the hot button item because the natural take on a wearable device is to just throw a CDMA or GSM chip in anything and connect it to the Internet. The reality is that’s like putting a gaming laptop on your wrist – it’s not a smart decision in terms of battery life or the utility of that connected product. So we’re starting to use low-power, wide access networks and make products that can connect at a very low cost.
Also, I’m pretty bullish on the development of smart apparel products for physiological monitoring and safety and security. I think that’s going to the next very important move before we get to implantables.
The technology design transitions we are seeing today can be likened to the transition of matter as it moves from a solid to a liquid to a gas. The initial smart phone and wearables were clunky looking, sort of like an ice cube. And now they’re starting to turn into a liquid and follow form factors that are more ascetically appealing and wearable. Then it turns into a gas and it’s ubiquitous, right?
Oct 28 2017, 12:12 PM
Posted IoT Hero Deep Freeze Fishing: Taking Customers out of the Cold on Blog
We had a wonderful opportunity to speak with Brad Zdroik, Founder of Deep Freeze Fishing. A leader in the emerging IoT development occurring in the outdoor sports market, Deep Freeze Fishing helps fishermen and women avoid the cold while ice fishing by providing an alert system for their lines, freeing them to monitor catches from afar.
So for people not acquainted with Deep Freeze Fishing, tell us about yourself. What’s the elevator pitch explanation of what you do?
How does BlueTipz work exactly? What’s going on under the hood?
BlueTipz also allows you to be much more flexible during night fishing. Not only do we have a light on the tip-up that lights up, but you can also name individual tip-ups within the app so you know exactly which one has gotten a strike; it definitely saves you some stumbling around in the cold and dark. That’s a great benefit especially in the states that allow you have up to 10–15 lines going at once.
And what’s the story of how you arrived at a solution for ice fishing diehards? It’s definitely a unique niche. How did Deep Freeze Fishing even come about?
Around the same time, smartphone apps were beginning to ramp up, and there were a couple other products beginning to hit the market that provided tip-up alerts. But my brother Ryan and I weren’t crazy about any of them and thought they could work much, much better. So we decided to build our own, and that is how BlueTipz was born.
How would you say your solution has evolved since 2012 when you started out, as well as your design challenges over time?
We also have about a 600-foot range from BlueTipz to your phone, and that’s grown from our original capabilities. We’ve had to make sure the signal can make it through a typical fishing shack and the human body, so we’ve definitely invested in boosting the signal itself and always make sure the Bluetooth module can do its job.
What Silicon Labs’ product are you using in BlueTipz? And why did you select it?
What do see in the future for Deep Freeze Fishing?
In closing, we always ask our IoT Heroes one Bonus Question: Where do you see the collective IoT heading in the next 5–8 years in your opinion?
Oct 28 2017, 12:11 PM