Mister Beacon Episode #43

Beacon Gateways - Fathom

May 28, 2017

As the Beacosystem evolves to address the challenge of fleet management and embrace Real Time Location Systems, beacon gateways are becoming an important building block. Rather than focus on beacons Fathom has launched a gateway product that is designed to work with beacons from third parties. They just announced a partnership with Gimbal. Al Juarez describes Fathom's first deployment and an evolution from fleet management to RTLS location sensing using Angle of Arrival technology. For more interviews and articles from the author of Beacon Technologies see https://www.statlerconsulting....


  • Steve Statler 0:03

    Welcome back to the Mr. Beacon podcast. My name is Steve Statler of Statler Consulting, we do location aware solution design here. And this episode is episode number 43 of our podcast. And I'm really pleased this week we have Al Juarez of fathom. So Al, welcome to the show.

    Al Juarez 0:25

    Thank you very much, Steven. Glad happy to be here.

    Steve Statler 0:28

    Yeah, it was great to meet you in person we've kind of been chatting over the months. But we met at RFID world and we actually tried to record this in 360 degrees, but the sound was just terrible. And I'm actually I've I've agreed to take my 360 degree camera back. And I'm not giving up on the technology as a whole. But I just don't think that instantiation is the right one. I'm waiting for the iPhone support it. So those of you who've been frustrated by Weird distorted images of my interviewees. We're going back to normal now. And investing in in just focusing on getting decent sound. I've got to got my professional mic out here. So a few bits and pieces, we've got a lot of stuff coming up. So on the fifth, we actually have a big interview with the folks at Aruba, they've got a big announcement coming out then on the sixth, I'm going to be in Brussels at geo IoT, doing our masterclass which is kind of a reprise of what we did RFID Well, it's a whole day of nothing but beacons, but we're gonna have some demos added and everyone because it's a paid session, then everyone gets a copy of the book. And shipping those out as we speak to Brussels and the rest of the following two days are amazing. It's literally the best agenda I've seen of any conference. Bruce from grizzly Analytics has got his location testbed there, which is going to be really cool. And we've got some amazing sponsors for our masterclass Estimote, beacon, and HP Aruba. So, and last but not least, I'm going to be offsetting the carbon footprint of everyone that flies into Brussels for the session, so so no need to hold back if you're worried about your carbon footprint, because it's taking care of we're going to be planting some trees and putting up some windmills. So okay, enough of the chitchat, let's talk about fathom. And our thanks for coming back. Again, I did want to make do this conversation justice, because I think what you're doing is very important, I kind of think of this as the year of RTLs. And also the the year of the hub, the the bridge, the gateway, the receiver. And those are all terms that I would use to describe what you do, maybe we should kick off with you describing what you do.

    Al Juarez 2:59

    Yeah, so what we have is a, a Bluetooth RTLs system. And what we've done is we've created the Phantom hub, which is a cloud connected gateway has six directional antennas. And we're so we're listening to sweeping around 360. And using a grid of these hubs, we are able to return an xy coordinate with a timestamp to a pretty decent accuracy between two two and a half meters. So you know that in long and short of it is that that's what we can do with the Fathom hub with with either our tag, we will be releasing a tag in the second half of the year, or anybody else's tag. And that's really I think, where where we are differentiate ourselves a little bit, is that we'll use anybody else's tag as long as the tag has a good, has a good signal has a good clear signal that we can characterize. We're happy to use it.

    Steve Statler 3:57

    Well, you just announced a pretty big deal with one of the the other major players in this space. Can you tell us about that?

    Al Juarez 4:03

    Yeah, so we were talking to a gimbal last year. And one thing led to another and they have you know, we're we're actually working very closely with them on something that is still in stealth mode. We'll we'll we're doing testing with with one of their clients, but they've, they've got a need. They've got a lot of clients with a need for locating XY returning an xy coordinate for their tags. And so asset tracking people tracking whatever it might be. That's, that's something that we're looking forward to working with gimbal on I think we've got a got a great relationship with them. And I think that we're going to be able to do some really extraordinary things with them.

    Steve Statler 4:50

    Yeah, I mean, they've got some great beacon technology, and actually, you know, back in the day they had a prototype receiver themselves. So it's not like they haven't thought of this and they haven't spent some time in their sight, I actually think that's says a lot about what you guys are doing that they decided to work with you because they clearly looked at what they had and what you had and decided that it was better for them to focus on the beacons and to work with someone who's doing best of breed in terms of the gateway or antenna or receivers. And I think as more and more RTLs, asset tracking use cases start to come to the fore, then what you do is going to become increasingly important, what makes a good product in your space, what is different to what you do versus what other folks do?

    Al Juarez 5:45

    Our parent company we are, we have software that runs our x network. So we have software that runs and over a billion handsets, and it's about locating, it's, it's always been outdoor locating. And we do a lot of femoris assisted GNSS. So you know, taking about a guys that that really have spent a bulk of their last 1011 years, figuring out when what time to first fix on a satellite, when we're gonna see a satellite coming up over the horizon. That's a lot of math, that's a lot of high level math. And so we took a lot of that and applied that to the indoor locating, and we chose blue to them. I think what makes us different is the fact that a couple of things, the the grade, the quality grade of the located, locating technology, the algorithms that we've developed, and our go to market strategy is to integrate ourselves as part of a third party solution. So that's why we we've always gone out to the marketplace, or we envision ourselves going out to their marketplace, working with anybody's tag, not our own proprietary tag, not our own technology. But really using. I mean, we can track Fitbit, so we can track anything that's putting off a Bluetooth signal. So I think that's that's a key differentiating differentiator for ourselves. And

    Steve Statler 7:09

    I think the fact that you've got multiple antennas in that that device is I mean, that helps you get the edge. Tell me a little bit more about how those work. Because to be honest, I thought that what we were doing was beamforming technology that you and you are kind of just simply looking at the relative signal strength across those antennas. Is that what you're doing? Or are you doing something different?

    Al Juarez 7:36

    Yeah, no, we're, we're using angle of arrival technology. So that, you know, we had those, you know, using that a grid of those of our hubs, spaced 1015 meters apart, we're able to calculate angle of arrival. So that's, that's where the math is. That's where a lot of considerations for building a really robust engine and the cloud comes from. So yeah, that's that's, I suppose, if anything, Thanks for catching that when I missed that one. But yeah, it's angle of arrival that we're using to, to calculate location.

    Steve Statler 8:16

    Well, yeah, and I think company heritage integrations, all that stuff's important as well. So let's talk a bit about that. How big is Fathom and how big is your parent company? Because I think people that are buying technology in this solution, they know that it's early days, they're not expecting the companies to be enormous, but they do need some reassurance that companies are going to be around in the future.

    Al Juarez 8:40

    Sure, sure. No, that's, that's a fair question. So our parent company RX networks, has been around for 11 years. In fact, it's just been just been sold off. That's a pending regulatory approval. We expect that to come through through the Canadian government. In June, and we established fathom, it was in Skunk Works in stealth mode for a couple of years. And we came out as really last fall. And we've come out with, we took 28 People from from RX networks. We left probably 1011 folks with RX network. So we're 28. Strong, heavy on the engineering side.

    Steve Statler 9:26

    Very good. Well, that's, that's a good size, you get a lot done. What, let's flesh out a bit what the solution is. So there's the hardware device angle of arrival antenna, there's some kind of cloud service, is there like a dashboard is that you know, what are the services that you offer?

    Al Juarez 9:46

    So the, you know, we originally envisioned, you know, a year and a half ago when we were two years ago, we were originally envisioning, with all these beacon deployments going on or anticipate beacon deployments going on around the world. We thought of Fathom as as a management layer on top of all those beacons. So, you know, alarming for missing beacons move beacons. So we have a very simple Panel Control Panel to decline your devices and manage your devices. It's not it's not it's not terribly sexy. But we we've we evolved and pivoted over the past year, year and a half that I built with the company. And really, the power has come to be in the API, being able to plug in that location data, and really use our location engine to power your your your asset tracking platform. That's really where the the power is so hard to see an API but easy to see that the data that feeds through it.

    Steve Statler 10:54

    Yeah, and I think the proof is in the into what integrations you start to show how you work with other partners that that ability because these other partner beacons aren't necessarily simple. They have their own encryption and so forth, you need to be able to deal with that. So, and just last kind of nuts and bolts piece, what what does it take to deploy one of these, presumably, you need some kind of power? And I'm assuming that you can just use Wi Fi as the connectivity layer. Can you just confirm those details?

    Al Juarez 11:31

    Yeah, so power is standard AC power, or Power over Ethernet? So we have we can have either a Wi Fi connection or an Ethernet connection? What does it take to doesn't really take more than a few minutes to set one up? And, you know, I think you spend more time on a scissor lift in a factory than you do actually installing the the hardware itself. So I think there's probably more moving about on a scissor lift or a high load than there is spent the time actually installing and powering one of the units.

    Steve Statler 12:08

    Okay, and so no, doesn't require a huge amount of science to calibrate that sort of thing.

    Al Juarez 12:15

    Now we've got, we've got an installation mobile app, we just have to have a have an orientation setting, and then just kind of walkthrough takes maybe 10 to 15 minutes for up and you're and you're good to go.

    Steve Statler 12:28

    Nice. Well tell us about who's been using this some of your early experiences. Any case studies you want to share?

    Al Juarez 12:37

    Yeah, we we from our from my past Gilo days, we picked up a client in Blacksburg, Virginia, Blacksburg transit, they were Blacksburg transit runs 5060 city buses, and they have a large 46,000 square foot indoor facility terminal where they parked the buses every night. The buses come in, five lanes across about 10 DT bus driver gets out and just checks in and says I'm busting 123 and I'm the fuel is empty and maintenance is needed and the buses dirty. They used to pay somebody to go out and and find bus 123 Because then they have to go and move buses to get to it and find out where it is and just basically set up their their next day. So these to pay somebody from the university just to kind of go around and and find the bus. So I'm sorry, university student, whoever it was that lost your job, we took your job. And so they mounted, they had beacons mounted to the buses and we mounted our our hubs up in the air. And now they've got an automated system that tells them the lane and location of their of those buses. We have a number of other trials that are that are currently running. We have one at our at an electronics manufacturer. They are tracking the whereabouts and the movements of their employees as they go through and pick, pick catalog items or pick items through warehouse. Try to figure out is the inventory laid out the best It couldn't be? Are there things that we could do to to improve the shorten the pick time instead of three hours? Can somebody spend two hours or an hour and a half? So it's things like that, that we're working on? Located? We're developing a number of projects in Europe. We have an office in Europe, and we are putting together projects that are sports related. Not so much RTLs but some sports related where people mass where people gather, but more more often than not. We're spending our Time on tracking the pallet tracking the forklift tracking the the human being moving through a manufacturing space or through a warehouse space.

    Steve Statler 15:10

    Pretty cool. All right, any thoughts about where you see the the market, the maturity of the market where the where the action appears to be.

    Al Juarez 15:20

    You know, a year ago, it was really difficult to see RTLs being an area of focus, especially using Bluetooth, but coming away from RFID journal live 27, you know, just a couple of weeks ago, where you and I were I mean, I think the I think Bluetooth RTLs has a space in, in in has a carved out with an area and that space, I think it sits between the technology RFID technology, I think RFID technology is asked to do a lot of things that it wasn't really intended or designed to do. And it also sits in between the right hand side of ultra wideband, ultra wideband is great for centimeter level accuracy. But what we discovered, a lot of folks telling us that I don't need some centimeter level accuracy, I need, you know, one or two or three meter accuracy that's good enough to track a three meter or two meter sized forklift. So that's really adequate. And so I think at the cost that you can get Bluetooth RTLs I think it makes it makes good economic sense. You know, there were folks at RFID journal that were displaying their Bluetooth technology. And those, those stands were amongst amongst the most crowded, they had the most folks who want an AI there. So I think you're gonna see a lot of things coming out in this space over the next year, I think I think you're getting to a very, it's not very sexy. But you know, being able to it's very utilitarian, it serves a purpose that has solved the problem.

    Steve Statler 17:07

    Yeah, I agree. And I still believe in those retail experiential use cases. But it's a very subjective thing, you're asking for a real act of faith on the folks that are implementing it. And retail just has all these scalability challenges with large numbers of outlets and minimum wage staff. You know, if you have a few factories, or warehouses, they're much more concentrated, the deployment issues are much more manageable, and the ROI is pretty specific, you know, if they're losing stuff, then how much money would we save, if we didn't lose stuff, if they're spending a bunch of time on on things that stopping the production line and other issues, it's very easy to look at that and calculate an ROI. So I still have a lot of faith in the retail thing, I just think that the industrial applications have have a stronger engine to deploy in this early stage of the market. And so and I would only other thing I'd add to what you said is just the fact that Bluetooth can integrate with your Android phone and your and your iOS phone in in fairly unique ways, I think is really interesting. And especially as the cost of tags goes down, I think what we'll see is Bluetooth data being incubated in that manufacturing space. And then the beacons will end up flowing through with the products and the containers into the retail space. And we're kind of you'll have a you know, almost a stealth integration into along the supply chain into retail, and then ultimately, as products end up in the home.

    Al Juarez 18:52

    Yeah, I would add on that, you know, some of the use cases, folks that we approached at RFID, journal RFID solutions providers, you know, they came up right away. I mean, we're already working on number of projects, putting together quotes and looking at floor plans and figuring out where's the Wi Fi gonna run? You know, where do we where do we run the cat five for the Ethernet? It's, it's really very basic things. You know, when when does a forklift enter? Recognition zone? When does it leave the Zone? When did it when does it deliver? Its its its load, which driver was driving it? These are very basic, you know, I mean, we're, we're not we're not It's not rocket science. We're not sending anybody to the moon. But there are a lot of quality issues, a lot of production issues, a lot of things that you don't know about when you What causes a cascade effect? And if you know what time and the location that something was, was moved and delivered in a manufacturing environment, you can build a lot of intelligence on top of that.

    Steve Statler 20:15

    Very good. All right. Well, I think we're both excited about that space. That's for sure. I think you got a really interesting offering. And I'm going to be looking out for future partnership announcements with other beacon vendors, and to hear more about what you could come up with, with with gimbal. So out of fatten, thanks a lot. And for those of you watching, don't forget, subscribe. We've got a bunch of new content coming out, go to our website, stat, like consulting, subscribe to us on YouTube on Facebook and you won't miss out.

    Al Juarez 20:51

    Thanks a lot, Steve. Appreciate it.

    Steve Statler 21:11

    Tell me how what are the three songs that you would take to Mars?

    Al Juarez 21:17

    The three songs I would take to Mars. I think we talked about this or I thought about this. And I like classes. I like all kinds of music. So classical music, I would start out with handles Ode to Joy. I believe that was handle. I would take Led Zeppelin's the song remains the same. I just downloaded that live album a couple of weeks ago, something from my youth. And then I would be remiss if I did not include anything by Van Halen. And that wouldn't have to be. You Really Got Me.

    Steve Statler 21:55

    You Really Got Me. Yeah. Wonderful. Well, my foster dog is has joined us. Hopefully that means he's going to be quiet. But will this is this is ruckus. And if you can see him, maybe not. No, he's lying very low. Anyway, it does exist. So how did you get into this current role? You've been around the industry for a while?

    Al Juarez 22:20

    Yeah, so I joined. I joined fathom, a couple of years ago, September of 2015. Now, gosh, almost two years ago, after a two year stint with JLo JLo was one of the only beacon makers in the Midwest, here, located here, oddly enough in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I joined them and spent a couple of years there looking after sales and business development. So we unfortunately, were part of the casualties of the beacon wars. Just you know, running out of cash is a lot of startups do and I found myself referred to to fathom through through friends. So one thing led to another and here I am.

    Steve Statler 23:09

    Very good. Well, I'm glad y'all. I think what you guys are doing is really interesting.