Mister Beacon Episode #42

Beacons without Batteries - Uwinloc

May 19, 2017

While the need for Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) to monitor assets in healthcare and manufacturing is spiking, the cost of the tags used in such system is still a break on adoption. Uwinloc, a French startup, the product of the Airbus incubator, has an answer, tags without batteries. Delivering sub-meter accuracy and dramatically reducing capital and maintenance costs this passive UWB technology promises to be profoundly disruptive. We talked to the CEO of Uwinloc, Eric Cariou, at IoT World in Santa Clara and he gave us a full rundown of what Uwinloc is doing. [Audio improves at 2:40]


  • Steve Statler 00:00

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast, we are at IoT World in Santa Clara right on the edge of the Bay Area. But I'm actually with some French people. Eric, maybe you can introduce yourself, maybe introduce yourself. Well, nice to meet you everyone.

    Eric Cariou 00:23

    My name is Eric Cariou, I'm the CEO and co founder of Uwinloc.

    Steve Statler 00:28

    Okay, so it is very busy handles a lot of fun stuff going on. But the sound is terrible. So you and I are gonna go for a walk somewhere quiet. Everyone can see the sense of the bus, there's a line, we were talking, there's a line out the door to get into this place. There's a lot of interesting IoT, what you guys are doing is fascinating, very, very low cost tags that enable real time location systems and all sorts of environments, industrial retail, so let's go and talk about that. But let's go for a walk. Okay. All right. So yeah, we're in the startup city at the moment, aren't we? Yeah. And so tell us where your company is based.

    Eric Cariou 01:14

    We are based in the south of France, in Toulouse, and we are part of an incubator created by Airbus. A couple of years ago, we joined that incubator. We were selected amongst them and 50 companies from around the world. We were the only French actually company being selected, together with German, Hong Kong and the Spanish company.

    Steve Statler 01:35

    Fantastic. What do you do before you started, Uwinloc?

    Eric Cariou 01:39

    Background is in development of companies, I've worked in three different countries. Been a way traveling for about 15 years in China in the UK and Switzerland, creating and developing companies. And my original micron is a scientific background.

    Steve Statler 02:00

    Okay, very cool. How big are you unlock today?

    Eric Cariou 02:04

    Today, we've got 26 People working full time on the project. We've got 15 Customers signed in four different countries where we are deploying the solution.

    Steve Statler 02:15

    Fantastic. And this is getting quieter. This is good. It's not nearly as interesting in the background, but they may actually be able to hear us. That'll be really cool. So let's, why don't we grab this? Do you mind if we grab here? We're recording a 360 degree video. So just to let you know. All right. So maybe now's a good time just to summarize what you unlock does.

    Eric Cariou 02:46

    Well, it's very simple. Un doc has developed, invented and developed the first solution enabling industrial players and logistics companies to track and locate millions of goods simultaneous, you in harsh environments. harsh environments means usually, lots of metal. production centers with tools with spare parts are filled with metal. Retail is filled with metal shelves, in warehouses too. So most of the existing technologies, I've got two or three main problems to be able to be deployed in the mass market. The restrictions are the cost, the bulkiness, the form factor, and the reliability and metallurgical environments. So that's basically the three key differentiators of our solution. It's a very small form factor, six square centimeters, three millimeters thick, it's half the size of business card.

    Steve Statler 03:43

    So this is, this is exactly all this part of the solution. This is the tags that go on assets.

    Eric Cariou 03:50

    You stick it on a parcel or two, there is no battery. And the tag is going to emit using energy harvesting radio signal energy harvesting. And that will be detected by beacons located around the building, which will send these data back to a server, which will reconstruct the 3d position of the tag. So you can have a continuous inventory of 1000s and millions of products in Tennessee, visualize these products in specific zones in your warehouse. You can look at historical data of positioning, so you can see where your glitch or your bottlenecks are in the production line. You can optimize your storage space by analyzing by mixing your sales data with your location data, and hence putting the high frequency rotation stock close to the entry and the low rotation stock closer to the end of the warehouse. So all these clever stuff is only possible if you can track and locate millions of colors.

    Steve Statler 04:52

    So this is fascinating. So you're the beacon without a battery. It's basically harvesting the energy out of the radio spectrum. That's around. And so you can really reduce the cost because you don't have to. And all those objections about how long is the battery life, the battery life is forever. Basically, as long as there's RF.

    Eric Cariou 05:11

    The main cost of active systems is actually linked to the battery, the battery benefits button, it's going to be costly, you've got a PCB, you've got electronics to manage that power. So all the power management side, and then you have also restrictions in industrial environments, because you might have high temperatures, you will have power, battery leakage problems, you will have battery replacement problems. And even if it's a couple of years, life expectancy in terms of battery powered system, you still have a lot of measurements to do when you when you have 100 1000s or millions of products being tied, it's it's not feasible actually to maintain these tags.

    Steve Statler 05:49

    So tell us how much the tags cost.

    Eric Cariou 05:54

    You've got several versions of the tax with the first tax being launched and available, they show in volume from middle summer, our initial great tax, you can handle them with greasy hand detergents. You can stick them on metal parts. And these are few euro tags.

    Steve Statler 06:12

    So we're talking a couple of dollars or?

    Eric Cariou 06:16

    Yeah, I don't think it depends very much on the volume you're getting, right. If you're buying 10 million tags, it's about the same price. And if you're buying,

    Steve Statler 06:22

    Okay, so I think in industrial environments, you can say you're going to be buying 1000s of tags. So that kind of level.

    Eric Cariou 06:30

    Most of the use cases we see are in the range of 50,002 to 3 million tax, okay, because customers want to take tools, but also spare parts, they want to automate a number of things, their manufacturing sites, then you have the paper version of the tag coming out next year, which is close to what an RFID paper tag looks very cheap. But with some restrictions, you will not be able to stick it on the metal part and, and it's more fragile, but metaphorically adapted suitable for comfortable cardboard boxes.

    Steve Statler 07:05

    So that's, that's great, because I can imagine this going on pallets. And I can imagine these paper tags going actually in the cardboard and the products that are made. So you can track the product.

    Eric Cariou 07:15

    Yeah, the advantage of these kind of labels or tags is that you don't need to have an opening to change the battery, you can put it embedded into 3d printed materials, for example, in containers, or handles or tools, or a wide range of you know, at the end of the day, a wide range of applications, which are actually not accessible with tags, which require a battery.

    Steve Statler 07:38

    So tell us briefly what what is this radio technology that you're using? Because you contrasted it with RFID. So it's not a ultra wideband RFID tag or is it?

    Eric Cariou 07:49

    Now it's a mixture of different technologies. The main things we wanted to achieve with this was to not be to not have the multipath effects that you have with traditional radio technologies in metallic environment, and to be immune to parasitic effects that you can have from a power generator from a lot of electronic equipments you have in industrial sites. So it's, it's a mix of UW B, that we have proposed that with two other technologies that have been patented to create an extremely reliable communication channel between the tag and the beacon, and a neutral low power consumption communication system.

    Steve Statler 08:32

    Okay, so there's some Ultra Wideband in there. So you're using a really broad bit of a little bit of interference here, you've still got all this background. But, you know, ultra wideband is traditionally the beacons are very expensive. I'm assuming that is this your chip technology, so you're actually fabricating it or?

    Eric Cariou 08:51

    The chip technology is ours, the design is being done by Aparna with with design, the core blocks the core it is ours. The manufacturing of the chip or the beacons is made by top of the class, EMS electronic manufacturing service companies and leading class in Asia. IC manufacturers.

    Steve Statler 09:13

    Okay, so you mentioned beacons. So that's a tag and then there's this beacon thing potentially tell us and traditionally the you know, the challenge with energy harvesting is how often how far can I transmit? And how often can I transmit? So tell us a little bit about what we can do with just a standalone beacon, standalone tag, and then tell us a bit about where these beacons come in.

    Eric Cariou 09:36

    Okay, the range of emission. So the tag is going to be detected by beacons in the range of 30 to 50 meters, or in fact, less than 30 meters as well of course, but depending on the environments, the maximum will be 30 to 50 meters.

    Steve Statler 09:51

    And the receiver is not my phone because obviously my phone doesn't understand this exotic technology.

    Eric Cariou 09:59

    Okay, we're working With high frequencies to ensure high precision and high reliability.

    Steve Statler 10:05

    Okay, so I have a proprietary receiver that you're manufacturing as well, presumably. And I need, how many of those do I need to get XYZ?

    Eric Cariou 10:17

    You need to have a tag being seen by four, because at least to be able to do 3d positioning, okay, so if you've got 100 meter by 100 meter by feet, that will be 300 feet by 300 feet, the range is about 90 feet between each bigger. Okay, so it's about 15 beacons. To cover the wall, it's going to be a mesh, matrix type approach over the zone. And hence, the tag will be positioned on x, y Zed with 30 centimeters range precision, okay.

    Steve Statler 10:51

    And these beacons are receivers, but they're also transmitting energy as well. Is that right?

    Eric Cariou 10:58

    Yeah, one of the trick of the solution is to not have a bi directional channel in the tag. So the tag is actually quite dumb, it doesn't listen to the network, which means that it consumes a lot less. In fact, as a comparison, we consumed about three to 400 times less than any active systems we have seen. Okay. And hence, energy harvesting wouldn't be feasible, actually, on existing solutions today.

    Steve Statler 11:28

    That's good. So I'm not. So the tag is just broadcasting, it's not receiving, so you're saving energy that way. And so basically, it's locked in and it's broadcasting a unique number.

    Eric Cariou 11:44

    Exactly written in the hallway. So it's not hackable, you cannot modify it, there is no software on the tag, the refreshing rate is going to depend on the level of energy the tag is going to receive. So in a normal environment, it can be 10s of minutes. But you can adjust that by using one of the functions of the beacons, the beacon receive the signals of the tag, but they can also remotely power the tags if required, and specific zones to to adjust the frequency of the of the emissions.

    Steve Statler 12:21

    So just to recap, the kind of maximum frequency that you think you can.

    Eric Cariou 12:26

    When we have when we have our solution, for example, enable you to monitor all the emails of the building. So to do that, we put beacons above the entrance, it creates kind of a radio curtain. And once the product goes underneath it, it's two or three times each through its each passage, okay? So it can be instilled in us less than the seven point emission between two illusions, it very much depends on the the level of radio signal.

    Steve Statler 12:58

    So if you don't have enough beacons, you can be broadcasting a couple of times a second, which is enough to kind of put a geofence in place.

    Eric Cariou 13:05

    And yes, we do. Basically all the geo fencing applications can be done with our solution, and in a much more actually cost efficient way. Because the limitations of some of the RFID technologies is the range. If you've got an opening in the industry, with cars, or planes passing underneath the the openings are usually very large. And because of the range with RFID, limited to a few meters, you can actually put a portal around the zone. So not only covers the geofencing that you would find in RFID, but also covers use cases that you wouldn't be able to cover.

    Steve Statler 13:38

    So can you clarify what are the boundaries of what you're going to be developing? And where are you going to be working with partners to create the solution stack the software, like do you have mapping?

    Eric Cariou 13:52

    On the software platform, it's a cloud based SaaS solution, which is going to include a database algorithm to reconstruct the positions, supervision Greeks, which enable you to supervise the network, and how functional the beacons are, for example, we've got a visualization break and into interrogation. So you can query and visualize very simply the products you have tagged in your production sites. Now, this is a very open platform. So we've seen already two editors, software editors were developing for us specific verticals, to manage your tools in the manufacturing center, right Timaya is your space for warehousing. So, the platform is also it has got built in a number of API's enabling you to take the data and put it into any ERP it can be an SAP or an IBM Bluemix type ERP. So it depends very much on the use case of the customer, whether they want to bring that data into a more More cloud based IoT type platform, or whether they whether they want to use it locally as a standalone solution. All right. And our core business is not to develop software, specific application. Our core value is to invest in commercial commercialize breakthrough, traceability and localization.

    Steve Statler 15:23

    So can you talk about any partners that you have your you've started working with, either on the software side or the integration side? Because this is a lot of this is going to be about integrations.

    Eric Cariou 15:33

    We have got already one integrator? Well, in fact, we've got about 40. Actually, we are dealing with, but really deployed and commercial staff. Together with an integrator, we've got a partnership with supra in Europe, which is leading it integrator present in activity in a wide range of countries around the world. And they have for the use cases we have been working on, they are developing you specific application to explore the data and create additional value for the customer.

    Steve Statler 16:11

    And what geographies are you focused on?

    Eric Cariou 16:13

    So far, most of the deployments have been in Europe. The next and we will have an office in Germany in the second half of Asia, and complement, in addition to the one we have in France, we are planning to our focus is in the US, in fact that the meeting in the law, potential integrators and customers in the last few days, and then a few more over the next coming days in San Francisco Bay, and also in the Atlanta region. And in Asia, we've got already identified two partners, and some investors also are coming on board.

    Steve Statler 16:43

    And let's just talk about timing where you are is the product and alpha visa, when do you when are you going to be shipping production?

    Eric Cariou 16:51

    Shipping our production from September onwards, the chips and the beacons are coming out of the manufacturing sites in June while the production is launched, and we will have millions of tags available at the end of this year, early next year. So the first batch is out about a few 100 1000s. And the millions will be available from January onwards.

    Steve Statler 17:13

    So the possibilities are almost limitless. But where are you seeing the most interest? What are the use cases that you think are the sweet spot?

    Eric Cariou 17:21

    Most use cases, we have caller ID, the industry and the logistics, we want to keep a very clear focus over the next couple of years, we see a lot of demand from hospitals from a lot of other markets like the retail industry and so on. And we'll go there quickly. We've integrated with partners who have got specific skills and know how in this particular market. So the the possible adoption of this technology is very wide in this market, which we signed already a number of contracts as well with people in the petrol industry or in various industries in factor where it is very costly to lose products, lose tools, lose spare parts, and or do manmade inventories.

    Steve Statler 18:14

    Wonderful. So, Eric, that's fascinating stuff. I am really excited by what you're doing. I think it's really a mark of what's coming in the future, the battery lists, tag. So thanks so much for your time.

    Eric Cariou 18:29

    Thank you very much. If I can just add one thing. We are closing a round of investment right now, we have secured about three four of the rounds. We've got invested from the European market and from Asia. But one of the reasons I'm here is we will be keen to have an investor from the US. The remain ticket is actually quite small at about 500,000. But that will be the idea is to have an associate with a real partnership helping us to open that market. And the other reason we're here is we are interested in potential licensees. One thing I didn't mention is to accelerate the market adoption. We are discussing with a number of RFID manufacturers or IoT manufacturers to ensure that they can produce quickly new and not based solutions.

    Steve Statler 19:17

    Very good. Well, I think you're gonna have no shortage of people that want to invest and sounds like your one of your biggest challenge is just going to be executing and scaling in an orderly fashion given what you're offering. So, Eric, thanks again.