Mister Beacon Episode #107
Bluetooth COVID 19 Contact TracingApril 22, 2020
How are we going to deal with the pandemic at hand, and how do we return to ‘normal’? These are the questions at the forefront of our minds. Bluetooth may have an answer.
Companies, like Estimote, from the first signs of trouble, have been taking measures to transform their existing technology to help in the era of COVID-19. Last time on the podcast, we talked with Jakub Kryzch, CEO of Estimote, about their new product, the LTE beacon. This time he is back to tell us about an innovative spin on that same product which now has the goal of providing a safer and healthier workplace environment through contact traceability. This product, worn around the neck or clipped to a belt, can anonymously and privately help individuals keep their social distance with lights and sounds, as well as help track back when individuals have potentially been exposed. While essential businesses, for example food and drug production, are the targets today to help increase the safety of their workplace, these type of technology pivots could be our hope when restarting the economy after this quarantine period. Tune in to see a demonstrations of Estimote’s Bluetooth contact tracing solution which is shipping now to companies in need, and how this relates to the other options for contact tracing.
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Steve Statler 00:17
So welcome to another episode of Mr. beacon. We are talking to a very old friend, regular contributor to the program, the co-founder of Estimote. Jacob Kryzch. Thanks so much, Jacob, for joining us.
Jakub Kryzch 00:38
Thanks for having me. It's always fun to speak with you about the sort of current technologies but also this time, sort of current situation and how the technologies we've been talking for so many years, can actually finally contribute to, you know, solve, solve some of their challenges.
Steve Statler 00:56
Yeah, so I feel the same way. It seems like Bluetooth beacons have found a really perfect application. And there's a lot to talk about. So I mean, the general topic is Bluetooth contact tracing in the ear of COVID-19. And so during our conversation, I want to talk a bit about, you know, how this might work, obviously, why it's important. I think that's fairly self evident. But it's worth having a few words around that. Then talking about some of the alternative approaches using Bluetooth technology and not using Bluetooth technology. And then I think there's a whole bunch of fascinating issues around privacy and ethics. And just some look at, you know, what's out there. And some prognostications so hopefully, this will, this will be useful to to people, but before we get into that, how are you It looks like you're at home, so you're in in Poland, is it Krakow, or,
Jakub Kryzch 02:01
yeah, I'm in Krakow, working from home for the last, you know, five weeks. So it's, it's sort of fun, you know, having kids around, and, you know, wife is also working remotely. But, of course, I miss the sort of all the days of, you know, being able to, you know, enjoy this sort of outer life out there, but, but it is what it is, we're just trying to do our best sort of working with our team remotely. And you know, it's not the kind of, it's not like a new concept for us, because we have a team seen us in in Europe, so we kind of used to the remote work. But of course, as a hardware company is a company that is also designing products, it's a little bit more tricky, because, you know, now it's kind of the access to our laboratory, and r&d is kind of limited.
Steve Statler 02:52
And where do you manufacture these days,
Jakub Kryzch 02:55
we actually always been manufacturing here in Central Europe. So that's the kind of one of the advantages that we we haven't been that much impacted by this sort of supply, supply chain, sort of issues, you know, in the beginning of the air. So and also, this region, Central Europe, and Poland been very sort of aggressive in terms of introducing bunch of restrictions. So it seems like we will not be that much impacted, hopefully. So it's actually good for manufacturing, we still producing,
Steve Statler 03:25
okay, so you're you're able, we're going to talk about this new device that you've created, and you're able to, to create new products and manufacture them, presumably a little bit constrained, but you can still get the product out there.
Jakub Kryzch 03:41
Steve Statler 06:44
Yeah, absolutely. Okay.
Jakub Kryzch 06:47
So yeah, so we so this is what we've created. So we have used exactly same hardware, right, it's a it's a, it's a sort of on programmable beacon with LTE. And we have just repurposed that we just created a new function new sort of snippet of the code, so we turn it into a wearable. So it's a wearable that is transmitting, and also scanning for other devices. And if we detect that they are close to each other, then we can number one, turn on the light, just to kind of, you know, show like a red color that you're too close. We there's also like a little buzzer, so it's gonna, like, start beating and I'm going to show you the demo that
Steve Statler 07:30
is great, because I don't know about you, but you go shopping, and some people are very respectful of the distance, and other people are not. And I think, you know, they're not malicious, maybe it's, but just this, these, I think we've seen from a user experience point of view, sound and light that can be it's actually easier than saying, Hey, would you mind the
Jakub Kryzch 07:52
user experience of sound and boy, in the in the visuals, it's definitely sort of important. So so so basically, this is the function we did, but what's most important is that these devices, they encrypted the data and they store in the memory, who had the order devices, who had the order people that you were in, in the close contact and for how long? Yes, and and and these data are transmitted to the sort of secure database, but they are anonymized right. So this is extremely important for the for the employees that will be using this system, that you we can only statistically show that, you know, this is how many people are protected with the wearable technology, this is how many people are keeping the social distance, but there are still some people, they do not keep the social distance so we can push about them. And they can remind them that they must keep this social distance because there is no vaccine there is no other way to keep this thing under control. Right. And and as I said, we also keep the measurements, you know, which teams been interacting, but this is it's anonymized. So So input some employers sort of cannot reveal cannot show and consume consume that data. Unless people in the in an employer employees are out of reporting that something's going terribly wrong. So since there is a programmable button, they can push this button in order to indicate that maybe they have symptoms, maybe they need help, maybe there is something wrong going on and the real time over the cellular network. We are informing the risk manager who is using the dashboard that these are the these are the team members that need assistance or they might might have symptoms might be infected or maybe they tested positive right. And and that's the only moment we will disclose it. Who are the employees or individuals that were in close contact with that person. But the last two weeks, who potentially, the risk manager should, you know, push about them and send a notification to them that they maybe should stay home, or maybe they shouldn't access some of the restricted area. So, so this tool is this tools from one hand, something to simplify the contact tracing within the enterprise within the company, but also to sort of keep motivating people to keep the distance and sort of watch if they comply to that to these regulations. So that's something he really quickly put together on top of our programmable stack. And, and we believe that this potentially could help some of the companies to sort of restart after the lockdown and maybe in a gradual way, sort of protect the team members at the same time, at the same time not to risk that there could be another outbreak within their company. So this was specifically designed for, for workplace. So it's not like a consumer device at this point. We are targeting initially, you know, food production company, drug production, company logistics, all the companies that they must keep going when we are, you know, working from home and under the lockdowns and there is some tons of different scenarios, some people interact with each other, right. So, so, you know, the beauty of this device is that it's configurable. And it's also programmable, right. So you might sort of tweak it a little bit for it for different scenarios. So one of the scenario is that, you know, you might, you might want to be, you know, the wearables, they're scanning for wearables, but they also might scan for for the Bluetooth beacons that you have deployed in the venue. So these are ordinary beacons, they last multiple years. And you know, they're inexpensive. So in that case, they wearable will also store those tokens generated by the beacons. So that if there is someone infected, you can also resolve where that person was, just in case you have to disinfect it, or maybe restrict the access. So. So that is pretty much you know, the new product, we just sort of launch it, and we've produced the first batches, and we're already actually shipping to globally to different hospitals and warehouses and retailers. So, you know, we really hope that this technology can can help them, you know, keep going. Despite that, there will be some restrictions, you know
Steve Statler 12:46
well, that's fantastic. And congratulations on the very, very rapid pivot. I mean, how long has it taken you to for so you got the idea from your engagement with folks in China, you saw how long did this pivot take?
Jakub Kryzch 13:03
Steve Statler 13:33
Okay. Let's do that. I do want to get back to ethics and privacy and alternatives. And let's have a look at what she got.
Jakub Kryzch 13:44
Yeah, so check this out. So what you can see here, it's a it's a sort of programmable aspect of the platform. So I do have two devices. So I'm now I'm showing to the camera, I can be visible. So maybe let me show you again. So I do have two devices, they are designed the way that you know, we envision people will be wearing them or maybe like as a keychain or something like that.
Steve Statler 14:10
Well, let's let's get into you're showing us the programmability. And, you know, I suspect there's gonna be a lot of people watching this who are not our typical viewers who kind of conversant or maybe even interested in the depths of the technology. But it is a key point that you can change and customize this. And I was thinking about this versus the alternatives. Like the work that Apple and Google are doing. That's an obvious thing. It's that's still uses. The heart of it, the Bluetooth beacons that your platform is leveraging. But it seems like what you are able to do is to adapt to a different organizations, rules, policies need in a way You couldn't really do with a generic platform?
Jakub Kryzch 15:03
You know? Absolutely. So you can see the way it works. Like when I push when I push the button, oh my god, this is really loud. Yeah, so So basically, the way it works is that if I push the button and I'm too close to the other device, so I'll just try to make it really far away Just one second, we'll see how it works. Hopefully you can tune it in when you when you do it, the editing. So if I move out? Yeah. All right. If I approach it very close, then it's getting much, much faster and much more and much more noisy. So So basically, you know, this technology is fully programmable, whether you want to keep beeping, or you want to sort of measure the exposure different employees had, maybe you want to send an alert that someone entered the zone that shouldn't be there, like it's a fully programmable platform that will help companies not only to sort of address number of issues they will encounter during this crisis, but also hopefully, you know, find some use cases after the crisis, because they can always reprogram them into panic buttons or asset tracking locators or anything like that.
Steve Statler 16:27
Yeah, it's clear, we've all been thinking about how we survive this nightmare, but also what happens afterwards, and how things are going to be different. And it does seem to me that there's going to be a renewed heightened focus on asset tracking, and supply chains, we have learned how important is to know where masks and ventilators are. But also just generally, you know, healthcare will get a, I think, an abundant focus, and we'll be looking at making it more efficient. So hopefully, some of this infrastructure, this knowledge can be repurposed afterwards. And to be frank, I think we're going to people are going to accept that this is not a once in a lifetime thing that we have to be ready for. The next one, which are of horrors could be even worse than what we're going through now.
Jakub Kryzch 17:22
Yeah, so you know, definitely this crisis will inspire a lot of smart people to see how different technologies and source and mobile can sort of help us be more productive, be more efficient, you know, we will not only learn that, you can actually work from home, and you're as productive as in the office. But, but we can also, we can also learn that, you know, if you have less employees available, maybe there are some techniques, there are some processes to get into technology that can continue to make you a productive company and deliver the same amount of goods and the same amount of drugs and food and this and that. So, um, you know, it's, you know, the current situation we are right now, because this, this crisis is not over. And it's not probably gonna be over for another many weeks or months. So that's why we have to be really creative, like we have to reuse and repurpose what we currently have. And this is, you know, once one of the initiative that you mentioned, that has a sort of alternative approach. So as you know, you know, Apple and Google, they're also working on a consumer consumer sort of contact tracing application, where they plan to use Bluetooth, as a platform to also detect, you know, the proximity. So the same way this device was like, deeping, you know, every smartphone has a has a Bluetooth radio, that, you know, can also act as a transmitter and also can scan, it wasn't possible for the phones to transmit in the background, because that that was sort of from the privacy perspective, a little bit challenging. But but but this initiative that Google and Apple has, is introducing some sort of encryption mechanisms, some sort of public private keys, that is, at least making it manageable from the perspective of keeping the right balance. So so we also really excited because let's be honest, we've been in this proximity tack for the last seven years. And we always knew that, you know, this, this physical world around us, like must have some digital fabric and we need to be able to detect who met who and like, Where are the acids, and like, Is that fine? Or is that productive? And now finally, we're going to see sort of like a little bit manifestation or like a application of, of these technologies. So yeah, you know, whatever the standards are there. Companies like like, estimate will definitely Contribute our expertise to make sure that both solutions for enterprise and for commercial for the workplace can also collaborate and be interoperable with the solutions for the consumers. Because let's be honest society, we need to restart both. We need to keep people to do the malls and you know, keep going to malls and using the public transportation and kids in the school, but the same time, we need to make sure that those employees are protected, you know, especially the ones that are exposed. You know,
Steve Statler 20:30
yeah, traceability is clearly, I mean, basically, testing, and traceability are the two key planks of getting us back to not normal, but at least some level that is economically and psychologically sustainable.
Jakub Kryzch 20:46
Absolutely. And also, you know, let's be honest, you know, testing, testing, whether it's like a PCR DNA tests, like, it's also kind of not as pragmatic to be retesting your employees all the time, and also delivering some sort of like a proof of health. So so that's why, you know, if we know that this disease is highly infectious, you know, people just need to kind of talk for a few seconds or minutes, just touch and then it can transmit, like, yeah, maybe the proximity, maybe the physical aspect is a good proxy. Right? So if there are no, not if there is not enough tests, and if testing is not sustainable, maybe it's enough to keep the social distance and also measured, if we, if we keep doing it the right way. So yeah, we'll see.
Steve Statler 21:36
And what about privacy, this is, you know, we have to cover it. I feel like, you know, I have my own personal views on it. I grew up in England, where, you know, we have cameras everywhere, because the reality is, even though it's very difficult to get shot in England, it's, you know, this, it's, it's easy to get beaten up, or it was when I grew up. And so this battle against crime, people accepted that it was okay to give up certain amount of privacy in order to have safety and security. And that's, I think, less so here in, in, in, in the States, but to me, there's like a Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And I feel like, you know, having, having food, and shelter and economic viability is, is more important to me than privacy. I mean, there's a lot of dangers that never let a good crisis go to waste has been used in good ways and bad ways. And I know that privacy advocates are very keen that we don't give up our, our rights in this in this time, never to get them back again. But to me, being alive is more important than being private. And
we, what do you think? Yeah, you
Jakub Kryzch 22:58
know, you know, we are coming, you know, at least some some part of our company, of course, is European company with a heritage from Central Europe, where we been fighting for freedom for decades, we know what it means. The real freedom and the real right to be in the privacy. So so we try to keep the right balance. You're absolutely right, that people sometimes they have this temptation to give up their freedoms to have this temporary safety, but I feel this was one of the US presidents he said that they don't deserve either the safe thing or the freedom if they give up it for just temporary gain. So you know, we must as a tech, as a tech experts, we must build solutions that keep the right balance, right. So if you don't have to know, who are the people you ate breakfast yesterday, or you met, you know, you shouldn't you shouldn't exploit these data for your, for the for the commercial profit. objective, right? But if you've tested positive and and we can save life, if we if you tell us where you have been and who you met, well, that that you should share, and sharing that data should be as simple as like pushing a button, right? So So the way we think about that it should be up in it should be it people should declare, you know, no, no company should force employees to do that. But the same time if the technology can can help us like it should help, right. So again, the beauty about proximity technologies, such as Bluetooth or ultra wideband or bunch of other technologies was that you can always opt out. You can you can always turn it off, you can always delete the app. And the same with this wearable, right? You know, it's gonna last like three four days and then you have to recharge right you have to read Charging, it's you. And also you can always just put it put the way even though you are not contributing, right? If you do so, right, because then you are not protected, right? So every time you go to work, perhaps you should have it. Because by pushing a button, you might request for help, or you might help with the contract racing. So to be honest with you, sometimes I feel that instead of a hiring engineers or designers, we must hire philosophers who will help us with these choices. Because it's a little bit beyond the technology, you know?
Steve Statler 25:38
Yeah, it is, I guess they're awesome technology basics, though, like, Where is this data stored in the system that you have developed? That's something that people will want to know, what's the approach that you've taken with that?
Jakub Kryzch 25:54
Yeah, so again, time isn't of an essence right now. So when we pilot this with companies, we use our hosted environment, and you know, AWS servers, and then we just demonstrate the feasibility of this technology and the accuracy. But the moment customers decide to deploy it, we typically in the containerized environment, deployed, you know, in their infrastructure, so, so you know, that the data are there, and they sort of maintain that, but again, you know, by default, if there is data anonymized, and this is how our software is designed, and, you know, we have no control, even if they gonna decide to reverse engineer or replace the tag, because that's, everyone can do that, you know?
Steve Statler 26:41
Yeah, well, that seems like a really good balance of pragmatic balance and time is of the essence. So we'll have to see if this doing recording out in the garden is a good thing. San Diego is a wonderful place, but we're surrounded by military bases with helicopters, and also the birds have just been going on.
Jakub Kryzch 27:00
Steve Statler 27:02
Um, so thanks, everyone that's listening for putting up with the background noise. So let, there's a couple of other topics I wanted to cover. But let's just make sure we've talked about the alternatives. really thoroughly. I guess the other alternative, we've talked a bit about the Google Apple approach. And then there's the manual approach. And to me, I mean, I can barely remember anything about yesterday. So the idea of being able to keep track of every place I went to, and everything I picked up, and every person I met and how close I was, I mean, just seems nonsensical, that we could have a robust approach that does not use some kind of technology.
Jakub Kryzch 27:50
And let's be honest, you know, there are technologies currently existing built into phones, and wearables and whatnot, that we can use to slightly redesign how we will go back to normal, right. So, you know, if we sort of extrapolate how people will go back to stadiums to watch games, or how people go back to the shopping? Well, there is no question that people would feel comfortably if then they know that the staff they are dealing with the employees, they deal with they they are healthy, they have not been in touch with, with infected individuals, or they have not visited hotspots, but they already have staff and employees within the retail or Stadium, they would also want the consumers visiting and the guest visiting to demonstrate that they also have been responsible, they haven't been to the hotspots they have, they haven't demonstrated symptoms. So it seems that that is a society, we have to reinvent quickly. If we want to keep the economy, you know, on the right track, because we we need people to have normal lives. So again, we can do that with the currently existing technologies and the right balance and also some of the coalition so so this collaboration between an Apple and Google is a great, great indicator that there will be some companies joining forces to sort of reinvent how the society can keep going and again, maybe we will start with the shopping malls and stadiums. But let's be honest, I can envision some technologies that when you bought a plane the same way they scan your body, they will be somehow verifying like a digital sort of proof of health. And and let's be honest, it cannot be it should not be like a few QR codes are it should be something you know frictionless because otherwise people will be just annoyed but that you know, they will not accept that, you know, it has to be frictionless. And again, those technologies exists today and we've been working home 10 many years,
Steve Statler 30:04
you touched on some of the places where this technology is already starting to be used. Can you just spend a bit more time on that? Where have you seen the best response to this? And where is there been any areas where you thought that would Pete people would be interested and, and that and they weren't, where's the good fit?
Jakub Kryzch 30:26
So, you know, as I mentioned, we are trying to target companies that have employees who potentially could be addressed, which means that they are there on the battlefield, they're meeting with different people, they're shaking hands, they're, you know, constantly exposed. So, you know, these are typically, you know, factory workers or, you know, shipping companies, logistics, you know, food production director, duction. But we also see slowly, that there are some retailers, some sports arenas, this, they start new airports, they start to explore how they can reopen, right, so, of course, hospitals, that's another important sort of cluster, but let's be honest, hospital are extremely busy right now. So they, they probably would love to have those type of technologies, but they first need to sort of fight with the existing sort of, you know, load of patients and so on.
Steve Statler 31:31
Okay, um, last topic I wanted to talk about was the ethics that surrounds kind of making profits from something that is kind of essential, an essential service. And, you know, when we first met, I was working on the beacon technologies book, Hitchhiker's Guide, ecosystem. And that was really funding a company called cause based solutions. And it was all a bunch of ideas that I was prototyping payment cards that gave money to round it up and gave the money to charity. So you can probably tell where my mind's at I, you know, I believe, cause based solutions, if you can make money by helping people, then actually, that's not a bad thing. In fact, if we, if we found that one of the best way is to help be to make money was to help people the world would be a lot better place than, you know, the opposite. But, you know, I think this with some people, there's like a purity test, you know, charity, and good works have to be completely not profitable. And how do you have you? What's the reaction behind to what you're doing? And how do you think about this fact that, you know, a cynic might say, Oh, you guys are exploiting this crisis for your own benefit. And this is, you know, not greenwashing. But whatever. Yeah. COVID. Wash?
Jakub Kryzch 32:57
Listen, so we've been, again, we've been it's not look, opportunistic, you know, john bond on this, because we've been on this market for many, many years working with so many individuals, trying to solve great, great problems with you know, the technology and, you know, whenever we see that this can, technology could be a fit, we putting this together and just kind of talking to customers, what do they think, and also, you know, that better than anyone else, that the IoT technology is pretty inexpensive, you know, so if you compare the cost of a wearable or cost of the beacon, or even the servers, like the data plan, if you compare it to an hour rate, in, in us or in Europe, probably within an hour or two employee was going to ban the same amount of cash that it cost to, to sponsor the technology for like, almost like a year. Right. So So um, so, you know, I wouldn't, I wouldn't sort of be concerned about critics saying that companies will be exploiting, like, you know, you know, at the end of the day, we need to make this business sustainable, right. So we need to make sure that we can pay to the fact that we're producing it, and we can pay to all the developers and designers for designing this. And And again, if we can help employees or we can help companies to save like millions of dollars, that potentially they could risk if the if the factory or warehouses closed. Yeah, that's, that's, that's it. That's the kind of great win win and we changing the world. And also, to be honest with you. We've been into this business for the last seven years. And we we had this obsession about this concept of something, what we call an operating system for the physical world, like we always been talking about that, that the software and the applications will be designed for the physical world, right. So so now we kind of see the first sort of use cases first applications but let's also be honest, we've always been sort of missing The mission No, why? Why do we want to do that, like why we want to build this operating system, right? And, and this sort of crisis is actually showing us pretty, pretty pretty well that, that, you know, we can literally change the world, we can literally save lives, and help help help other people to be healthy to be to go back to normal. And to be honest with you, that mission, that mission, that purpose is worth way more than all the profits that potentially could be extracted from those types of systems. So, you know, that's the kind of conclusion.
Steve Statler 35:37
Yeah, I agree with everything you said there. And to me, it comes back to efficacy, and sustainability. So as long as what you are providing works, and it helps, and it's real, which I believe this is, and then then we should be doing this, and we should be doing it in a way that is sustainable. And if at the same time, we can put infrastructure in place and spread knowledge that helps, you know, progress, this broader vision, your operating system for the real world, and we can show real tangible benefits that help real people. And then what better way of moving technology forward in a positive direction.
Jakub Kryzch 36:17
And also, you also, as really are part of that sort of trend, where we see that the technologies are evolving, they're better, they're faster, they're cheaper, they're Lower, lower power, so who knows, maybe maybe some of those technologies that we were sort of showing today, together, they might build this sort of platform of the future of, you know, smart workplace or the location intelligence, and they will in general help people like you said, you know, maybe be prepared for No, this another crisis, because like, we don't we never know, what's gonna hit this next, you know?
Steve Statler 36:55
Yeah, no, I, I think I'm excited by the work that we're doing with estimote, where we're testing our tags with, with your smart beacon and gateway technology. And so this idea of maybe in the future, extending this so that we can actually track the things that you touch the tools this person picked up and the products that they may be contaminated is is super exciting as well. So I we should wrap up, but Jacob, it's always a pleasure. You've got a great mind and I really love what your company is doing there. So congratulations, well done.
Jakub Kryzch 37:41
Thank Thank you so much. And and also you know, you're doing a fantastic job, you know, connecting with all the smart people in this space and let them share ideas. This is always very inspiring to watch all the episodes and see how different people are leveraging existing technologies and productize a bit slightly different ideas. So it's kind of fascinating and you know, keep doing great job. Thank you so much for this.
Steve Statler 38:04
Thanks, Jacob. Be safe, All the best to you and your family. Take care