Mister Beacon Episode #66

Building the Web of Things – Evrythng

February 19, 2018

Most people these days are familiar with the Internet of Things, at least in concept – but when we speak of the web of things, we are speaking of an entirely different, though related issue. On this episode of Mr. Beacon, Stephen talks with Dominique Guinard, CTO of Evrythng, a company that helps brands create and establish digital links with their products. There are many reasons for this kind of technological integration into physical products and the two of them discuss the issues behind a unique identifier approach to product development and distribution. This is a fascinating conversation about where the world of products is headed, so make sure you listen.


  • Narration 00:00

    The Mr. Beacon podcast presents, Building the Web of Things, Evrythng with guest, Dominique Guinard, CTO of Evrythng sponsored by Wiliot on scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 00:17

    So Dominic Guinard, CTO of Evrythng. Thank you so much for spending time with us on the on the Mr. Beacon podcast, we're going to talk about two things I don't know with if we're gonna have time for both in one episode, but the first thing that I want to talk about is your book, Building the Web of Things, and I bought a copy. And I've been working through it, and I love it, I think it's fantastic. I think you've done an amazing job. It's super practical. And what I like is for those of us who talk about the Internet of Things and cloud services, you make it really specific and real. And you allow us to, actually with a remarkably small amount of work achieve a huge amount with very simple exercises. And then before you know it, you're like, really deep into into stuff. And it's very helpful for me, because I see my job, part of my job is helping to build solutions. And I may be a marketing guy, but I'm trying to figure out what are the pieces and how do they work together. And this really is a core to it. And I think you've done an amazing job. So thank you. Let's talk about it. So first of all, tell us what, what's the difference between the web of things and the internet of things?

    Dominique Guinard 01:39

    I think the difference is, in you know exactly what you said before. So you said with a with a small amount of work, you actually managed to build an end to end application, right. And a lot of the work in the in the Internet of Things in the early years of the IoT was really on networking protocols, right? Developing new networking protocols, sometimes competing protocols to bring things to the internet, very little work was done in terms of understanding how these things that were on the internet would actually integrate into the application ecosystem. And the web of things is is really about that. It's really about trying to think about the application layer that we would build on top of the internet of things. And it, you know, just like the web made the internet successful, is trying to show you how the web can make the Internet of Things successful. It requires some tweaking some, some protocols need to be adapted. But overall, you can fairly quickly create big solutions by using scalable web technologies on top of things.

    Steve Statler 02:48

    And tell us for those who haven't seen the book before, what are the web technologies that you explain what are the building blocks?

    Dominique Guinard 02:55

    So for those who are fairly technical, these are straightforward technologies like HTTP and WebSockets. So technologies are already widespread web technologies. So yeah, HTTP WebSockets. Then using JSON for, you know, actually representing the data using the web security mechanisms such as TLS. But then also, it goes beyond the basic building blocks of the web to extend into, for instance, the Semantic Web using semantic web technologies to not only connect things to the web, but also make them findable and usable on the web. Or it also looks into using the social the social web to build the social web of things because they're nice, nice ways of sharing things using using social web technologies. So, so it looks at basically what can you put in the IoT toolbox from the web that can be useful to connect things.

    Steve Statler 04:02

    And I think the great thing is you start off with REST API rest API's, which is basically a URL and you type things in. And the way you've got it set up, we can actually get results very quickly and I think so what I've seen is you've got kind of two parts one is the Raspberry Pi piece. So basically I bought my own here and it's the size of came in this box the size of a kind of Altoids and I think it costs me like $25 And I've got a computer here that has a USB connection and HDMI connection. Probably has Bluetooth and I haven't got that that far. Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Yeah, I think so. Just absolutely amazing. But a little daunting because it doesn't come in a nice box and so forth. And what I love is that you've got the This setup already available because it's the web. And it's actually somewhere around here. Where is it the system that we can access?

    Dominique Guinard 05:08

    Yeah, it's the back of the room actually. And I, you know, I cannot take credit for that this was the somehow the the publisher Manning was, you know, they read the draft and they were like, your book is great. But to actually get the power of the story you're telling, you almost need to get to the end. So they were asking us, is there a way to show from chapter one onwards or chapter two, the full extent of what you can do with the web and things right, then that's when we started thinking, well, we can put that device on the web and let people try from the word go, actually.

    Steve Statler 05:42

    What I found myself doing was typing in a URL URLs, and I'm suddenly browsing a computer and seeing what the sensors are, and being able to display my name on a computer in your office 1000s of miles away. So it's fantastic. So what I can't believe is that you're CTO of a company, Evrythng, and you wrote that book at the same time. How did you do? How did you do that?

    Dominique Guinard 06:09

    Yeah, I mean, the, the original idea for writing that book came out of out of our PhD thesis. So both Vlad and I wrote, probably the two first PhD thesis on the web of things. And then we were contacted by Manning. And we thought, hey, we can just reuse our PhD thesis and convert it into a book, right? We're young and naive and didn't really work that way. Right. But the initial plan was to spend a couple of weeks during the summer holidays on converting that right. It absolutely did not work like that. We ended up having to work on it for 18 months, was basically every weekend, every weekend for 18 months. We were working on that.

    Steve Statler 06:51

    You have very tolerant wives, girlfriends, whatever.

    Dominique Guinard 06:55

    Absolutely. Yeah, she was really tolerant. She actually pushed me to get it done for that. Yeah.

    Steve Statler 07:01

    So I years and years ago, I wrote a book on Unix device drivers with someone that I worked with. And at the beginning of the book we got on great by the end of it, we weren't speaking. So rather than you do you still speak? Very good friends. Excellent. Yeah. Well, it's very impressive that you've managed to do that. Okay, so we've talked about some of the technologies. What has this book got to do with your day job with with Evrythng.

    Dominique Guinard 07:32

    So the way we started Evrythng that the company was very much as a as an extension of the research we were doing on bringing web technologies to embedded devices, but also to all kinds of connected things, right. So if you want the core of the technology we're presenting the book is the core of the technology that the Evrythng platform is built on. And at Evrythng, we help customers connecting their products to the web, right? So that's, that's the core of what we're doing. So somehow, this is a short condensed version of what we're doing at Evrythng.

    Steve Statler 08:10

    So what is in the core of the Evrythng platform, then you're helping you're helping brands, consumer packaged goods, companies establish a digital link with a physical product, whether it's a coke bottle or a shirt? Or what are some of the things that you've done that we've given me? Give me a few examples?

    Dominique Guinard 08:32

    Yeah, so so so that's exactly what you're describing we are we're basically giving a URL to every single object and providing an API for these objects. So they get digital twins. So to say, in terms of examples, probably one of the most well known brand is Coca Cola. So with them, we worked on actually enabling billions of identities on coke cans and Coke products. And this allows them to run marketing campaigns, to run loyalty programs. But also to learn more about the flow of their products. And understand how they're being used. It's the first time they can really create a link between people and products, without having to go through intermediaries.

    Steve Statler 09:18

    Which is a huge deal. It's massively disruptive, because traditionally, maker of consumer product, hands it off to sometimes a multi tiered distribution chain, and they have no idea who's at the other end of it, maybe they run a contest with a card to get you to register. And we all know that no one registers the products they buy.

    Dominique Guinard 09:40

    I think what's fascinating is that when you tell people that story, they go like, in what terms is this the internet of things, right? And actually, if you look at the definition of the Internet of Things came out in in 99, from from a set of laboratories called the auto ID labs at MIT and And ETH Zurich and a researcher called Kevin Ashton, I think he was a co one of the CO directors of the lab needed to present to Procter and Gamble, the digitalization strategy for their products, and started thinking, well, he could put an RFID tag on every Procter and Gamble product, and you could connect them together to form an internet of things. So the Internet of Things itself was born with the notion of CPG products being connected together, right. So today, you know, the rest is history. And today, we really see the Internet of Things and smart homes, smart cities. But I think there's much more to it, right? It's there. Yeah, there are, you know, millions of consumer electronic products out there. But they're actually trillion of CPG, and apparel products or lower cost products that actually can benefit from being interconnected as well.

    Steve Statler 10:57

    How many products do you have in your database?

    Dominique Guinard 11:00

    So unique products, we connect about 1 billion unique products right now, if you consider products that are not uniquely identified, but identified at at the product category level, that's several billions of products. So we register several billions of transactions on products. But there is a difference whether it's uniquely identified or not.

    Steve Statler 11:25

    Can you explain that a little bit more. So I can imagine there's this kind of trend in package consumer packaged goods, especially pharmaceuticals to serialize? Because everyone wants to be able to identify what was the product that you have for warranty reasons and to track whether it's authentic? And maybe if there's a recall, they want to know that. But when would you not have that unique identity?

    Dominique Guinard 11:53

    That's a good question. Actually, if you have the unique identity, you are in a much better place. And I think the number of applications that can be based just on the fact that you have a unique identifier for products are almost unlimited, right? The reason you don't get unique identifiers yet is simply the cost. Although it may seem trivial to print, for instance, a unique QR code on a product at massive speeds such as you know, the speed. Brands like Coca Cola and Nestle need to print their packaging at this has a big cost, just slowing down the printing process to print unique identities has a massive cost, which is something I discovered Actually, I didn't imagine that.

    Steve Statler 12:37

    I was talking to someone at one of the CPG companies and they described a rookie mistake they made were they I think they dropped something in the production process and products were being produced it like a freight train just coming off the production line, amazingly well thing exploded, and it was catastrophic for a short period of of time, actually stopping the press is is challenging. And that becomes you talked about it's difficult with the QR code. And I mean, what happens with radio technologies? How do you get a unique ID and an RFID tag if you're producing?

    Dominique Guinard 13:15

    This is this is why this type of technologies are still limited to higher higher end products. Right. So for instance, we use NFC and RFID. In parallel with with, we have an a big contract with a labeling company called Avery Dennison. They produce a lot of labels for apparel brands. And through that contract, we basically enable apparel brands to put digital identities on their product, unique digital identities. And that's when you start to see RFID tags or NFC tags, or even higher end technologies such as Bluetooth, low energy and so on. I think this is this is currently the limit. But I also see it shifting right. I think even five years ago, it was a no go to put an NFC tag in and a power light. And simply because of the cost. This is already changing. So I think we will see a little revolution in smart packaging in the next few years.

    Steve Statler 14:14

    So you know, one of the things that's happened is the cost of RFID tags has gone down. And I think if you're buying a billion you can get them for just a few cents, five cents or less even less. Yeah. But is that steal money on the cost of something where they're very sensitive to increasing the cost? What are your thoughts on the kind of that those organizations coming to terms with the return on investment, because if it's coming or coming out of the packaging guy's budget, then he's not going to like it. But the benefits are all to the marketing organization and so forth. Companies Getting it together in terms of funding it? Or is it still a zero sum game where you're fighting for pennies out of the packaging?

    Dominique Guinard 15:07

    Yeah, it's it requires a little bit of mind shift, right? Because if if you if you digitally enable your products just for a particular marketing campaign, then that's that's not really product digitalization, right, you need to think of that in broader terms, you need to imagine that every single product now has an identity. And that you can develop a number of applications and a number of returns on investment on top of that technology, you really see a need to see it as a platform, rather than a one off kind of campaign for a product. And that's tricky, because it means the packaging, people have to be on board to basically put the digital trigger, or even the piece of electronic on the product. But they don't do that only for them, they do that for other parts of the organization such as the marketing or or, you know, supply chain or or product authenticity, which can be very different parts of an organization. So it's really this this platform thinking that I think brands need to start to have and for us when when brands start to get that, that that it's not only a way to run a one off campaign, but rather a platform play, to digitalize their products. When this happens, then then that's when the magic happens, right? Because then they can see the return across multiple applications.

    Steve Statler 16:39

    To me it's just a matter of time before all high end CPG companies latch on to this the the benefit of knowing who your customer is and being able to satisfy problems like gray markets and authenticating the product is a real product and potentially replenishment, your automatic replenishment of products as they get worn out and consumed. It's just kind of a no brainer. And it's really just up to McKinsey to start a practice and kind of get at the CEO level and the board level, which is really what it requires, in my opinion, the thing that I haven't really figured out is what's in it for the consumer. So can you give some examples of what you've seen that worked? Why would a consumer want a dress or a handbag with an RFID? Or hopefully, from our perspective, from Willy ops perspective of Bluetooth, tagging it? There's certainly lots of things they can be afraid of like privacy and so forth. What's on the other side of the ledger that would actually make them want to have a digitally connected piece of apparel?

    Dominique Guinard 17:49

    Yeah. And that is such an important question. I remember when I was at the auto ID Labs, which these were the early years of EPC RFID. So putting unique product code on RFID tags. And I remember one episode where a deployment at Walmart of EPC tags led to people chaining themselves at the store doors to not let the goods with RFID tags getting in, right. And this really, you know, struck me and I was I was like, Why? Why do they see such a big problem? And I think the reason is they saw no benefit for them in that right. And we naturally, this is the case with mobile phone or with any technology that eats a little bit of our privacy, we put things on a balance, right? What do I get? And what do I have to give right? Sometimes we don't quite get the balance correctly. But we always look at cost and benefit at the end of the day. So it's very important that CPG brands and apparel brands and anyone who is putting this digital technology on their products really thinks about you know, there must be a big win for the consumer. And in terms of big wins for the consumer as well. concrete examples obviously marketing. Promotion loyalty is what comes to mind at first but they're they're slightly more subtle use cases. You talked about product authenticity, which is a big deal in apparel, for instance, but also even in CPG drinks, you know high end drinks and so on.

    Steve Statler 19:24

    Certainly pharmaceuticals, you want to know that medicine is the real thing.

    Dominique Guinard 19:28

    Yeah, exactly. In pharmaceuticals, in pharmaceuticals, there's also a legal framework, facilitating that right? Because there are now legal requirements to be able to trace the goods. That's one aspect and then you can think of you know, beyond just an identity and identifier if you start thinking about sensing capabilities, right the kind of things really artist is also looking at, then there is an added benefit, right you can know for instance the temperature of a product cross across the supply chain. And this for some products is tremendously important such as for, you know, medicine and drugs or also edible products. And I think we're just at the beginning of understanding the benefits of putting digital triggers on on CPG apparel and all kinds of goods actually.

    Steve Statler 20:24

    Very good. Well, this has been great, we could talk for hours, but I want to quit whilst we're ahead because I just want to say this book is tremendous. For anyone who is even people that aren't technical, then you can play a bit and see some results and start to demystify the some of the buzzwords that we use without really knowing what they mean. And you can figure out what they mean by using it and getting results. And then I applaud what you guys are doing with the platform, which is at one level kind of technical infrastructure. But I think you've done a great job of enabling some very practical use cases with some, some great brands. So thanks very much for talking with us.

    Dominique Guinard 21:03

    Thank you very much.

    Steve Statler 21:04

    All right. So Dominic, what three songs would you take to Mars?

    Dominique Guinard 21:19

    Okay. Yeah, that's by far the trickiest question I ever got asked. I think I would pick the Beatles, Across the Universe. Right for the journey.

    Steve Statler 21:29

    Yes. Very good. That's the first time we've had that one, but very appropriate for a Martian trip.

    Dominique Guinard 21:35

    And, and then I would pick, one of my favorite bands is called Wakes Up, and Swedish electronic band and the girl and the robot, which is about this. About the, you know, the encounter of robots and humans and what they can bring in the good things and the bad things.

    Steve Statler 22:01

    Are you optimistic about what's going to happen in terms of our future with robots? Or do you think we're just an evolutionary stage and we're going to be passing the baton on to the robots.

    Dominique Guinard 22:11

    I'm awkward. I'm optimistic. I think it's going to be bumpy. And that's basically what this song tells, but there is a happy ending.

    Steve Statler 22:21

    Okay. Very good.

    Dominique Guinard 22:22

    And then the last one would be Kraftwerk Radioactivity, because you just have to write if you're on Mars, you have to make some kind of hardcore electronic songs.

    Steve Statler 22:35

    Yeah. Love Kraftwerk. So now is your Michels ya, apologize if that seems a stereotypical actually.

    Dominique Guinard 22:42

    I'm a big fan. So yeah, could have done that. I had two minutes to choose it. Well, I think you've done very well. Thanks very much.

    Narration 22:51

    The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.