Mister Beacon Episode #24

High Precision Location - Angle of Arrival - Quuppa Enters the USA

January 08, 2017

Angle of Arrival (AoA) offers genuine sub-meter accuracy. Quuppa has pioneered the commercialization of AoA using commodity Bluetooth components and have recently opened up operations in the USA. [RECORDED DEC 2016] We talk to their co-founder and Chief Customer Officer, Fabio Belloni, who explains how this technology is being deployed.


  • Fabio Belloni 00:04

    So we can go down to centimeters level like 10 centimeter level, that's what we do in sport. When we really try to push the technology our technology to the very maximum, we can get a fraction on the feet of course, we like 100 milliseconds the length of the shelf it also means that we have been taken paths devices that already existed, and, and just turn them with the triple fine line or firmware software code into a complex rock and roll device. So we can only use one device in order to be able to pinpoint where you are.

    Steve Statler 00:48

    You're listening to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem with Steve Statler. Welcome to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem. My name is Steve Statler of Statler Consulting. And this podcast is aimed at location aware solution designers. And it's a continuation of the work we did on this book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem giving it some extra shelf life. One of the more interesting companies that we covered well, actually, they were all interesting, but a particularly interesting company we covered in the book was Koopa I am really pleased we've got Fabio Belloni, who is the co founder and Chief Customer Officer of Quuppa, who has just moved to the United States. So Fabio, welcome to the show. And welcome to America.

    Fabio Belloni 01:42

    Thank you. Thank you so much glad to be here.

    Steve Statler 01:44

    Yeah, it's it's exciting. And you've actually always been this kind of your company that you found, it has always been this very interesting company because you take Bluetooth where it's never been before in terms of the level of very high precision and accuracy. And that's that's very interesting, because I think it portends the direction that the industry is going so we want to hear about the company, the product, what it can do. And you know why you're expanding to the US now, a little bit about how the technology works and the market where it's being used and your view on it. So let's let's get stuck in and just tell me a little bit about what your company does.

    Fabio Belloni 02:25

    Right. So Quuppa is a technology provider, what we do is provide an accurate dot, the famous.on the map. So as a technology provider, we have always been fascinating into creating a technology that could track and monitor and following objects or people or any kind of things that an end customer or an integrator might be interesting to, to monitor, because it's becoming quite clear from the market that knowing that what is where, and eventually also knowing what is happening over there in terms of remote sensing and sensing data in a remote location is actually a very strong enabler for be able to unbound and unpack a lot of different services. And location based services is all about be able to practically combine actionable information into the location and the tracking data, and being able to create an alarm alert, or location based information or to provide effectively any kind of insight of how things and people are moving in the environment and those in their relationship with each other.

    Steve Statler 03:53

    So we talked about accuracy, just how accurate can you get to.

    Fabio Belloni 03:58

    So we can go down to centimeters level like 10 centimeter level, that's what we do in sport. When we really try to push the technology, our technology to the very maximum, we can get a fraction of the feedback or say we've like 100 millisecond delay. But is that always needed? Well, our answer is to be honest, no. There are certain environments where effectively the submitter recruiters say, it's more than enough for getting to understand where people are or where objects are placed. And what is very important when talking about accuracy. It's it's the combination of course we also delay because there is a lot of location based services, which are related, for instance, to security and safety and alarms, where you got to be able to take decision within a fraction of a second and that's radically Pina always one of our concern is like, how can we somehow find the right trade off and combine the accurate data together with a low latency or the as light as possible infrastructure costs, and trying to deliver the into the end customer so that they can also leverage on using a radio technology, which is not invented by us. But that is already pervasive into the market and the fact that we'll be able to leverage on the on the volumes of such radio components, and the impossible even to reuse some of the components that they have already built. And simply by making some small software modification, given the new life to those devices, and make it so that can become trackable.

    Steve Statler 05:57

    I think that's a really good point. So you're building on top of Bluetooth, it's not like you're using some exotic radio technology with lower volumes. This is not Ultra wideband, which is, you know, has accuracy. But but the volumes just haven't been there in the underlying chipsets, you're using the radios that other people use. And just to finish off, you know, this real time thing, I think you guys have done a great job with your website, you have videos of foosball tables with tracking that the movement on there, and also ice hockey where these guys are moving at huge speed. And so that I think, captures people's imagination. How do you do it? And well, let's talk about before we get to the science of it. And we don't need to go into too much detail. But just at a practical level, what's required, I've decided, I want to track my staff. And I really want that high precision accuracy. And I've got a warehouse that is 20,000 square meters or whatever, what's what's required.

    Fabio Belloni 07:02

    Yeah, so if someone will decide to start adopting the corporate system, the first thing you have to install are the enablers, the locators, which are somehow the lights that illuminate your space. So this is a locator. It's, it's a round device. It weighs about 500 grams, and it's very easily mounted and attach, you can mount it flat, you can mount it tilted on the ceiling. And effectively, the locator works like your radio camera. So what it does, it can see in the space where the signal the Bluetooth Low Energy signal comes from, and by knowing where the device are placed into the indoor environment, and we have tools and software application for doing that, every device can track in real time, the direction for which the signal comes from. And by knowing that effectively retrieve the position of where the object is moving. So really, the intuition is like having not a video camera, but a radio camera. So it's something that can follow as the object moves around one of them. So we started to work on this technology in 2004 2005. So whatever you see, as Cooper technology is something that has been created through several years of hard work, and everything and now being packaged in the way that we really want to make the solution scalable, which is another critical components for be able to tackle the market. So if someone was to get the system in place, once they have placed the locator on the ceiling, then the next thing is to decide what they want to track. So if you have a forest and pallets or you have a forklift or you have a person, so you can give either a tag, so this is a cooper tag, okay, so this is a reference design tag, which is used in the market by several of our customers. And this is a device that contains three axis accelerometer, he has a button, it has a temperature sensor, and it has an easy fix amount. But we are cautious of the fact that you know every industry every customer has different needs on how this tag needs to be. And that's why at Cooper, we have consciously decided to open up fully all interface of how to build tags. So Cooper provides a foot for free documentation that describes on how the tag is built and how the tag should transmit. Clearly this is again not any kind of dedicated device. Everything that is inside this device is off the shelf. Okay, and off the shelf, it also means that we have been taken in the past devices that already existed. And, and just turn them with the three two fine line of firmware software code into a compact trackable device.

    Steve Statler 10:17

    So we'll talk about the receivers in just a second, but the beacons themselves what's different about that beacon from any other beacon that I could buy from contact or estimate.

    Fabio Belloni 10:28

    So from the radio perspective, they're actually the same. So they have inside the Bluetooth Low Energy radio, they are broadcasting on bat advertisement pocket. The difference is the content in the payload. So particularly if you want your beacon or your device to be Cooper trackable, you simply need to add into the payload of the Bluetooth Low Energy advertisement packet is certain known sequence and, and once you give the right structure to your advertisement packet, then suddenly your object illuminates and our locators can can start to track it.

    Steve Statler 11:12

    Why do I need to know the sequence in beacons are uniquely identified anyway, through or potentially at least by the UID major minor device number, the MAC address?

    Fabio Belloni 11:21

    That's correct, that's correct, but we go a step beyond that. So, if you are using practically the major, the minor and all the information in the standard, effectively, we are doing the pure beaconing. So you send a radio packet and on the other hand, you receive it and then based on power information, you can try to retrieve within which proximity you are to the receiver device, but in here we go step beyond we actually want to do the AOA angle of arrival estimation. So effectively, the training sequence that is inside the VLE are in your pocket that allows the locator to compute the spatial direction the direction in space from which the signal is coming from, together with identify uniquely, which which transmitting devices which and keeping on following it. So the idea is really the same as if your your locator is on the ceiling would be your hand in your hand, you will have a laser pointer. So the laser beam is a direction in space, which is identified by two angles, azimuth and elevation. And when you project the laser beam to the floor, when you see a dot, and the.is to the position, right, or Cooper practically. And that's also another distinctive feature of Cooper respect to other technology, like alter wipe. And without, since we are not measuring distances, we don't need to three letter rate in order to be able to retrieve the coordinates of an object. So we can only use one device in order to be able to pinpoint where you are. And this opens the door on two different very interesting use case. For instance, in security and safety, if you want to do access control, and if you want to, you know control the door, for instance, how you open and close the door, or simply measure traffic through a gate, you effectively just need to put one locator on top of the area. And then the locator will make sure that it will track everything that would move within his area of rage. And then if you go to very complex industrial environment where there is a lot of metal and a lot of known ideologies, you don't need to all the time rely on having at least three nodes looking at you in order to know where you are. But even if you will lose connection and to some of the devices is just enough that one of them sees you. And that's what is gonna position here. So effectively is the solution, which is extremely robust to be used even in the heavy and harsh environment.

    Steve Statler 14:12

    Why would I go from one unit to two units? What do I get if I have two receivers that I didn't get with one? Because it sounds like you can do a lot of things just with one.

    Fabio Belloni 14:22

    Yeah, I mean, having more units and more devices on the ceiling, it builds redundancy into the system. So it practically builds on the reliability of your dots are some extra robustness into the system. So the idea is like, you know, the same as GPS, you could get your position on four satellites, but then if you have more than your position practically becomes more stable and reliable, and is the same thing, because remember that we are always battling against delay. I mean, we could always, you know, provide more accuracy simply by increasing In the filtering, and having a longer delay, but we don't really want to do that, because then you're closing the door to all of those truly real time use cases. So what we decided to do was to not make an our decision from our customer, but to give them the chance to choose, they can still increase the delay, if they want to keep down on the infrastructure part, or if they want to have more real time pay just need to put a little bit more infrastructure, and they can decide for themselves, depending on your use case and the end customer needs. What is the right balance, and, and he can also be that the beta want to cover forest on one area continuously, we submitted a Coolessay. But they could do this kind of kind of sparse deployment, where in front of doors or places in the indoor space where they really want to have an eye of course, if they put the locator everywhere else, they can just have locator like 30 meters apart, even 50 meters apart. And that could give us enough information on which part of the building you are and everything in between, right? We don't dictate what they want by the customer can do. We just want to give them the enablers for them to do.

    Steve Statler 16:19

    So what about so what density do I need if I want one meter accuracy, for example?

    Fabio Belloni 16:26

    Typically, the distance between the locators is two to four times the ceiling height, that's like the rule of thumb. Okay. So if you have a ceiling high of let's say, three meters, if you are in an environment, which is what we call confined, confined, it means something that would have thick, thick walls or a lot of metals, and really a lot of abstractions around, therefore, you will, we would suggest you to put locators every six meters, so there will be three meter side twice the ceiling height, if you go into environments that are more open, what we call semi confined, therefore, you can start to stretch the distance between the locators. And and you can go three times the ceiling height.

    Steve Statler 17:18

    So this is fascinating, because this is like the opposite of solutions, which is the bulk of the solutions use receive signal strength. And there you if you've got a high ceiling, then that's really challenging because you know, the difference in signal strength becomes lost in the noise. But in your case, actually high ceilings and warehouses. One of my clients is a warehouse 3030 feet, high ceilings, and I'm like, Oh my God, how are we going to? What are we going to do? We're going to have to suspend these receivers on wires or something. But in your case, that's actually an advantage. It sounds like.

    Fabio Belloni 17:55

    Yeah, it is. Because I mean, the having again, think about the camera, right? Yeah, if the space and environment is more open, then you can arise a better view side, right? Right View. And then the same thing would be the located the higher is the ceiling. In principle, the higher is the footprint that every locator would have in terms of coverage. And and we have even built two different kinds of devices that LD six allocators, which is the one that we typically use for indoor spaces or four spaces where you have a ceiling height, which is less than 12 meters. And you still want to retain the sub meter. Of course, if you said that go into environment which are much higher, then we have another device so which is rectangular in shape you see from the website, the seven out and that device, actually, it's IP 65. So it's very weather resistance. Remember, I live in Finland. So even though I'm in in the state now we have a lot of deployment in an unfriendly and cold environment. So we really have to design the device to withstand such a harsh condition. And also, we wanted to design them so that they will be able to measure accurately at much longer distances.

    Steve Statler 19:24

    So that has greater range that it's a more sensitive antenna.

    Fabio Belloni 19:28

    Yeah, it's a significantly more sensitive on time. And just to give an example, the communication range between this device and attack. So these two devices together, it's 110 meters, okay, so if I would want this one vertical on s3, I could move higher and 10 meters away and I can still receive the signal. And then if I will use the other device seven out, I can actually 300 meters away, which actually means that now Oh, you can go to an environment like sport, let me give you an example. If you go to a 60 90,000 people stadium, you can't monitor the locators right next to the field where the people the players are, you know, perform it, you've got to most people are very high up outside of the view of the spectators. And typically would be practically where the lights are not on top. And that can be easily over 100 meters away from where the game is played. So you can think of the locator or like a camera, where you know, the lens of the camera gives you the possibility to zoom in.

    Steve Statler 20:45

    Can you talk about an example of that? Is there a sports stadium where you've done that?

    Fabio Belloni 20:48

    We have we have some of those are our in the US somewhere in the in, in Europe, we done? I don't think we still we have yet something in Asia, but there might be some surprises coming coming quite soon. And we have a few of these stadiums that are public somewhere instead, private places.

    Steve Statler 21:13

    So give us an example of a public one and just kind of give us a rough sense of how many of those receivers what sort of accuracy and what do they use it for.

    Fabio Belloni 21:22

    So if you use it in sport, it depends on the sport, a one one public place that everyone is welcome to go to visit is, for instance, the University of Waterloo in Canada. And we have done the project together with one of our partners for hockey tech. So in that case, we are using two parallel systems. So we use two systems of time locator each in order to be able to track both teams. And you're talking about the 40 Plus player. All the referees, so roughly four or five people plus the pack, and the pack itself moves about 40 meters per second. So and the players is something that can move quite significantly faster than what a runner could do. So when we do in when we do hockey for Eastern track, and we have the puck transmitting a 50 hertz, so the times per second, we can be 50 position per second. And the players are doing 20 or 20 position per second. So what we build inside the system, because everything that I described so far, it's roughly 20% of what the Cooper system can do. So I just described practically the position part. But in order to build a system that is truly scalable, well, you have to be able to talk with your devices, those tags or transmitter cannot just be dummy devices. So we have built within the Koopa infrastructure and ecosystem, what we call the back end chart. And and that one allows for a full two way communication. So words each and every one of the tag so that we can command them, control them, monitor them directly from the web service API, which mean from the cloud, which means from remote, which means that from from here in my office in DC, I can actually connect to any of the site we have in the world and be able to shut down the tag, they say to the tag to transmit faster or slower or tell to the tag to give me out to different kinds of data that we might be recording. Because as we said before, the tab also has sensors and all the sensor data, they come out in the same interface.

    Steve Statler 24:01

    So the park is kind of got an accelerometer in it. And you can find out the speed from well, I guess you can find out the speed because you can just track the movement.

    Fabio Belloni 24:10

    Yeah, we I mean, there is can be an accelerometer in it. And that would open the door to even more exciting. But I mean to be able to track the velocity and plot all of that. And we have, by the way, some example on our webpage, so.

    Steve Statler 24:26

    Okay, so that's interesting. So you can turn up and down the frequency because I was thinking man, you're gonna burn through batteries really fast. And I guess that doesn't matter in in a sports environment. You can get them to change the batteries, but it sounds like you can throttle that back and turn that up. And so you know, how much are we talking about? Is this like, How much does a beacon cost and how much do these receivers cost?

    Fabio Belloni 24:51

    So let me first answer about the battery consumption because that's actually one of the key points. Respect to some of the other technology again, for scalability and cost, right? So then the technology, the Bluetooth Low Energy radio has been becoming more and more efficient in thermal power consumption. And that is something that has been benefiting us. So the latest model of the Cooper tag, which is going to be available next year, is a device that can transmit one packet per second, continuously 24/7 For something about three to four years continuously. Okay? That means that if you, for instance, start to shut down the tag, when for recent, your shop is closed, well, effectively, your battery is going to consume just for the discharge of the battery itself, right more than for the utilization. And that also means that in sport, we can actually have devices, which can last an entire season. And by doing that you are practically killing the kind of maintenance cost and making the overall operation much more effective. Because if you would have tags that needs to be constantly charged, well, that means that you need to have every single game or every single training session, someone which are typically not the players dedicated to having the device charge distributed device collecting device. I mean, it's it's a lot of overhead, right? That is typically not always considered at the beginning when the system are under evaluation. But I heard some people and then complain later on about that.

    Steve Statler 26:45

    Now it's good points well made, and you've definitely kind of I think established the value. I'm actually like one of those receivers just to have it in my office because it looks cool. Not because I need to track anything, but how much do they cost.

    Fabio Belloni 26:58

    So the Quuppa tag is a device as I said, that is a reference device so Quuppa practical abilities as an example, the timer starts at 25 usage, and then the price goes down with volume to like 2015. And so I really wouldn't use this one to be honest as a reference on the cost, because we have already and if you go to our webpage, we have three company listed there under the Quuppa ecosystem. And in total, we have nine company building already their own tags. Some example is Fujitsu. Fujitsu is one of our partner into the IoT, and ecosystem work and, and they have built their own tags with their own use. So in that case, we have some partners that have been able to build some of the tags, like for instance, and these are solution that is our partner with whom we work in the hospital space and healthcare space. Very have been able to build tags that cost in the order of like five bucks each.

    Steve Statler 28:08

    That's pretty amazing. Okay, so the tags sounds like you're kind of on the same ballpark as the rest of the market. There's nothing like special that makes them superduper expensive. But those receivers and we haven't actually talked about how they work. I do want to do that. But just how much did the what's the what's the kind of the ballpark range for those just so that people think people are assuming that this is like a Maserati time, that kind of price tag. So bracing myself, thank you so much for listening to this first half of the Quuppa interview. This year's new year's resolution was we weren't going to do any interviews that lasted longer than half an hour. This one's an hour and the second half is actually better than the first half. So do come back here how much the Quuppa receivers cost. It's a lot less than a measure it I was amazed. We're going to be talking about how the technology works, some commentary on the future of the Bluetooth standards and angle of arrival, Quuppa partner strategy and who they're working with, which includes some pretty surprising companies. We're going to be talking about the role of asset tracking and how we can work with location for phones, some of the limitations, and also what it was that is bringing Quuppa over to the US so we really hope that you will join us for this if you have been thanks for listening. So the most challenging questions there which three songs you take on a mission to Mars, so chose to think about that.

    Fabio Belloni 29:57

    Mission to Mars. Well, I I actually love the I love David Bowie. So I would definitely take a couple of those. So Space Odyssey is one of my family.

    Steve Statler 30:13

    That's, that's interesting. So that we actually just interviewed the Conlogue Lowenberg. from Cisco, you chose the same song. So, which would be the other Bowie song if you because that one's taken sorry, you only have one digital copy.

    Fabio Belloni 30:25

    So that one is taken. So then, well, if you travel to Mars, there's gonna be a long journey. So you have to have something that is going to keep you up tempo. And then I will take probably something from Bruno Mars. I found fun counters. That's a good one. Six seek alone in the space shuttle.

    Steve Statler 30:50

    Yeah, you can dance get some of that exercise you need to keep in shape.

    Fabio Belloni 30:54

    As right, and then I'm, I like rock music. So I will probably take something of Metallica for the time in which I'm a little bit more energetic, and I feel like to jump around. And then I liked a lot. Classical music. So I typically relaxed quite a lot by listening to Beethoven.

    Steve Statler 31:25

    Okay, so if you need to give me specifics, because what we're starting to do is actually capture the music and play it over. So which Metallica?

    Fabio Belloni 31:38

    A Master of Puppets. And then for Beethoven is going to be iPod Luna.

    Steve Statler 31:46

    Okay, well, I'm not familiar but that's a good excuse for me to become more.

    Fabio Belloni 31:52

    The moonlight song is from Beethoven is a sonata and, and it's divided in three parts. The first one is very quiet. The second one is a kind of warm up. The third one is a fantastic piece. I play piano I played piano for nine years classical music and I've never been able to make the third part because you have to be a pro. Really. Just listen to that if you've never done super fast, super energetic. Great.

    Steve Statler 32:25

    Oh, fantastic. That's great insight. Thank you.