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Mister Beacon Episode #81

Les Beacons Bluetooth - Pole Star

November 20, 2018

With 300 million square feet, covering 35 countries, 100,000 beacons, and 200,000 connections per day, the French company Pole Star definitely deserves its recognition in the Beacosystem. In this episode, we talk with the Deputy General Manager & CTO of Pole Star, Jean-Baptiste Prost about use cases in their four main verticals. Polestar promises an enhanced user experience, engagement with visitors, and insight into how your spaced in used. Polestar can make any venue “smart” with indoor location, geofencing, and analytics. Watch this week’s interview to hear about the evolution of Polestar and the beacon market, and where the future is heading.


  • Narration 0:07

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

    Steve Statler 0:16

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. We're here at Bluetooth. Well, on the main keynote stage, everyone started to go home. So that led us to take this very nice space to talk to John Baptist, who's the CTO of Pole Star. So JB, thanks very much for spending some time with us. Thanks, Dave. So we haven't had very many French speaking companies on the show. I feel like you guys have been a really important player that we've missed out. So I'm really pleased that we got a chance to talk, can you? Can you describe a little bit about what you guys do?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 0:55

    Yeah. So we, one of the reasons why you may be did not identify us is that we are not defining ourselves like a beacon company. Beacon is the easy part of it. Our history that comes right is rather on the signal processing. So our strength is the platform, that location platform, we are able to deliver very accurate positioning on smartphones, and more recently to perform asset tracking. We also have additional architecture where we can get streams of measurements, and we convert them into locations, then we embed in our platform analytics, we embed a tracking application when it comes about tracking assets typically. So that's our core focus. Now we did beacons. The reason why is that the beacon that we found at the very beginning. So at first, we were one of the first players in the beacon area, as soon as Apple introduced BLE in the iPhone. Before that we were basing our technology on Wi Fi. The the advantage with Wi Fi is that the this is an infrastructure of opportunity. So that was great to reuse what for the GRE already existing buildings. But as the APS became more and more closed, we move to blue to B to Bluetooth that time.

    Steve Statler 2:11

    So just to be clear, you started off with Wi Fi and when did the company start?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 2:16

    So the company started quite a long time ago. But it was first primarily a service company, and then in turn to a product company in 2007, and 2006. So that time there was no iPhone, there was the high tier smartphone segment, the high tier phone segment was only 9%. Wi Fi, we're just an access point in the lobby of, of hotels, or in the entry of mode. So we envision that high tier phones would become mainstream, that Wi Fi would be spread everywhere because of the need for bandwidth due to always more than many use cases. So we want those beds. But what we did not expect is that it would be more and more difficult to use Wi Fi on a smartphone, and then hopefully Bluetooth Low Energy can that was a huge opportunity to us.

    Steve Statler 3:07

    So for the location use case, you start off using Wi Fi, you move to Bluetooth more accurate. Is the location engine running on the phone in that case, or or is it running up in the cloud?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 3:20

    Yeah, so when we are locating smartphones, the location engine runs on the phone. So inside SDK, so that's a software component that application developers are integrated inside their applications. So that components listens to Bluetooth signals. It also leverages the motion sensors on the phone, accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. And we are also using the map as a sensor. So that's where we are unique in the market, that from the beginning our core identity to use the map data as as a as a sensor. So typically, with a motion sensor, you can estimate the travel distance in a direction. If you cross that with a map, you're in a probabilistic algorithm. This helps you identify the pattern that was followed by the user and even with no RF data, identify where the user is, that is really, really powerful fusion that we have.

    Steve Statler 4:14

    So you're fusing the signals you get from a variety of sensors along with RSSI your signal strength from the from the beacons and you're doing the calculations on the on the phone. What sort of customers do you have the location tracking? Who do you typically serve?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 4:37

    Okay, so we are serving four key verticals. The first one is transport. In the transport market, we have airports or the people at the Amsterdam airport. We also again recently a contract with a French railways, SNCF to cover the biggest railway station there. One of the use case is to be able to of course, implement wayfinding but they are also advanced features like automatically computing your distance to the platform. And if you see if the application detects that you're late, instead of running with your luggage, arriving on the platform, seeing the trend departing, then shouting, then trying to find a place where to change your ticket, everything is done automatically in the app saying, Okay, it looks like you're late. But within 15 minutes, you have another trend, we'd like to book a ticket to, to change your ticket for it. So dddd, the passenger Jonah is really made easy, thanks to indoor location. And we apply the same kind of have a smart application trying to connect the user to the buildings that window location. So for us indoor location is the new touch screen, you know, the touchscreen is a is a means to have easy access to the applications, the expert to actions, indoor location in the vertical that we serve, is mean to trigger the appropriate event on the right place at the right time.

    Steve Statler 5:58

    I love that. So there's real utility there. If even if I know my way around the station, I may well be late on occasion. So this ability to avoid me having to wait in line to reboot my ticket that's saving SNCF some time and money and it's making the experience better for the passenger. So that totally makes sense. So that's one for vertical on thefloor.

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 6:22

    Exactly. So the second one is retail and Mall. So malls for application where we at first we deliver a nice experience, an end experience to the consumer. So the idea here is also to identify where I'm in the mall. Big big malls have a total length of the ice on big malls have a total length of something three miles. So you can get lost at uni a few minutes that furniture get lost. But there is a moment when you need to redefine your shop, then deliver advanced mobility services like automatically storing the location of your car in the parking garage. And then of course implementing advanced marketing, trying to really propose to the consumer the advertisings advertisements and promotions he should be interested in

    Steve Statler 7:16

    And can you share any customers or hints at the kinds of customers you have?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 7:20

    That's public. So a big customer that we have is uniben Ramco, in Europe. So we have 50 malls for union run at Ramco. We have company the first boo, we have clip where we have a few more with Westfield as well. So that's typical candidates 

    Steve Statler 7:33

    Great customer listening. Okay, so that's the second vertical. And then the third one.

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 7:38

    The third one is smart office. So smart office here, the idea is that more and more, you see very big offices created with Flex office and location of the of the of the desks. So when you arrive in the morning, your first question is Where do I sit today? The second question is where my project group. So I may will and then I may have the will to work alone today. But on the opposite, I may have to work with my product team. So you have to share your location with a product team without calling somebody that is traveling. And the one of the key items to solve as well is the reservation that the rooms, there is a big pen that that is that rooms are over booked. And if you plan too many rooms, that costs as real as real estate, right. So that's means to trigger a puppet when you go to in free room, check with a puppet do a reservation plan of the room. Check that the room is free for sufficient time Bukit and so as you know that you will find a room and that you will be able to book it or easily see on the map, which one are free, then you do not have a book. And so that makes all the cycle. Positive and non reservation non over reservation. Yeah, the

    Steve Statler 8:55

    User experience for the Office user has also got to be better. You're streamlining things. And for the real estate folks, they can show a positive ROI in terms of better utilization. Any names you can share on that front

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 9:08

    are yes, we have more than 30 references in that domains. We have big names like big banking companies, so French companies like sociated in the hall, like BNP Paribas like credit recall, or insurance companies. We have also companies like TELUS you know in the defence and security systems.

    Steve Statler 9:30

    Fantastic. And so the fourth area

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 9:33

    And the last one is healthcare, healthcare and so healthcare we are providing both technologies, both the mobile centric and also the asset tracking that has the the converse architecture of where the tiger meets. Okay, get wet on the wall listening to the signals emitted by the tags. And then that's that the time the cloud platform that computer location and delivers it inside a built in application.

    Steve Statler 9:58

    So what are the receivers, the gateways, the locators that you're using in the case of asset tracking, so you're not using the phone, presumably you're using fixed things,

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 10:09

    The gateway, absolutely. So we are using third party gateways, okay, we are putting our firmware on them. And in order to to have full control on the chain in order to have full control on security, cybersecurity, in order to be able to have a well optimized configuration of the of the gateway. And so then we have the ability built in application, but we also delivering the locations as a stream. And on top of location, we are implementing geofencing. So as a use case for that people are asset tracking, we are currently in operations in an ambulatory service, where every new patient receives a tag when arriving to the service. Do they get that kind of tags? Yes, yeah, exactly. So the tag is located with the name of the patient, inside the application system that is on top of our system, then we are able to locate the patient very accurately, we are able to implement geofencing, identifying when the patient enters the can room when he exits the can room. And then trigger notifications. All right.

    Steve Statler 11:19

    So this is comfortable wearable for, for people in hospitals. And what about that, that looks like your conventional RFID pass there.

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 11:29

    So that's here, the beacon that we use for mobile centric location, when we are implementing location on smartphones, we design our beacons to be sure that we have a strong beacon, that we have long lasting battery life. So typically eight years in the factory configuration. And more than this, to have been completely integrated in our suite, because we have one of our identities is to have extremely simple and streamlined setup process that makes our solution very cost efficient. And that one is is another example of tag that we so this one, we sorted on the market, that we can stick a typically on files. And that's obviously something that we use in a smart manufacturing. That is, I would say, part of the years smart building vertical that was servings, we were rather in a smarter phase for what I would call the white collars. And now I'm moving to the we're moving to the Smart Manufacturing, being able to track the work in progress by inserting typically those kind of files in the production file that comes up with with a manufacturing batch in the pharmaceutical industry, in the mechanical industry for the aerospace industry.

    Steve Statler 12:47

    So what are the trends that you would identify you've been in this business for a long time, and you've seen the interests waves of interest come and and go? Where was the focus when you started with Bluetooth beacons? And where do you see it going from now into the future.

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 13:06

    So the our first idea and goal was to deliver compelling services to the end user. So that was the first stage. Now, of course, when you are selling a system, at the end, the customer is expecting to have an ROI. So that's a long process to implement that, right, because you need to be very verticalized and very well integrated in the, in the in the processes of the customer. So that's something that took place that started a few years ago. And that's really in a very, very good implementation process to completely integrate indoor location as part of usual operations in all the four verticals I have mentioned, in order to have really optimized operations. And at the end, so either more when we are speaking about moles, or have well of teammate operations when we're speaking about smarter fees, smart industry, and it has care.

    Steve Statler 14:05

    And so that's, that's an evolution. So if you look into the future, what do you think is coming? How are things going to change in the future?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 14:15

    So what we've been trying to evangelize for years is the concept of location ready building. And so we have tried to convince big telecom manufacturers or players of the smart building industry to integrate Bluetooth as part of their systems, for from their point of view, integrating Bluetooth as low marginal cost. But at the end, you will just need to plug our system on those systems to be able to enable location on a wide range of, of, of buildings. So I think that's really where the market is, is aiming at. So we see lots of lot players having released, typically, Wi Fi access points with built in via Bluetooth. So that's now everybody's doing that. And on the on the SMART Office side, we now see main players integrated Bluetooth. So that's that will unlock a very big range of opportunities because the infrastructure will be there. So activating an indoor location service would just be the matter of paying an annual license.

    Steve Statler 15:28

    And so what about lighting systems? Do you think that will be part of this buildings with the location infrastructure built in?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 15:36

    Smart Lighting System? Sure, they are some of the players integrity Bluetooth as well. So now is the question is, will light play a role in indoor location? Light has the capability of providing very accurate rate location because the beam is really local. Now they are issues if you're doing that with a smartphone, you need to have the phone out of the pocket, you need to turn the camera on. And that's it from the privacy perspective.

    Steve Statler 16:06

    I agree. I think maybe there's a few use cases where you're trying to identify very precisely what's on the shelf. But I think that's probably the exception rather than the rule. What about Bluetooth mesh, though? Do you see the the Bluetooth radios that are starting to appear in LED fixtures? Are you seeing demand for that? Or are you mainly gravitating to the Wi Fi infrastructure?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 16:32

    So this mesh study, for the asset tracking, clearly the goal is to reduce the cost of infrastructure. So we are trying several paths in order to be sure that at least one will succeed. So the first one is that partnership with a big players with big Telecom, telecom manufacturers and big players of the SMART Office, integrating Bluetooth with both beaconing and reading capability inside the light inside the present detector so that the mainstream the first thing that we are following. Now the second stream is in our own solution, having so today, we just have a first level of Bluetooth listeners, Bluetooth gateways listening to the signals. And the idea is to try to reduce the cost of infrastructure by adding a second layer that could be potentially based on some level of mesh. Now, I cannot promise that this is something that will deliver because our identity is to is to deliver very accurate location, being able to perform smart geofencing. Typically, this needs a quite high density of measurements. And high density of measurements means power consumption. So that's an option that we will be definitely investigating better. We'll see whether it comes a reality.

    Steve Statler 17:42

    All right. Well, JB thanks for introducing us to Paul star. And I think you guys are doing some amazing work. You've got a spectacular list of customers. And it's great to see some success in this market over there in France, and I think you're going further afield as well.

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 17:59

    Excellent. Thanks a lot for your invitation. And if I can say a few words about your near the initiative that you support, yes, that's really something we also advance on for years, we are really, really careful about the fact that our technology be also useful. We don't want to spy people we want to deliver services that optimize and help them in their life. And life safety is very important for that. And I'm dreaming on having exit lighting with built in Bluetooth. Unfortunately, this did not happen for economic reasons so far. But we are trying to evangelize every day our partners implementing Bluetooth in the SMART Office typically or telecom manufacturer that have into into the Bluetooth in desk phones to propose that capability of proposing emergency services based on their infrastructure. So definitely nearly initiative is very key on that. And we'll try to get their buy in to to share their their databases of beacons in order to help in that initiative.

    Steve Statler 19:07

    Yeah, fantastic. I think neon has such great potential to save lives but also to be good for business and having public safety built into this infrastructure so that it's just another feature and another benefit of systems like yours would be amazing service. Thank you for your support for for Nihad Thanks, Dave. All right, JB all the best night

    Let's bring this question on you about what three songs you would take to Mars at the last minute which is very unfair, but do you like music?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 19:45

    Yes, I really love music. I really love any kind of music. I love pop music rock English rock. I must admit that my real passion is for what is called Class Hold Music There is a puppy the rock is for me like a tiger, tiger. Raj very. Whereas classical music is a Ramsbury. So does the same kind of different better. I really love I love from Selena. So take me out or the very slow version of the word later. Then I would add a second song a universal song that stuck on the bay because we are on the bay and ducks duck on the bass on the artist reading Oh, just really? Yeah. All with that. It's been classic. But that's, that's, that's music that will leave for four years or centuries. And I would say as I love classical music, I would I would speak about the Google leader from a Schoenberg Oh, that's not very well known. But that extraordinary deserves to be discovered.

    Steve Statler 20:55

    And do you play music?

    Jean-Baptiste Prost 20:57

    Yes, I don't bit I love playing the piano. But I'm no fool player. But for me that's like walking in the garden. You know? Yeah, that's, that's, I love discovering the, the, the the data come composer by trying to play it.

    Steve Statler 21:16

    I agree. I'm just I'm a palling guitar player. But every time I try and play Smoke on the Water, it makes me like really appreciate the real thing you know? Yeah. Thanks for that.