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Mister Beacon Episode #94

Lessons and Growth in Bluetooth Angle of Arrival & Departure

July 16, 2019

A few weeks ago we heard about the new Bluetooth 5.1 specification, and notably two new exciting features: Angle of Arrival (AoA) and Angle of Departure (AoD). This week we are reunited with a familiar face, Fabio Belloni, to bring these features to life using Quuppa technology. Fabio Belloni is the Chief Customer Officer at Quuppa, a location platform that has pioneered AoA for RTLS solutions. In this episode, Fabio takes us through a demo of the reverse architecture, Angle of Departure (AoD), at their annual Quuppa Partner Conference. Rather than real time location applications, AoD is best used for indoor positioning and navigation. We then take some time to get updated on the last year at Quuppa, including their announcement of the new family of Quuppa products, and discuss what the future landscape of this Bluetooth specification.


  • Narration 0:07

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

    Steve Statler 0:17

    Welcome back to the Mr. Beacon podcast. We're wrapping up the Cooper partner event. And I'm here to talk with Fabio Belloni. Welcome back to the show. I think this is like your third time on. And we're going to cover a number of things I want to talk to you about where the industry is what Cooper has been doing in the last year, a lot of changes. But the first thing I'd love to do whilst we're here is to show people angle of departure. We had Ken on the show a few weeks ago, and he was talking about the difference between AOA angle of arrival and a odd angle of departure. And that's all theory. I'd love to see this in practice. And you actually have have it running here today, right? That's correct. That's correct. So to do this, we have a phone, it's a very large phone. Do you want to hold that can demonstrate and just just recap for us a little bit and explain briefly the difference between AOA and AOD. And then take us through this setup here.

    Fabio Belloni 1:21

    Right. So we are here at the Cooper partner event 2019. And what we wanted to do here was to showcase the AUD, which means having a locators with a single radio that is broadcasting a BLE advertisement pocket. And why do we suppose which and for all of the antenna arrays, so that's why we call it beacon on dog because while the beacon has a single antenna that is used to broadcast now we are using the multiple antennas and the antenna arrays to be switched through the device at transmission.

    Steve Statler 1:54

    So it's the same hardware, you got eight segments and your antenna,

    Fabio Belloni 1:59

    a number of segments, number of segments

    Steve Statler 2:03

    with one radio normally with angle of arrival, you're listening. But in this case, you've switched it around and your podcast correct.

    Fabio Belloni 2:11

    It's exactly the dual mode. So what is happening the locator are transmitting think it off as satellites in sky for GPS. So they are providing a signal the enablement segment signal. And then in here in my hand, I have a prototype of a futuristic phone, okay, where this phone is having a display Yes, is actually running all the positioning engine instead of on the phone CPU on a Raspberry Pi, okay, is running our Cooper positioning engine. And it's feeding all the IQ sample, which is effectively what the Bluetooth 5.1 standard core is about. So in here we have a receiver board that is running Bluetooth 4.0 plus all the Cooper proprietary implementation to be able to compute the IQ sample, which are then fed into the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is running our positioning engine is computing our coordinates. And then in here we have them on display.

    Steve Statler 3:12

    So the use case here is we're doing rather than doing RTLs asset tracking, we're doing indoor positioning systems sensing indoor position sensing or navigation. Correct, correct. And you've taken this coupon location engine which is normally running on a server somewhere and you've got it actually running on this very large font.

    Fabio Belloni 3:37

    Exactly. So the idea there was we wanted to demonstrate is that if you have for instance an AOA setup exactly just a tag locator in a pod AOA mode and server computing everything we could add the same time also provide a pod to forest a mobile handset that could be phone, tablet, anything. And this device is just a futuristic device later on. Everything that you see here on the back of the device will be shrink to the size of a silicon of a chip. The important thing to recognize is that for instance, a phone the screen already there, the CPU which is the equivalent of the Raspberry Pi is already there, the single antenna is already on the device. And the only thing that is needed is the 5.1 ble chip plus the Cooper positioning engine. So the algorithm will compute the coordinates and every device that will be in the area will be able to compute his own location. This is massively important because there is no capacity limit. So you could have similarly to GPS, and unlimited number of device within the same area, everyone computing his own positioning. And at the same time the phone will own his own data because he doesn't need to share it with the network, which means an inherent production for a security similar to what you have for every mobile device. Nowadays, so

    Steve Statler 5:00

    I could have a stadium with 100,000 people in it. And you might have maybe 100 locators or less in the in the ceiling, everyone would have the next generation iPhone or the next generation Android phone, it would be very similar to the phone they've got today. But it would have a 5.1 radios still one antenna for the latest radio. And if they were running the Cooper positioning engine on it, then they'd get much better indoor navigation. Correct?

    Fabio Belloni 5:31

    Correct, effectively, one day, they all enablement of the phone to do AUD, is practically a software update. Right? It will just mean maybe a mobile app that will be downloaded. And then the mobile app could run the global positioning engine.

    Steve Statler 5:47

    So for customers that already have your locators deployed, because they want to track the assets that are in the water in the stadium or in the factory, can they use the same hardware to do RTLs and use it and switch it round? Simultaneously so that it's sending and receiving? So it's tracking tags that on assets, but also sending out the signals so that people with these phones can do indoor navigation? 

    Fabio Belloni 6:18

    Short answer? Absolutely, yes. Okay. That's the vision. So coop has been building from the very beginning, keeping a god and consumer market in mind. So we wanted to make sure that all of the technology that we enrolled into the market together with our partner during the years, could we build so that we could support the new way or the standard whenever making it available, we are doing our best and for making that happen. And the new generation of locator is a testament into that. So we are trying to keep into consideration with the Q 17, which is the new generation cue devices that were launched their partner event, we wanted to ensure and make sure that they will support all the new standard upcoming. And the idea is really to have this convergence of use cases. So that the single device could be an enablement for RTLs real time location systems, as well as for IPs, indoor positioning system, all in one devices. Because the more use cases we can provide, the better value is gonna be for anybody within the value chain.

    Steve Statler 7:27

    So we've got this infrastructure, it can be in working in these two modes, time slicing between RTLs and indoor positioning. So are we stuck waiting for Apple and Google to put this into phones? Or is there are there other applications where you can use indoor positioning? That's a

    Fabio Belloni 7:45

    great question. And the answer is again, yes, luckily, there is. So for instance, robotics, and anything, any device that is out there that would have the computational capacity, and could run similar to a Raspberry Pi, the Kubo positioning engine could practically be enabled already today to compute his own location by making full use of the angle of departure methodology.

    Steve Statler 8:09

    So I can have a delivery robot that is delivering food from the concessions to me when I'm sitting in my my seat occurred arrive, and it could be navigating around with its own location tracking engine running in its brain.

    Fabio Belloni 8:24

    That's exactly how it will go. That's exactly it's pretty powerful.

    Steve Statler 8:28

    Okay, well, let's have a look at this very large phone and do some navigate. All

    Fabio Belloni 8:32

    right, thank you. Yeah, just follow me. Okay. So we are we are here at the partner event. And we have two locators in the ceiling, the both of them are battery powered. So there is no connection to any kind of network. So the devices are broadcasting an advertisement pocket through the antenna array, and in my hand, I have the phone, this futuristic phone, which is computing his own position. And in here on the map, we see my position in real time, okay, notice that the position is completely invariant with respect to rotation,

    Steve Statler 9:04

    okay, that around in the.is.

    Fabio Belloni 9:08

    And the reason is because the device only has a single antenna, or multi antenna is actually on the ceiling. Okay, and that device doesn't move. Similar as GPS. Okay, exactly. So in here, I can show that as I move up and down this aisle, or whether I move closer to the wall, yes. or further away from the wall. Yeah. Then the dog is following me. Alright, and here we are again.

    Steve Statler 9:34

    So very cool. The other side. And so you used a an analogy in your presentation, which I thought was really good, which is the analogy of sound if I was a blind person and I could hear these sound beacons, I would using my to is I would be able to orientate myself and know where I was because I kind of know where this sound is coming from. I know where that that sound is coming from. 

    Fabio Belloni 10:00

    Right, correct, correct. So there is a strong analogy between radio waves and, and acoustic sound. And in in that explanation we try to convey in in very simple terms. The fact that the AUD and AOA they're actually mutually complementary system. It just depends on whether you put the multi antenna system in transmission or interception mode.

    Steve Statler 10:23

    Wonderful. Okay, well, thanks very much for that. Let's go outside and let's catch up on what's happening with Cooper and a little bit more about where these standards are.

    Fabio Belloni 10:32

    Go. Okay, thank you so much. Thank you.

    Steve Statler 10:35

    So Fabio, thanks for that demo back there. I think he really brought out the difference between AOA and AOD. Let's catch up. It's been a year since we've spoken at least a year, what's happening in terms of your product, new announcements, that sort of thing.

    Fabio Belloni 10:51

    So, we we are seeing that the market that is accelerating faster we see that announcement and that BTC gets brought in the end of January, really kind of sparkling new ideas and new interest into IoT localization as market building throughout all the different verticals. So, what we have announced during this partner event here in Helsinki is actually the new family of Cooper products, which we call the cogeneration product alright. So, we have a new family member that is called the Q 17 in y 17. So, we are engineers, so we tend to be know very creative with a marketing name. So 17 is the diameter of the locator. All right, 17 centimeter smaller than the correct is it 30% smaller than the old locator, it's completely new design, we have taken a lot of feedback from the field into consideration starting from electricians and field engineers that has been deployed 1000s of locators. For over the past years, they gave us a lot of valuable feedback, everything was kept into account completely different design to be more sleek, and then inside is a completely different product, we now have two radios instead of one, so that we can do more exciting things. So one radio will be fully dedicated to the AOA and AOD port, the other radio could be used for multiple course, one of these could be for instant connectivity towards tag more like the IoT over the air from or upgrade, collecting sensor data or doing some of the most exotic IoT related features or enablement that would require for Eastern connecting devices

    Steve Statler 12:37

    and any change in cost.

    Fabio Belloni 12:40

    That's something that we have in a year and open up, but actually there is some very new business model that implies model that we are proposing to our partner that should and will help all of them to get started, we have noticed that some customers are very keen to operate under a CapEx model or their customer they are more into a subscription model. So, we have enriched the portfolio and possibility for partner to start work with our product in the in the best settlement way.

    Steve Statler 13:16

    Yeah, so that so some just touched on the locator changes what about on the tag side any changes.

    Fabio Belloni 13:23

    So, the tag side is getting more and more exciting. So we are getting more and more company and partners in here we have 12 company showcases all of our product, different tags, different form factor different sensing capabilities, and all of our integrator partners, they are very excited to see all the portfolio of opportunities that they are in order to because they think often that one tag types equal a new use case. Okay, so that debt on the front line, what COPPA is doing is to work very closely with more and more silicon vendor to be able to provide the enablement for all of the different vendors tag vendor and silicon vendor to be fully Cooper compatible. And that opens up to the whole ecosystem of AOA.

    Steve Statler 14:14

    So in the past, you just supported Nordic chips is that right? Correct

    Fabio Belloni 14:18

    in the past that we focus in on Nordic and we have done great things with them a Koopa is a Gnostic or respect to the silicone and radio technology. So our decision originally it was simply business driven. But we started to get more and more requests towards supporting multiple silicon vendor. So for instance, we will have soon a TI cheaper that is going to be supported one of the latest and so there will be other soon gonna be announced not yet.

    Steve Statler 14:49

    Okay, so a lot more choice on the tag front. So the contact IO guys were there. So this is you made an announcement with them. That's pretty exciting. Sign of you've got Just a really rich set of options, a lot of different kinds of vendors. Okay, so that's the product. Let's go back to this standard stuff because I think everyone's recognize that Cooper has been the leader in angle of arrival with Bluetooth. And everyone was wondering when is Bluetooth gonna go from just supporting the transport to actually the AOA and AOD. And it's happened. That's what 5.1 is. Where does that leave Cooper? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? From your perspective,

    Fabio Belloni 15:32

    we are super excited about the new standard. Actually, our CTO onto was the original contributor to the first version of the standard.

    Steve Statler 15:42

    We this was like eight years ago or something? Yeah, exactly. I

    Fabio Belloni 15:45

    think that we submitted the first version of this standard specification was 2009 2010. We've been waiting for a long time into that to come into Completion. And now that the core is out, we are extremely happy to promote the new standard as the way to go for the future, the new standard is going to make Bluetooth much better than what it is today is going to reach the capabilities. And the angle of arrival and angle departure methodology is going to open door to new use cases and applications that otherwise at this stage, they are not really, really feasible.

    Steve Statler 16:23

    From my perspective, you guys have had the best solution in this space for some time. But in some senses, the fact that you are really the only player here, I think limited the size of the market. And from my perspective, having a standard and and inevitably there is going to be competing vendors, you're now in an in a category which is being established by one of the biggest brands in the world. So I think it's now going to be not a question of what is angle of arrival? And is it a good thing? Does it work? It's like, okay, angle of arrival offers this high precision and at a low cost. It's not Ultra wideband, it's a lot better than these other things. Who do we go for? And then you have this, this playing fee field, which is set up for you to to prove yourself so that it's likely that there will be competitors coming in? How do you rank your kind of classic Cooper protocol, which you're still going to be supporting? Understand? How does that compare to 5.1? It's all Bluetooth, you support Bluetooth 5.1 builds on top of Bluetooth. But what you're selling now is not 5.1? Is it correct? No one has 5.1 Today,

    Fabio Belloni 17:39

    correct. So we have been building the whole angle of arrival and angle of departure comparability, starting from the Bluetooth 4.0. And then from there, we just build our own proprietary profiles that allow us to make the overall technology run. So the 5.1, for us is an exciting road because it will open the basic enablement already into commercial and consumer devices. So that's the exciting part, we are intending to support both the legacy device meaning from 4.0 upwards using proprietary as well as this new standard. And that's why the new locators the new key generation locators, they are really built with that idea in mind, we believe a lot into what we call use case convergence. That means that we want to have a device that is able to run both RTLs real time location system like asset tracking, or having fallen in Target emulation, together with the in indoor positioning system, the IPS which radically means Wayfinding, which means everything related to tracking mobile devices, like mobile phone, tablet, computer, anything that is out there. So effectively try to catch both sides of the of the of the curve.

    Steve Statler 18:59

    Okay, I'm gonna put it to you a little more directly from what I see in 5.1, which I think is a very good thing from the industry more choices. Good. But what I see in that protocol is it's chatty. It's it's, it's a conversation with a beacon rather than sorry, it's a conversation with the tag rather than just sending out a beacon. And in practical terms, that means you're going to chew up the battery life of the of the tag. So I think we as a Bluetooth community have to answer that and see how we can take the Bluetooth direction finding standard forward so that it so that it can can really preserve the battery life of this tag is what I've said fair is that

    Fabio Belloni 19:49

    I've seen that what you said is absolutely correct. There are a lot of things that needs to be kept into account and also the fact that 511 is now released to the core. The Profiles are still To open, they haven't been frozen. And there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in order not just to freeze the current version of profile, but potentially improve them to the point that they will cover a broader spectrum of of use cases. Because when you go for instance, into pure asset tracking, you want to keep the radio pockets short, because that means to increase the capacity of the system, you want to also have not just connection oriented profiles for for trackability and tracing the device, you want also to have connection less, because if you start thinking about pure industrial, you have 20,000 30,000 50,000, asset tracking and environment, he has to be done in a very light way.

    Steve Statler 20:46

    Okay, so the hopefully in the future, we'll go from connection orientated direction finding to connection less to get that scalability and efficiency. But in the meantime, there's going to be a lot of vendors that are coming out with angle of arrival hardware. You know, what is it that, does that mean that they're going to have the same level of accuracy as you guys or

    Fabio Belloni 21:10

    or we have been working for about 15 years into building the AOA and the AOD to the point that it is today, if you think about what the standard is providing is really the smallest building block, which is the IQ sample. So if the IQ sample is somewhere here, and having the thought of the map is coordinate is up there, practically there is a lot of work that needs to be done to convert those raw sample data to Angular measuring to position and measurement. And on top of that, it needs to be the collateral tools that allows us to plan the deployment commissioned the deployment telemetry, monitor, do everything that would make the system very scalable. So from our side, and our vision is that in the future, there will probably be still the Cooper proto proprietary profiles in use, because those ones are also more power efficient than at least the current version, where you have long packet that needs to be transmitted to your point of being more chatty. That's exactly what what will turn because the radio needs to be open longer. So but at the same time, there will be a lot of devices that will inherently come out of the factory being fully 5.1 compliant. And from coop aside that to the point of use case convergence, we want to be able to support as many devices, Bluetooth devices or use cases that are out there. So that one single piece of infrastructure could run anything up to the imagination of the system integrator.

    Steve Statler 22:40

    So I think two things came out of what you said. One is, there's a lot of IP in higher levels of the stack. So yeah, you can have 5.1 compliant antenna radio system, the low level the IQ samples go up, and then there's all this software that's running that you've been developing. And then I think what you hinted at is, the idea of maybe the Cooper engine could potentially run on other people's hardware does it does it because I can imagine if I'm a big Access Point vendor, I've been struggling with location forever, I'm just fed up with all these complaints. Now I have a standard I can start building the hardware, but how do I catch up on this software side and the obvious thing is license it from you guys, would you guys be open to that kind of business model?

    Fabio Belloni 23:31

    Actually, yes, we will be happy to discuss about those opportunities in the past we have been more close into possible OEM integration. But I think that this is the right time for us to open up to that possibility and one of the key reasons because we all of us want to accelerate the market adoption, we want to make sure that within the old value chain of infrastructure provider, mobile phone and equipment provider and the system integrator, the venue owners and the end customer, they all should benefit from having these new technology and Moran but you cannot deny to have any of those five building blocks. So, we are excited into trying to accelerate the market as an all and we believe that find the right partner to which we could do possible OEM integration could be a win win, because we could bring into the table many many years of of work and development and practically allowed them to frog jump into the two day war that without having to do that heavy lifting. What we could do is not just provide all the algorithm parts and and the software but there is also a lot of know how related to the antenna array design itself because opposites to other standards that in the past were released as part of Bluetooth. Were effectively the basic communication part and protocols were pretty much set. And the antenna design or some parts of the hardware design, were not part of the core enablement. The 5.1, AOA and AUD, are different in that sense, because even by having a 5.1 chip doesn't mean that you can do a OA or a OD, you still need to have the antenna array, which is a core part of the overall system.

    Steve Statler 25:26

    Yeah, as a solution architect, that possibility really excites me, because to your point, I think it's going to allow adoption to go much, much faster. And that's gonna benefit the whole ecosystem. And really, if you're looking at optimizing a factory, retail environment, you should be deploying angle of arrival. But I just can't see what you're not going to have hundreds of 1000s of customers buying your hardware, even though it's an amazing product. And so if you're going to scale up quickly, I think working through the folks that have already got that base have got the contractual relationships and going to really try and make this new solution work makes a lot of sense.

    Fabio Belloni 26:08

    And we are more than happy to talk, for instance, we AP vendors, talk to lighting company, to talk with the company that provide the speakers, anyone that would provide some infrastructure in the building to try to make those infrastructure richer and more aligned to the new positioning technologies.

    Steve Statler 26:25

    So let's just talk a little bit about industry segments. And some of the alternatives now that angle of arrival is becoming established as, as its own category. What is that? What's the competition? Like? What are the alternatives like, and where is this technology going to be deployed? What What? What are the market segments that you think that you're seeing the most growth in?

    Fabio Belloni 26:47

    Yeah, so historically, we have seen Bluetooth gaining a lot of traction for anything that is related to IoT, and difficult IoT could be smart building could be hospitals, and all of that. But the interesting part is that we see industrial IoT getting much more open into the adoption of bluetooth technology. So in the past, that has been a market segment that was smiling more towards Ultra wideband, but they started to realize that Bluetooth is not just a consumer technology is actually technology that can be well adopted into highly secure, mission critical or harsh industrial environment. And they can provide that same level of reliability as ultrawideband, with the advantage of having full compatibility into most of the devices that are actually already deployed on the floor. And is testament to that is that as part of our ecosystem, we are getting more and more former and current Ultra wideband technology provider that they want to expand their own offering towards Verizon customers, and embrace Cooper technology with also with Bluetooth, as an extension of what they otherwise are already providing. So Bluetooth, we are seeing it on a daily basis, that is reaching places that before they were looking prohibitive for them. So the market is getting more educated, and industrial IoT is becoming more closer to the adoption of Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 28:16

    So to give Ultra wideband, it's true, it's been delivering high accuracy, indoor location RTLs. For some time, it's been used by most of the big luxury car manufacturers, of course, reviews, if you're making a product that costs $100,000, you can afford to put an expensive infrastructure. And in my mind, that's the disadvantage of ultra wideband, historically, it's been super expensive. It seems like it's coming down in price. But the other thing that I've seen as we've evaluated this technology is that it burns through battery on the tags in a major way incorrect.

    Fabio Belloni 28:57

    And don't get me wrong, they don't seem that the band is gonna fade off environment, I think that is gonna stay there. And they're gonna find the long life across a lot of use cases. But what the industry size are doing is that in a factory is not just about the production line, there is a lot of other things to be tracked outside the production line in the parking lot in the warehouses. And that's where Bluetooth is finding more fertile ground towards expansion into industrial IoT. So I think that the two technology will very well coexist in the future.

    Steve Statler 29:34

    Yeah, I think that's great. It's so easy to turn this into a tabloid This is better than that. And it really is the right tool for the right job. So but that I think that's not to understate what is potentially a massive wave of adoption of Bluetooth AOA, because of the much lower cost. I mean, what I've seen is an order of magnitude less in terms of cost. That's not always going to be the case, I think your web is really driving the cost down. So I think it's safe. And it's kind of premium segment. But what you guys are able to do with tags that last for years is, is something that's very hard for ultra wideband to meet. And obviously, from my selfish point of view, with Williard, we see the opportunity to bring the tag price down from dollars to two cents, and it's going to be impossible for battery free passive technology to work with Ultra wideband, it just doesn't, the physics won't work. So I think it's really nice stratification of the market. And you guys are in in a great position to benefit and more importantly, I think it's really going to change the way industrial IoT is done.

    Fabio Belloni 30:52

    Yeah, we see that in the industry has played there are more and more sensors, or tools, and all of those are already BLE enabled. So having a technology like AOA and AUD, will practically allowed to bridge both the B Bluetooth gateway for remote sensing together with the high precision tracking. Plus another interesting use case that is coming up in industry is paperless factories. So paperless factory is inherently enabled by tablet mobile devices, which are all anyway coming out fully Bluetooth compatible. And that's where having the AUD available also in those environments, we kind of close the loop. So it's going to be an exciting ride going forward.

    Steve Statler 31:37

    Very good. Well, it's been an exciting few days. Thanks for these insights and look forward to next year's event.

    Fabio Belloni 31:44

    Thank you very much. Thank you