Mister Beacon Episode #157
World-Friendly IoTAugust 22, 2022
Can profit and planet ever agree? This week's episode proves they can - thanks to World Friendly IoT - and our guest Ollie Smeenk explains how. Ollie is Co-CEO at SODAQ, and he shares fascinating insights about his company’s approach to developing energy harvesting edge devices for construction and shipping. The opportunities to reduce carbon footprints, measure change, and drive profits and savings with earth-friendly devices, are significant.
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Steve Statler 00:00
Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. So we've got a earth friendly episode. Today, still very much focused on IoT, I'm going to be talking with Ollie Smeenk who is the CO-CEO at SODAQ. Based in the Netherlands, they are an IoT device company that focusing on sustainable devices using super capacitors, energy harvesting solar energy to light up the edge. And he's got a great perspective on how that can help profit and planet. And certainly opened my ideas to some design patterns that we've been thinking about here. And hopefully you will, too. So enjoy this earth friendly IoT episode. The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, Intelligence for Everyday Things, powered by IoT pixels. Ollie, thanks very much for joining us on the show today.
Ollie Smeenk 01:13
Thank you for inviting me. I'm honored to be here.
Steve Statler 01:18
Yeah, I was very interested in your obvious passion for the environment. So you know, I'm thinking this conversation will be themed around sustainability and IoT, which I think is super important. Were both sitting here with Europe being ravaged by just bizarrely high temperatures. And, you know, I was driving up to San Francisco from San Diego when we were hitting 106, and just degrees Fahrenheit, and that was just felt like, not not good. So that's the backdrop to our conversation. Let's start off with just introduce us to your company, what do you do?
So SODAQ is a company based out of Hilversum Tania Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, we Yeah, we're very hardware focused company within the space of IoT. So for the past nine years, we've done over 250 different engineering projects, building products, either for ourselves or for our clients. mainly focused on tracking and sensing applications, we really have a focus on low power and making devices autonomous. So either operating by solar power, or another form of energy harvesting, and also very, of course, closely related to affiliate. And that's how we found you guys. We, yeah, we have basically a specific model in which we work whereby we, we basically build the IP around, especially now asset tracking, with our clients develop new features, and then, you know, make those available in our product range. And the last two years or so have been really focused on really becoming more of a balanced company between projects and products, growing, especially the projects part, and really proud of doing asset tracking for for example, kroner, which is the largest trailer, truck trailer manufacturer in Europe. And that's just one key client that's now rolling out every single trailer of a few different types with our trackers on them. So that's a bit about us.
Steve Statler 03:40
Right? Go ahead.
Ollie Smeenk 03:43
Yeah, so maybe just a bit about the size of the company. So we're with, we're already stuff of which approximately half our, you know, embedded hardware and software and industrial design engineers. So we're very engineering heavy. And in our collaborations, we really, you know, work closely with companies that are more focused on data analysis, or on, you know, a specific vertical, where we, you know, take away the struggles that come with hardware.
Steve Statler 04:14
This is great, I need to put you in touch with our engineering team. You know, we're looking at IoT, and we have these tiny postage stamp sized computer devices, but people can kind of think of oh, okay, job done. But that's really not the case. It's all about the link to the cloud the edge. And I think increasingly, we need standards and ways of collaborating so that the software, it's equally important to have really great software running on the edge. And especially when you go to millions, billions, trillions of devices. You can't just do it on the in the cloud and did it On the tag, you need to have software that's regulating the flow. And being intelligent about forwarding to the cloud. Otherwise, the cloud costs just go through the roof. And so I'm really hoping to see standards emerge in that area. The folks, we've got six g is on the horizon. And I'm hoping that that starts to make all of our lives easier by introducing some new some new standards, but I'm kind of veering off the topic, but I was excited to hear what you're doing. So, you know, why do you need to develop? Why do we need more devices than we have enough devices? What are the gaps in the market that Sodaq is filling?
Ollie Smeenk 05:46
So on the first, you know, the first thing I think of when you ask that question is the fact that if you make a device with a with a battery, for example, I mean, as you guys know, as well, then there's battery replacement required, which brings along certain operational costs. And when you look at many use cases that are out in the open, where you have cellular connectivity, or let's say proprietary standard, like Laura one, or even Bluetooth, then if you attach a solar panel to a device, you can have a device that, especially when using super capacitors, which is something that we're doing as well, you can have a device that lasts pretty much forever. And this significantly brings down the operational costs. And I think finally could be the breakthrough, for many use cases that were previously cost inhibitive. So I think that's the main thing. And besides that, we are able to do more and more with the available processing power within that little amount of energy that we want to use. So there's a continuous, you know, possibility to improve software and add things like, you know, machine learning on the device, pattern recognition, and, and using tools to basically get data out of your device you didn't know you could get before. And then lastly, in the material use, there's going to be an endless opportunity for improvement. So right now, we still use plastics, we still use fr for materials, those should not be used in the future, if we're looking at, let's say, trillions of devices. And so we're innovating with our clients, especially the ones that are aware of, you know, what strain we're having on the environment.
Steve Statler 07:38
That's cool. You talked about super capacitors, what is a super capacitor.
Ollie Smeenk 07:44
So rather than a battery storage, which is more of a chemical process of, of storing and releasing energy, where, which, for example, is found in the lithium batteries in your in your smartphone, we're using hybrid capacitors, which, in some cases, use lithium, some cases use graphene, which store them in more of a, let's say, metallic way. And that way, not deteriorating in quality over time. And so the the, the, the market doesn't know about them sufficiently yet. But once we reach those volumes, actually, they could compete in price with with lithium batteries. And the technology is developing in such a way that the energy density is actually starting to get close to lithium batteries as well. So it's a no brainer.
Steve Statler 08:31
What sort of capacity can you have in a super capacitor? I mean, we have capacitors like on our chip, we have capacitors, so capacitors can be very small, how big can they get?
Ollie Smeenk 08:42
So I can actually show you one. I'll just bring in this device here. What you see right here is Oh, I see I see this one's actually missing the superclass there. That's okay. A little bit disappointing. But basically, what you'll see in like a like a typical sort of just slightly larger than double A battery, is that you can you can store you know, somewhere around the equivalent of 3000 milliamp power hours and yeah, that's that's starting to replace similar size the batteries
Steve Statler 09:23
and what was that device that we got a glimpse of there.
Ollie Smeenk 09:26
So actually, this is our first commercially launched product with super capacitors. So this is a solar powered device that measures on millimeter accuracy, the position in 3d on construction sites. And so because they're always outside, there's plenty of sunlight and power available. And we use these to predict when depositing sand for example, for a foundation on a building site or when building a bridge or how quick the sand is sinking. And there in that way we can predict months in advance when a building project can start saving costs on, let's say, permits and renting equipment and everything so, and also automating the process where you traditionally would see people with those lasers or those tripods with the the cameras. We basically digitalized that, along with one of our data analysis partners.
Steve Statler 10:23
What is the positioning technology that you use to do that?
Ollie Smeenk 10:27
So we're using a combination of GPS, and post processing in the cloud, and national models of GPS. So it's like a raw GPS format, whereby you can actually using the timings and the and the and the other data coming in from the GPS, and knowing some fixed points in the surroundings actually detect much more accurately changes in position.
Steve Statler 10:53
Amazing. So what sort of accuracy are we talking about? It's,
Ollie Smeenk 10:57
it's three millimeters in in x&y and five millimeters in Z. So basically, yeah, it's not comparable to traditional GPS.
Steve Statler 11:10
No. And you talked earlier about trailers, that's something that I'm really interested in, we've recently been deploying IoT pixels, these tags in inside cooler trailers, they go on produce. And I think there's huge environmental opportunities to reduce waste in perishable products. And part of it is measuring the flow. And normally, you know, you'd expect to first in first out even flow of products on the way from the farm to the store. And we found out that's actually not the case. And you know, who knew, it's until you actually start tagging individual crates and items, then there's anecdotal evidence, but there's no data to really see that. And so we're starting to see that. And the other thing that we've started to see is that within a cooled trailer, the there are microclimates that vary really significantly. And so you can have like, bananas at the front will be frozen in the middle, they'll be at the right temperature, cool. Other cool products that should be kept at a certain temperature can be too warm, and then you know, that can result in all sorts of health problems. So anyway, the long the short of it is having devices that can establishing established communications within a trailer and outside a trailer, I think, a really, really valuable. So is that the kind of thing that you're doing, or what are you doing with trailers,
Ollie Smeenk 12:50
so I'll make a little little rotation here. So you'll see this device that's right here, it's the same solar panel as on the other device that I just showed. And so this, this unit actually goes on the on the top of a trailer, and it communicates its position, and it communicates whenever it has any slight motion, you know, temperature inside, but also very importantly, it can actually receive signals from Bluetooth tags. So you know, where you would in, in some of our use cases, we would, for example, have that when a trailer is entering the warehouse, and you'd say have 10 of those warehouse slots. There'll be beacons on each warehouse slot and we will detect which warehouse slot which trailer is entered. And you will be surprised how, you know many companies don't even know where their trailers are, you know, on that scale is a
Steve Statler 13:41
big things. But who knew you could lose them because apparently you can't
Ollie Smeenk 13:46
so you know, the they would call what you would call the horse or the let's say the driving part of the vehicle has tracking capabilities inside but then a piece of paper somewhere or an app where someone has to manually fill something in links the trailer to it and so, you know, our clients are not accepting or the clients of our client kroner are not accepting any longer to have trailers without actually tracking functionality built in.
Steve Statler 14:12
That is interesting. So I mean, I don't know how many trailers there are in in, in the world containers and trailers, there must be
Ollie Smeenk 14:22
Darlington's. There's millions just for this product alone. I think in there's there's something like 15,000 trailers being produced on a yearly basis of one, you know, specific type that they have. So you can imagine that that one company alone is doing maybe 100,000 trailers a year, so it's significant.
Steve Statler 14:49
Very good. And so what proportion of the trailers in the world do you think are online and what's the you know? How far have we got in this evolution? I'm I'm guessing we're in the early stages.
Ollie Smeenk 15:02
Definitely. Yeah. So I would say, not even a 10th of a percent. I think that would even be outrageously high. So, yeah, ways to go. But for that, for us, that's a good thing.
Steve Statler 15:14
Yeah, absolutely. It's an incredible opportunity. And I am really glad that we're talking because this is an important part of it, we're starting to tag things in the field and in the distribution center and in the store. But there's the, you know, the journey in between, which is super challenging. And it sounds like you've got some technology that will, that will fill that gap. Any other, you know, what are the other kinds of projects that you've been working on to add connectivity?
Ollie Smeenk 15:53
I think most interestingly, we've, we've recently started scaling up what you would call the monitoring of ground support equipment on airports. So as you've been seeing, probably that, because of COVID, there was a period of having to let go of staff on airports, and now the traffic gets picked up. And so airports can't keep up with where all the stuff around the airport is moving. And also they cannot afford to purchase so many additional trolleys and containers and cargo containers and such. So what we're doing is together with one of our data analysis partners, we're actually helping transportation and logistics companies that you know, do air freight, as well as the airports themselves, to monitor all the equipment and to advise them on how to more efficiently plan the routes. So going from point A to B to C or going straight from A to C and then to B, what is the most time efficient, even if that saves a few minutes can lead to millions of euros on an annual basis for for for an airport.
Steve Statler 17:03
Yeah, I look. I mean, there are staff shortages everywhere we can, we'll get into why there are star shortages that there surely are. And it seems like we're wasting so much time trying to find things. And if we can optimize that, then everyone's going to be a lot happier. I spent a week with an old college friend. And it took him three days to get his bags after his trip from London to San Francisco. And it just seemed like there's chaos going on at the moment in the in the handling of cargo,
Ollie Smeenk 17:41
definitely something that technology can definitely solve. And there's also, you know, some some dream projects, let's say that we're trying to find innovative solutions for so there's this kind of type of container called an IBC, which is basically it holds liquid, it's about a one by one by one meter container with a metal frame around it and a plastic liquid container in the middle. Now, there's companies that are producing millions of these containers on an annual basis, shipping them to their clients, and not bringing them back because the value of bringing that container back is lower than the cost of finding it and transporting it. And so what we've done is we've actually made a version of our tracker with a radar module that that can detect the fill level of those containers. And by adding that, you know marketing element to our client, that they can tell their client, your product is almost empty, you want to buy a new or you want to get a new set, then we can actually activate that client to start tracking and then getting the reverse logistics will be worth it. Because they will know where it is, at least that searching parts will be will be removed.
Steve Statler 19:00
Yeah, that's fascinating. Because we see the same pattern only on a microscopic scale. We're looking at the containers in people's pantries and being able to instrument those. And, you know, this is where economics and sustainability can converge. I think you can enable a whole new business models, subscription business models, which can be a lot more efficient. And if we can make reusable containers, whether they're these massive containers for liquid that you are describing or small containers for soap and herbs and spices and all these things. If we can bring intelligence to them, then I think that it will support an economic model that will reduce waste and be more efficient. And so I'm so pleased that you're doing this work because it makes me more hopeful. After solving these massive problems that that we have. So what is your business model? How do you how do you make money?
Ollie Smeenk 20:10
What we originally came from was mainly custom developments for our clients. So a company would come to us, for example, this is a really cool one. It's a Dutch company that wanted to track cattle. And it's a solar powered ear tag, basically, for cows. We don't we don't sell those, but we were requested to develop it. So we're the development house that say that's an on an hourly basis, we get paid for the engineering work we do. Second model is we have our tracking solutions, the products we've built for mainly for asset tracking, and those we're actually selling. And then we have a model also on an annual basis that you know, for the data and the support.
Steve Statler 20:59
Okay, so we're pretty, pretty well rounded. That's great. So anything else that we should cover? You're doing a lot. And I liked the look into the future, any? Where do you see all of this going? What, what do what gets you excited about the future.
Ollie Smeenk 21:19
So what gets me most excited is actually the impact reporting that we're starting to do for our clients. So really connecting that deployment of IoT to the cost savings and environmental savings, and then, you know, motivating more companies to do the same. And like you said, the economics and the sustainability will go hand in hand. I also wear this sweater, this is our very proud, we'll friendly IoT. That's, that's our tagline. So we're really, really focused on on that. And we're expanding our team and really strengthening the team to be able to make that possible. But I think in terms of products that we're most excited about, you may have heard some things about these smart labels that we, we we've been developing. So these are actually cellular connected with with printed batteries, and antennas and seals that that you can place on the seam of a box. So this is something that we're you know, really pushing at the moment, because we see that, yeah, costs are of course, for many use cases inhibitive. And this will describe
Steve Statler 22:37
that because a lot of people will be listening to this and can't see what you're holding, but it's like the size of a letter. It's kind of a sheet which has a couple of large panels. So those are those printed batteries, what are the those correct so
Ollie Smeenk 22:56
the majority of the size of the product in let's say length and width are the printed battery. But the advantage of this printed battery is that if you view it from the side, it's paper thin so it's it's actually printed, like like a book would be printed in layers. Yes. And this is these are the first the first basically type of battery that can support cellular connectivity, which requires quite a high peak current. And we've basically engineered the hardware This is an already an older version. To to be able to use so little power that we can actually use printed batteries.
Steve Statler 23:37
And how long will that last.
Ollie Smeenk 23:38
So this will do about 500 messages. So we and what's really important for for this is that we're creating a model whereby the the product can actually be sent back so here you're just seeing the core electronics but the whole product will have multiple layers which can be taken apart. And the reverse logistics of getting the product back and recycling the battery and reusing the electronics for a new one. is something that we're all setting up
Steve Statler 24:17
very interesting and we're doing something similar. You know we're battery free Bluetooth that's for sure our core and where will always be but we have been working with printed batteries and announced something recently which is the size of a business card which will last for years and broadcast a unique ID and so I can see some interesting synergies there. You take a Bluetooth system on chip that's super efficient, and you can have a tiny battery that lasts a really long time and drives the cost down to hopefully one day it'll be like $1 for for this thing and you won't have to worry about whether you can harvest To energy or not? To be clear, I think that's gonna be, I think it's gonna be super disruptive. But I think the battery free is still where it's at. And that's where we'll see the major volume in what we do. I want to go back to something that you I think you were touching on, just make it a bit, double click on it. Do you see opportunities to measure carbon, you know, carbon footprint of products? Maybe I was overreacting, what you were saying. But this is something that I think is a really interesting area where, you know, a lot of the carbon footprint. And accounting that is done for products is kind of modeled and it's theoretical. And where I'm interested in things going is actually measuring actual carbon footprint for assets and products as they move around you seeing anything in that area.
Ollie Smeenk 25:57
Definitely. So when I was referring to the Impact Reporting and the impact analysis we do, we in the first point, we look at a balance, right, so we're actually creating electronics, which has a negative environmental impact. And the this negative environmental impact needs to of course, be massively outweighed by the positive impact that we're having by for example, a tank container filled with let's say, a certain liquid going from location A to B, and then not going empty from b2c, but rather some platform connects a new buyer and seller and ensures that you know that transportation is always full. And so kind of detecting How many kilometers are being driven by full versus an empty container, because of the tracking device, we apply to it. Those those kind of Yeah, reporting on that will be able to significantly improve certain use cases of our clients and make them more sustainable. And I think in terms of carbon, you know, the output of SF or the fuel that's used by these vehicles, if we can reduce that we can we can directly correlate that to carbon emissions.
Steve Statler 27:23
And what do you think will be done with that data? Obviously, you can use it for optimizing routes and hold yourself accountable and anything else that can be done with that data.
Ollie Smeenk 27:37
So you can actually, I mean, if you're looking more at the economic side, if you're somehow saving carbon emissions, that has value as well. So you know, in the form of, let's say, carbon credits or so it can be used for that. On the other hand, we actually using the data to show to other customers what the value is. So using data as a form of marketing is very powerful as well.
Steve Statler 28:08
Yeah, I wonder, as companies are being held to higher sustainability standards, ESG standards. And as customers want to know more about the carbon footprint of the products, I think there's a future where getting these actuals can be ultimately be shared with consumers, especially consumers that have a shopping with mobile apps and looking at electronic shelf labels that potentially can show more data, you can imagine looking at the carbon footprint of the products you have in the store. And I know this has already been done. There's been experiments, but I think it's been very theoretical, what I'm talking about is showing actual carbon footprint to to buyers have products which can eventually roll up into their own carbon accounting. If you're a company, you have to measure your what they call scope three emissions, then I'm thinking where this is going is pricing and taxation and all sorts of economic levers, like levers that will drive more efficiencies and reward people for doing the right thing? Yeah, I
Ollie Smeenk 29:23
think also in terms of transparency, if everyone in the chain has access to this type of data, then there will be no way around. It really has to be seamless. And consumers once they're informed, they're the most powerful. So if we can enable them to make better decisions, then then everyone wins at the end of the day.
Steve Statler 29:48
So Ali, how did you get to do what you're doing? what's your what's your story?
Ollie Smeenk 29:54
So I think, yeah, what, what definitely shaped me the most She's growing up in Tanzania in East Africa.
Steve Statler 30:03
Oh, so where are you at the moment?
Ollie Smeenk 30:05
I'm in Hilversum in the Netherlands, so near Amsterdam, like, right between Utrecht and Amsterdam. Okay. And, yeah, actually, there's an international school here in Hilversum. So I ended up, you know, with my family moving to Hilversum. Because of that, and that's why the company is also here. So, basically, grew up in Tanzania, lived there for about 14 years, and really got in touch with the concept of monitoring the weather. So spent quite some years as well, you know, taking technology for weather monitoring, and, and doing installations across different African countries.
Steve Statler 30:50
And what's the what's the story behind that? Why, why weather? What what captured your imagination.
Ollie Smeenk 30:55
So I think, you know, growing up, we did a lot of outdoor sports, including sailing, and also spent a lot of time in the outdoors, going to different Wildlife, Parks and such. And, yeah, we were requested to, to kind of, you know, do some weather monitoring on a few farms in Tanzania, because we were actually doing the same thing for our sailing activities at the local sailing club. And that's how we, you know, we got involved with this type of technology, have always been working together with my father since I was a kid.
Steve Statler 31:31
And what what does your father do? What was he doing in Tanzania?
Ollie Smeenk 31:34
So my father was actually stationed there by the Dutch government to help to install the country or connect the country to the internet for the first time.
Steve Statler 31:43
Amazing, what a what a what a landmark thing to be doing.
Ollie Smeenk 31:48
Yeah, it was it was awesome.
Steve Statler 31:52
Okay, so you're in Tanzania, you're monitoring the weather. And take us from there.
Ollie Smeenk 31:59
So yeah, basically, due to wanting to go to university and having better education here in the Netherlands, we decided to move back as a family. And we still had some connection there. And while we were working on on those weather monitoring projects on farms, we discovered that, you know, this low power, Arduino based technology could really be used for, for replacing, let's say, Linux type, you know, high power computing systems for these types of weather monitoring stations. And then, by making that move to these low power, low cost systems, we discovered there was a whole world of, you know, demand for these type of applications. So actually, my whole career I've been working with, with hardware and with sensors. And we kind of branched off in two ways. So my father started to focus more on different types of applications, doing projects, such as water level and water quality monitoring, while I continued on the path of weather monitoring, and we actually joined forces again later, in what is Sodaq today. So we work together very, very closely. So you're,
Steve Statler 33:13
you're the CEO, right? Yes. So now you're your father's boss.
Ollie Smeenk 33:18
Exactly. And we have managed now to set it up in a way that actually, we don't work together directly anymore. Because, yeah, it's, it's a nice to be able to also speak about other things than just than just work.
Steve Statler 33:37
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Wonderful. And so I mean, you you, how big is your company now?
Ollie Smeenk 33:44
So we're with 40 stuff at the moment. Okay. Yeah.
Steve Statler 33:49
How did you get to start the company? Was it? Did you have to raise funds or what's what's the evolution to founding Sodaq?
Ollie Smeenk 33:58
So we, we actually started with a Kickstarter. So in the early days, we were discovering microcontrollers. We, we basically said, if we can connect a weather sensor with a solar panel and a communication module to the internet, we could probably do that for many use cases. And so from the start, we had this credo of sustainable IoT, and doing things with, you know, solar energy harvesting. And we basically promoted on Kickstarter that with our development kit, anybody would be able to create their own solar powered solution. And that got us started.
Steve Statler 34:41
Brilliant. Very good. Well, it's come to the point of the show when I need to talk to you about music, was it? What was the process like for you coming up with your three songs?
Ollie Smeenk 34:52
So actually, I I like a lot of different types of music. So I thought, let me show a little bit of that. Very variety in what I like, also music has so many different meanings in my life. I think first of all, I would say the song Stairway to Heaven is one of the most meaningful songs in my life. Actually, my music teacher growing up, really, you know, showed me the beauty of the way it was composed and everything. But now I actually have it as my alarm in the morning, and many alarms tire me, but this song is probably never going to gonna get old. So actually, it works really well in getting me charged up for the day. So that's the first one. Secondly, I grew up in East Africa and you know, the hip hop scene there and listening to MTV growing up, really, I was a big fan of Notorious BIG. So the song juicy by Notorious BIG, it's a very soulful track. But I love the way he raps as well. So that says more about my own musical tastes. I like to make music as well. So what do you play hip hop is? So I play the saxophone. And, and I sing and rap, so I'm actually doing that. Sometimes we might evening. And then And then lastly, you know, related to saxophone, there's a an artist called Mr. Sax, and he has a song called No Man, No Cry, and actually lost. I think it was a last New Year's, I was staying over with some friends. And we had a really fun night. And at some point, I went to sleep, but some of my friends didn't. And so the first song I heard in the morning while they were still going on, after all those hours that I had actually slept was no man No Cry by Mr. Sax. And yeah, that that was definitely a Yeah, I highlight music
Steve Statler 37:00
was there's a there's a great choices. Thanks. Thanks, Ali. Ali, thanks very much for introducing us to your company. And let's continue the discussion after this about how we can collaborate.
Ollie Smeenk 37:13
Thank you so much, Steve. I really appreciate it. And yeah, looking forward to continuing our conversations.
Steve Statler 37:19
Very good. So that was Ollie, super interesting guy. I wanted to spend more time with him. I'm hoping that I get to travel to Netherlands and get to meet him and hear some of his rapping as well as see some of the amazing devices that his company are developing. I hope this has inspired you and that you learned as much as I did in talking to him. Thanks very much for for sticking with us for listening to the whole thing. There aren't many completed finishes out there and so we appreciate that you're one of that elite group. Do rate us comments, share help help the cause. This is pretty niche what we're doing. And so we need you to spread the word. Thanks for listening