Innovating the Cold Chain (S1:E35)
September 29, 2022
Steve Statler, Senior VP of Marketing at Wiliot, and Amir Khoshniyati, VP and GM, Transponders at Identiv, join us to talk about their collaboration on the first-to-market Battery-Assisted Pixel (BAP) IoT cold-chain solution. The BAP is innovating the provision of pharmaceuticals and healthcare through item-level intelligence, and optimizing food supply chains and retail asset management.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
You're listening to Humans in Tech, our podcast explores today's most transformative technology, and the trends of tomorrow. Bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what's new in physical access, identity verification, cybersecurity, and IOT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species, and dive into the emerging digital experience. Join us on our journey, as we discover just how connected the future will be, and how we will fit into that picture. Your host is Leigh Dow, VP of Global Marketing at Identiv.
Leigh Dow (00:43):
Welcome. Welcome. Thanks for tuning in. Today we're joined by Stephen Statler, Senior VP of Marketing at Wiliot. Wiliot is a SaaS company whose platform connects the digital and physical world using its IOT pixel tagging technology, computers the size of a postage stamp that power themselves in revolutionary ways. In May, Identiv announced an innovative collaboration with Wiliot on the first to market battery assisted pixel cold chain solution. We're also joined by Amir Khoshniyati, VP and GM transponders at Identiv, who worked closely with Stephen on this partnership. Thank you for joining us today, Stephen and Amir.
Stephen Statler (01:20):
That's a real pleasure. Thanks for having us.
Leigh Dow (01:23):
Definitely. So for the two of you, tell us a little bit more about the Wiliot partnership and how it came about.
Stephen Statler (01:30):
Well, from my perspective, when Wiliot first started, which was five years ago, we were kind of sitting between two worlds, the world of Bluetooth and the world of RFID. We were bringing a lot of the capabilities of Bluetooth to the RFID form factor and the incredible scale. And so when I joined Wiliot, which is 2017 Q2, a few weeks into the company's founding, it was an investigation stage. And we just started looking for who are the major players, the experts in the industry, and we found Identiv. And the dialogue started then, and it continued for a number of years. Wiliot's technology came into being, our pre-release chips, our version one, our version two. And on that route, we got to know Amir. He was actually at another company that is very large in this space, and we built a relationship there. And when he came to Identiv, we saw this amazing combination of a company whose innovation, technical capabilities we really respected. And someone that we knew that we'd already spent the last a couple of years working with. And so that's from my perspective, how the partnership began.
Leigh Dow (03:04):
And how about you Amir?
Amir Khoshniyati (03:07):
Yeah, from my side, just really building on Stephen's comment. So there has been a history and a working relationship that has been positive over the years. And as my transition into Identiv came into play, there was a major opportunity. And when you look at the IOT ecosystem, you have RFID technologies that are pretty prominent, well known, but there's limitations. And many times those limitations are capital requirements that are needed for infrastructure. And when you look at technologies that may extend further past those gaps, you really start to find technologies like Wiliot that really meet all the different requirements that are not traditionally met by RFID. So we started to really explore the partnership into really two avenues. One was an existing avenue that we were familiar with on the passive side, taking the same level of intelligence we had and IP we had around IP designs around the custom antennas. And what we did with the same machines when we produced RFID tags, we went through the same mechanics and came up with unique ways to do it with Bluetooth technology, and really leverage and extend what Wiliot had to offer.
And this is really building on a foundation of years and years of relationship, and also years and years of knowledge that Identiv had, and then bringing the best of both worlds together. And then on the other side, it was really the extension of technologies on the active side. And that was really the secret sauce that we started to bring forward as we look to build this partnership to the next level. So when you look at what we're able to do, and I'm sure we're going to go into this more detail with the batteries, is the pixel, the back product, this is taking best in class designs and it's coupling it with active technology.
And then in the areas where there's a high level of dependency on capital investment for that infrastructure, this removes it. And it removes the dependency of any other beacons or anything else. And it really puts the weight on your mobile device and how that mobile device using an app is able to extract the information from those tags in real time. And there's many other capabilities that extend much, much further than just recognizing what that tag is at a SKU level, but there's information that you can transmit with temperature and many other things. So we've taken this partnership and I would say we've grown it in a positive way. One, with the human factor of being able to know different people in the organization and work with them over the years and innovate together, but also start to innovate two different sets of technologies, both that have unique value props and different ways that go to market, but address the gaps that we currently see in the market, especially on the RFID side, really bringing the IOT ecosystem together.
Leigh Dow (06:08):
Stephen, Amir mentioned the exclusive business card size BAP, and it being the first Bluetooth, low energy asset management and cold chain scalable solution on the market. Can you tell us a little bit more about the collab with Identiv?
Stephen Statler (06:22):
Yeah, it's probably worth just taking a step back and for those people not familiar with Wiliot, we're a chip designer. We have a cloud system and we've been pioneering, bringing the world of Bluetooth and RFID together with these postage stamp size computers. And generally speaking, our default are kind of, the main product that we focused on was a battery free product. It was very low cost, by orders of magnitude cheaper than any Bluetooth device, because it was in the sticker format. And it could sense, and it was secure, and it's constantly broadcasting. So, revolutionary. But the challenge in that product is you need to have infrastructure that works with Wiliot, that is ready to, and sending out the energy for us to harvest. If there's no radio frequency energy, if there are no Bluetooth signals for us to harvest, then we can't power this battery free product.
And Wiliot's been very closely identified with battery free Bluetooth. And to get there, we had to produce a chip that was incredibly efficient by a couple of orders of magnitude, a leap forward in terms of that energy efficiency. And then basically we've talked to a number of players in the industry and they said, "Well, what could you do if you added a battery to this?" And not a coin cell battery, not a triple A battery, but a printed battery that is much, much smaller, much, much lower cost than a traditional battery product that has a lot of the advantages. It would essentially allow us to have a tile type, tile tag, or tile beacon, Bluetooth beacon type functionality, only in something that is a fraction of the price, a fraction of the size, and actually is environmentally a lot more sustainable. There's no lithium, there's no alkaline batteries.
This is a zinc based printed battery product. And initially, we were kind of resistant because we are the battery free people, but then we were persuaded because we could get to kind of a price range, typical Bluetooth beacons that are battery powered, $10, $20, $30. But we could get down to something that's between $1 and $2 and something that is smaller than a business card. That was just too good to pass up. And so we're sticking with battery free. We still think that this can be a lot, lot lower cost. But when we saw that this worked and we're able to partner with Identiv who were really unique in their ability to amalgamate and bring together some very complex technologies and simplify the production, and scale it, and make it robust, we decided that we'd do it, that we'd actually continue with battery free, but we'd have a battery powered product that basically could talk to any Bluetooth device without having to worry if there was energy around to harvest.
And that's one of the things that's compelling, is it just opens up a whole set of new use cases that are really compelling and can help supply chains and industries do things that just weren't possible before.
Leigh Dow (10:01):
How does that innovate the provision of pharmaceuticals and healthcare?
Stephen Statler (10:05):
Well, the healthcare industry is one that we all depend on and there's a lot of expense in it, right? Because we're dealing with very high value assets. Even the beds cost a lot in hospitals. But you look at all of the devices, whether it's infusion pumps or the devices that go "ping" that measure your heart rate. And then you look at the pharmaceuticals. There's a real opportunity to make healthcare more efficient if we can know where all of those things are. And this is not new territory for what would be called real time location systems or asset tracking systems. But those solutions have been held back because of the price and the size of the businesses. And yeah, you can tag a really expensive asset, but the majority of assets that still depend on, it wasn't affordable to tag and track them.
And the benefits of tagging and tracking them are huge. Over supply and visibility of supply chains is really what is imposing your tax on this industry. If you don't know where things are in the supply chain, you need to make a lot more of them. And you still get into issues with, out of stocks, hoarding, insufficient storage space. There's a whole slew of issues that have been sold for very expensive assets in healthcare. But what we can do is bring track and traceability and efficiencies to much broader categories of devices or assets with this sort of back technology that we've been developing together.
Leigh Dow (12:09):
Amir, Stephen mentioned the price point and that the price point on this specific product makes it even more unique. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Amir Khoshniyati (12:19):
Yeah. When you look at traditional loggers in the market in the most efficient way, you could be between $5 to $8. Typical volumes at a starting point drive you in the $15 range. What we've been able to do confidently with Wiliot is actually come out to the market with a logger that's between $1 to $2 price range. And we give that range essentially for the finished product, but also with the converting built into it as well. So based on where you fall on the converting tier, we're in a very sweet spot to the market. When you look at cool chain type applications, many times that $5 price point or even that $15 price point is very tough to get to the item level. So a lot of the tagging would be at the pallet level or at the crate level, but never really at that itemized level. What we're able to do and really align to the market here in a $1 to $2 price point is we can start to get to the item level tracking. And that opens the floodgates for many different opportunities.
One is that when you are transporting something and you're concerned really about how it's been transported at different temperatures or how it's been hitting different nodes in the supply chain, you want that assurance essentially at the item level. So if it's in a truck, and the truck is going from one location to another, and the sun is shining on one side of the truck, you want to make sure that if anything does spoil in the process, you can go down to that item level and maybe dispose that product, but maybe not everything within the crate itself. And that adds a lot of value, a lot of cost savings, and the ROI is really built in pretty clearly there. That's something that traditionally the loggers that are positioned for the market aren't able to do. And again, this is outside of the requirements of the infrastructure that's built in to the traditional methods that are built around RFID. So we see a lot of value with this really aggressive, but well positioned price point for the market, especially the cold chain market.
Leigh Dow (14:29):
What are some other use cases of this BAP?
Stephen Statler (14:32):
Well, I think we look at the retail industry as another market where there's a really great fit. Stores are full of merchandising materials, where campaigns are orchestrated in headquarters, they're rolled out into the field, and the results can be variable. And sometimes it's because the advertising copy the imagery, the positioning is wrong. But what we've seen is an endemic problem with those merchandising materials, the signage, the weekenders, all of these promotional materials that we're used to seeing when we go shopping, it can be very sporadic in terms of when they're deployed. And as much as 30-40% of the stores where that signage or the stand, the container is supposed to be, it never gets deployed. And so the poor marketer's left wondering why is it that people in Baltimore don't like our signage? Well, maybe they do. They just never saw it because it was never deployed.
So the BAP tag is a really great way to, if you start tagging the merchandising materials, the promotional materials that are supposed to be put out in the store, in a very scalable way, you can see whether there's compliance to those sorts of campaigns. And if those materials never made it to the store or they're in the back of the store when they should be in the front of the store, then you can do something about it rather than just scratching your head after the fact. So we talk about this level of connectivity and intelligence giving agency to the things themselves. They can trigger alerts messages to regional managers, store managers, to remind them to do things that can really help their business but sometimes get forgotten.
Leigh Dow (16:34):
Amir, did you have anything to add to this?
Amir Khoshniyati (16:37):
I would just say that the market has really been seeing a lot of the cold chain applications and cold chain can be defined both on the pharma side and definitely on the food side. But the angle that we've seen, the immediate attraction around is exactly the direction Stephen is going, that it's not just on the temperature side, but it's also really on measuring the level of campaigns and the efficiencies. So as you get into retail, there is definitely big, big opportunities and the retail can also have sub segments of food and beverage that also have the retail components to it. And I think that's been the most exciting for us as we've started to pick up traction here, is that this same use case can be a cookie cutter, but work across the various segments.
Leigh Dow (17:24):
Excellent. Any future plans together that you want to share?
Stephen Statler (17:28):
Well, I think we're just getting started. Wiliot's technology, both the battery free and the battery assisted products. There's an incredible roadmap that's going to bring down price, that's going to add new sensing capabilities, but it's not a one size fits all. So our focus is on the chip design, on the cloud services that allow us to extract the insights and manage data ownership and privacy. And so with this platform that we have, it's going to take companies like Identiv and specifically Identiv, because of your mastery of sophisticated designs, making complex things scalable. We're really excited about the partnership. There's going to be a lot of different products we believe that will work in different use cases on different materials.
And so I'm looking forward to harnessing the years of experience that Identiv have had in solving similar problems in RFID, which is a billion dollar market, applying it to what the analysts are now calling massive IOT, or ambient computing, which is a trillion dollar market, where we're going from connecting and monitoring small subsets of things, to really giving everything the ability to be connected, and secure, and private, and a way of raising visibility to parts of our lives that have been in the dark up until now.
And in doing that, together, I think we can really help companies be more efficient both financially, but also environmentally. There's huge opportunities to solve problems around food waste. Apparel is an industry, it has a huge amount of waste and environmental hazards associated with it. We don't always think of it that way, but there are. And I think a combination of Wiliot and Identiv can come up with the unique form factors and conversions and functionality that will allow these use cases to scale for us to go from the internet of billions, to the massive IOT market of trillions.
Leigh Dow (20:07):
Is there anything else you want to share with us about the partnership or anything that you have to announce?
Stephen Statler (20:15):
Well, I think I'm really keen for companies to engage with Identiv and tell Identiv how they want to use this technology. We see you as the front line for projects and companies. So that's one thing I would say. The other thing I would say is keep an eye on 6G. So this is one of the things that's going to help us scale faster to these larger markets. So we're just getting used to the fact that we've got 5G phones, but the wireless carriers, the equipment manufacturers that define the 3G, 4G, 5G, and now 6G standard, have decided that ambient computing is going to be part of that. And I think as business leaders are thinking about their strategies and they're wondering how big an impact this technology is going to have, then I'd encourage people to start Googling 6G, massive IOT.
We're going to be at the Mobile World Congress coming up in Las Vegas and then in Barcelona next year where we're talking about how the standards and the ability to read the tags that Identiv and Wiliot are developing together, will start to become pervasive in every wireless device. And that's sort of an enormously exciting thing. There's huge numbers of opportunities. So look for projects in the short term, but also think about what life could be like in the long term when your washing machine, your wifi access point, can all talk to the food, clothing, and medicine that surrounds you. And as you have ideas, then come to us. We can't wait to engage with you.
Leigh Dow (22:20):
Excellent. Thank you both so much for joining us today. As usual, I always learn a lot. And I know that this is an exciting partnership. It's one that I've gotten to see firsthand at RFID Journal. And I'm looking forward to more to come. Thank you both.
Stephen Statler (22:37):
That's a pleasure.
Leigh Dow (22:38):
Speaker 1 (22:39):
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Physical security. Identity verification. The IOT. The hyper-connectivity of our lives will only grow more pervasive. As technology becomes more automated, and experiences more augmented, it's up to us to preserve our humanity and use new tools and trends for good. The only question is, are we up for the challenge?