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IoT Startups (V-Z)


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LeBoeuf Valencell

27 March 2015 - by Maxine Bingham, Editor-in-Chief

We had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, co-founder and president of Valencell. Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, Valencell develops high-performance biometric sensor technology and licenses its patent-protected technology to consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile device and accessory makers, sports and fitness brands, gaming companies, and first-responder/military suppliers for integration into their products. Valencell’s PerformTek-powered sensor technology is the most accurate wearable biometric sensor technology that continuously measures heart rate and activity. Valencell has invested years into research and development of its PerformTek sensor technology, which has been validated by the Duke Center for Living, North Carolina State University, and others.

LeBoeuf has developed ongoing strategic partnerships between Valencell and enterprises in industry and academia. He has raised more than $10M in funding for Valencell and is the inventor/co-inventor of more than 50 patents. Prior to Valencell, LeBoeuf led the optoelectronic biosensor program at GE Global Research, where he managed the development and productization of biosensor systems and developed cutting-edge nanosensor technology. Before joining GE, LeBoeuf developed optoelectronic solid-state materials and devices while researching at North Carolina State University. LeBoeuf holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from N.C. State and a B.S. in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University.

Since being founded in 2006, the company has raised more than $13 million in venture funding from WSJ Joshua Fund, Best Buy Capital, TDF Ventures and True Ventures. The company has also secured more than $3 million in grants.

Death by DIscharge

LeBoeuf has a “death by discharge” theory about why wearables end up in the sock drawer after six months. “People do have a need for biometric wearables, they want a way to take care of fitness and health,” said LeBoeuf. “But, it takes time to generate insights, so, because of the recharging issue, people get fed up with it. There’s no reason they see to keep wearing it long enough. It can take four months to get interesting data – if the wearable didn’t have to be recharged all the time, then, in four months users would have data and they’d find it’s worth it. In the meantime, there’s nothing to get you entertained in that process and that’s when it [the wearable] becomes best friend with your underwear. It’s bad for my business if this problem isn’t solved.”

Thus, Valencell educates and works with their licensees to enable them to show their users how best to benefit from all the data that their wearable produces. They have done lab studies where they tested people to see how biometrics changed with an exercise program. As LeBoeuf noted, “Weight loss is one of the last things that is going to happen. Even months before losing weight, a person may gain weight through added muscle mass. It’s important for people to understand how biometrics change over time and what goals to have over time.”

For example, certain biometrics change over time. The resting heart rate starts to drop. But, the problem is, it can’t go to zero! Another metric they’ve developed is called “cardiac efficiency,” to analyze how the heart rate is changing depending on the exercise one’s doing.

LeBoeuf recommends that people set up a multi-month plan, and that manufacturers help them to do that. Valencell encourage their licensees and the industry to incorporate meaningful plans for users so that users will stick with their wearable over time.

LeBoeuf noted that even the top fitness wearables on the market don’t do a good job of explaining the value prop of data such as heart rate or other metrics.

When we asked if he thought the AppleWatch would help educate consumers and wearable manufacturers, LeBoeuf remarked, “You never know. Even they [Apple] haven’t communicated the value prop well.” LeBoeuf continued, “Reuters had a report that said that 40% of iPhone owners were “interested” in the watch. But, that’s a good sign. The question is not whether people will buy it, they will. The real question is whether they will they enjoy it. And, they have to be willing to recharge and recharge.”

LeBoeuf noted that ear buds solve a number of wearables problems. They analyze biometrics more accurately, and don’t need to be recharged and recharged. You can put them on and just go. The only issue is for manufacturers to ensure the right fit and make it a seamless experience.

They offer licensees reference designs for ear buds and chest straps and will have reference designs for wrist wearables nest year.

We asked LeBoeuf if he saw non-invasive wearables for things like diabetes management. He believes that there will “literally be stem cells for pancreas cells sooner than a non-invasive close-looped wearable system – it just can’t be accurate enough.”

We discussed industrial users of wearables, which, along with IoT Perspectives, we believe is the stronger story over the consumer/fitness one. LeBoeuf agreed, noting that wearables were getting a lot of traction in the military, in companies and among first responders.

We were curious as to whether Valencell’s sensors can detect whether someone is under stress or not. As LeBoeuf explained, “We can tell if someone’s heart and oxygen rate has changed, but, we can’t know if that’s due to psychosocial reasons or a workout. However, it’s a useful indicator for the user. But, they’d have to wear the device consistently so that they have a set point.”

Taking a look into the future of wearables, LeBoeuf opined that wearables could interface with connected home devices. For example, every time you touch a device at home, it measures your heart rate. Because of our close proximity to objects in the home, it can help make a long-term health assessment.

Although they measure clinical effectiveness, their technology is not provided for health applications, since there’s liability associated with that. If they did, they ‘d have to find a way for the FDA to police it and be sure manufacturers were using it in the right way.

LeBoeuf ultimately (since he’s a freelance cartoonist), wants manufacturers to create wearables “story boards.” The goal, he said, was to “take the person on a journey and help them. Look at the iPhone – it’s a storyboard, they have all these opportunities for apps. Our customers should draw out boxes with a different use case and make those use cases continuously interested. This is important because a person’s fitness, for example, changes over time, and the manufacturer needs to follow that journey. Apple has been storyboarding for years, one story is that as the user changes over time they will want larger phones, for example, but, we’re not seeing this approach in wearables.”

LeBoeuf is not sanguine about sensors-laden apparel. Sensors and batteries don’t fare well in the wash! He believes it will be another 10 years before “apparables” will be mainstream.

Since Valencell is based on a licensing model, there’s always the issue of revenue growth. They understand that, and are looking to add value with data analysis, and new product algorithms for their software.

We agree with LeBoeuf on all his views, so, of course, we think they are prescient! We admire his candor and educational outreach to manufacturers so that, working together, a technology provider such as Valencell can help companies develop smarter wearables products and compelling use cases so wearables stay out of drawers and on our person.

Photo of Steven LeBoeuf and Death by Discharge Chart courtesy of Valencell
© 2015 IoT Perspectives

Joseph Im VLightComm

VLight Comm
8 October 2014 - by Maxine Bingham, Editor-in-Chief

I am always getting lost. As my husband says, my gyroscopes are tumbled. The last time I was at a mall, I had to have mall security drive me around to find my car. I don’t like night scuba diving as it’s hard to see and communicate with my dive buddy. Thus, I was intrigued to find Korean-based VLightcomm at September’s KTech SV 2014, whose IoT products, based on line-of-sight visible light, or what the company calls “LiFi” vs WiFi, include an indoor location-based service and underwater communication system.

Founded in 2014, VLightcomm is headquartered in Irvine, CA. It is a joint venture company funded by two technology companies, Korean-based BP Solution Co., Ltd., and Japan-based Univerlink Co.,VLightComm Indoor Location Service Ltd.

VLightcomm uses the light in the visible range (380nm - 780nm) for wireless data transmission for indoor applications, such as malls and parking lots. Visible light by LED lamps can deliver more secure communication compared to the conventional wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which use radio wave transmission.

The company touts a number of benefits for using VLightComm’s technology:

1. It’s not affected by EMI – VLightComm systems can work where Wi-Fi cannot.

2. It’s secure - signals cannot pass through walls, making rooms or buildings completely immune from unauthorized signal reception.

3. There are none of the health risks associated with Wi-Fi or laser-based systems, since visible light does not rely on the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has, in some studies, shown an adverse effect on human health.

4. The company’s systems can be designed to operate with existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.

5. Available bandwidth is well in excess of that available in RF systems, on the order of 100 terahertz.

6. Depending on the application, VLightComm can provide one-way communication to mobile platforms and handheld devices.

7. The technology can provide highly accurate position information.

8. Implementation is not constrained by government regulations.

The modulation of VLightcomm’s LED lamps can enable users to receive data communications to their smart devices like smartphones or tablets. The cameras of these smart devices are used for getting the signals from LED lamps.

According to serial entrepreneur and Vice President Joseph Im, other use cases for VLightComm applications can include hospitals, as they are concerned that radio frequency communications can interfere with medical devices.

VLightcomm’s indoor location-based service will be compatible with iPhone and Android. In retail, for example, notes Im, companies in malls can use this service to help customers find their store or get coupons as they pass the installed LED lamps around the complex. Large facilities can use this service to help people find their way and receive messages as they ambulate inside a building. Another application can be for electronic price/information tags in stores.

According to Im, when it comes to retail, “Our competitive edge is our positioning as a custom-made solution provider combining two distinct applications of indoor location-based service, as well as electronic shelf label under the visible light communication technology in the field of retail automation. The retailers do not have to install new infrastructure for the applications, since the ceiling lights are already in place. Also, our LED light lamps are energy saving luminaries. By replacing old lamps with our cost-cutting LED lamps, our client retailers can save on their energy bill and implement indoor location-based services and electronic shelf labels at the same time. The commercially ready products and applications of electronic shelf labels are planned in 2015.”VLight Scuba Communications

Im says that the company plans to officially launch its location-based indoor service, as well as the scuba-diving communication product, at 2015 CES. We look forward to seeing that, and, to never being lost again, either above, or below, the ocean.

Photo of Joseph Im and Images of Indoor Location Services and Underwater Communications Courtesy of VLightComm

© 2014 IoT Perspectives


Alroy Almeida Voltera

30 March 2015 - by Ron Bingham, Technology Editor & Sr. Analyst

Good news for makers, designers and entrepreneurs, The Voltera V-One enables circuit boards to be prototyped within minutes, eliminating the frustrations with traditional fabrication processes and drastically reducing hardware development time. Their oversubscribed KickStarter campaign raised a little over $500,000, and offered the ability to pre-order the 3D printer as does their web site (the next batch will be available earliest in January, 2016).

Voltera 3D Printer

Through incubator HAXlR8R, Voltera received investment, help with business plans and marketing, and experienced four months in China to arrange manufacturing and supply chain. They will assemble and ship from North America. The company is based in Waterloo, Ontario, the home of Blackberry and a big startup scene. There are four founders, and the company expects to double by the end of this year. Voltera has been working on this project since 2013 – it’s taken two years of development, primarily for the materials chemistry.

Technology editor, Ron Bingham, held a Q&A session with co-founder Alroy Almeida.

RHB: did you use your product in your own development?
AA: Funny how many times we ran into the problem we were trying to solve!

RHB: Do you offer two layer boards?
AA: Yes, by using an insulating ink we can create masks for the second conductive layer to be printed on top of.

RHB: How do you place the traces on the board?
AA: The printer accepts Gerber files as the input and will then dispenses a silver nanoparticle conductive ink to create the signal traces. The 2nd layer is an insulating material to allow the next layer of ink to cross the first without shorting. This effectively creates a two-layer board.

RHB: Will you provide three layers or more?
AA: Not at this time. We plan to do more testing and make sure it’s up to scratch, so that the printer can handle more complex geometries and edge cases. This is an area we want to get into as we bring more people on board.

RHB: What technology are you using – solder paste reflow?
AA: Yes. We see this as a two application process. The printer enables really early prototyping that can be done less than an hour. However, once the design is finalized, a designer may want to do 10-20 boards for testing or, may need only a few boards for a maker project. The idea is to get the boards traditionally fabricated, our printer will dispense solder paste, you add the components by hand, and the printer takes the board through the reflow profile.

RHB: Is the top of the board open?
AA: Yes, it’s open to the atmosphere.

RHB: If I wanted through hole components – how do I handle that?
AA: Currently we can’t support that in an automated sense. You print the board and drill the holes manually.  We can’t add as part of the print head now; drill dust clogs up our print heads but we’re looking to incorporate this in the future.

RHB: This printer is for early stage prototypes, yes?
AA: Yes, we’re not trying to replace mass manufacturing, just help our customers get there faster.  We visited a lot of PCB factories. We’re filling that small space in the beginning of development where people are prototyping and doing small batch runs.

RHB: Is this aimed at the maker community?
AA: We see a lot of uptake there.  However, we not only want this to be a tool to learn about electronics but also one for experienced designers.

RHB: The challenges to get the chemistry right are daunting.
AA: Yes, only now is it really becoming commercially viable.

RHB: What is the price?
AA: The KickStarter price was $1499; the price will be going up.

RHB: What’s your funding been?
AA: There’s been $25,000 through HAX and grants from the provincial and federal government of Canada. At CES this year we won the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield competition that came with a $50,000 prize.

RHB: How has it been working with HAX?
AA: It’s been absolutely phenomenal. We knew manufacturing would be a very big deal. It’s complex enough that is doesn’t make sense to make the printer in North America and hit our target price point. The entire process with them and the experience of moving to China for four months was very eye opening. It showed what we were up against and was also a great way to remove distractions. It was four of the most productive months of our lives.

RHB: How will you sell the printer?
AA: For now, we sell online, in order to stay closer to our customers and protect our margins until we get to higher volumes. Building and maintaining inventory will be an interesting experience. There’s a trend we’re seeing in retail with 3D printers - last year Makerbot started selling at Home Depot.  Maybe that is a path we follow eventually.

RHB: What operating systems do you support?
AA: By the time we ship we will support Windows, Mac, and Linux.

RHB: How easy is the printer to use?
AA: The printer has one power button and connects via USB. The software does all the heavy lifting - You just import the Gerber files and it guides you through every step of the process.

RHB: How fast is it?
AA: Print times range from 10-30 minutes depending on complexity.  There’s an additional drying time that takes 30 minutes. You can pretty much turn a board around in an hour!

IoT Perspectives see this as a great prototyping solution for makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and even company divisions. We’re also impressed with HAX as an incubator that offers much more value than just investment. One issue we see, however, is that the printed silver materials are not compatible with reflow solder function. The boards printed on Voltera V-One have to be hand soldered. Regular circuit boards however, can be reflow soldered on the V-One. Another issue we see is the delay in providing the next batch of the printer until 2016. Overall, we're impressed with the printer and the team.


Photo of Alroy Almeida and 3D printer courtesy of Voltera
© 2015 IoT Perspectives

Kent Dickson CEO Yonomi

20 November 2014 -
By Maxine Bingham, Editor-in-Chief

During DEMO 2014, November, in San Jose, CA, startup Yonomi introduced its free connected home "hubless" mobile app, starting with Android.

Yonomi resides on your smartphone and in the cloud. No need for a hub, controller box or other additional hardware. 

In a conversation at DEMO, CEO and Co-Founder Kent Dickson said that Yonomi was designed to "match how people live their lives." He had a long-term vision to solve the problem of the islands of IoT devices in the home without easy connectivity that didn't further burden the user. Thus, the app connects automatically in two ways: via one's in-house LAN (local area network) and others via the cloud. The app automatically identifies one's IoT devices that Yonomi works with. 

Yonomi works with a number of connected devices, such as Sonos speakers, Jawbone UP24, Nest learning thermostats and Nest Protect smoke detectors, Philips Hue lights, Belkin Wemo Switches and motion sensors via your (currently) Android mobile phone and tablet. Yonomi Wakeup Routine

You need to set up  routines to coordinate your devices together. Device discovery is automatic.

According to Yonomi, previously, rich coordination of consumer “Internet of Things” devices had been possible only with a physical “hub.” Yonomi’s approach to device discovery and connectivity eliminates the need for the hub and instead leverages the user’s mobile device as an essential piece of the communications fabric.

The Yonomi app runs in the background of your (currently Android) phone and is designed to simplifiy your life by automatically turning the lights on when you come home, announcing the weather in the morning, adjusting your thermostat when you leave your home, pausing the music when you get a phone call, etc., all through software and the cloud.

You can download the Yonomi app for Android from the Google Play store or sign up for the Yonomi iOS beta at the Yonomi website.

The company is based in Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado. There are seven full- and part-time employees.

Images Courtesy of Yonomi: screen shot & CEO Kent Dickson

© 2014 IoT Perspectives