Edge computing startup Edgify secures $6.5M Seed from Octopus, Mangrove and semiconductor

Edgify, which builds AI for edge computing, has secured a $6.5m seed funding round backed by Octopus Ventures, Mangrove Capital Partners and an unnamed semiconductor giant. The name was not released but TechCrunch understands it nay be Intel Corp. or Qualcomm Inc.

Edgify’s technology allows ‘edge devices’ (devices at the edge of the internet) to interpret vast amounts of data, train an AI model locally, and then share that learning across its network of similar devices. This then trains all the other devices in anything from computer vision, NLP, voice recognition, or any other form of AI. 

The technology can be applied to anything from MRI machines, connected cars, checkout lanes, mobile devices and anything that has a CPU, GPU or NPU. Edgify’s technology is already being used in supermarkets, for instance.

Ofri Ben-Porat, CEO and co-founder of Edgify, commented in a statement: “Edgify allows companies, from any industry, to train complete deep learning and machine learning models, directly on their own edge devices. This mitigates the need for any data transfer to the Cloud and also grants them close to perfect accuracy every time, and without the need to retrain centrally.” 

Mangrove partner Hans-Jürgen Schmitz who will join Edgify’s Board comments: “We expect a surge in AI adoption across multiple industries with significant long-term potential for Edgify in medical and manufacturing, just to name a few.” 

Simon King, Partner and Deep Tech Investor at Octopus Ventures added: “As the interconnected world we live in produces more and more data, AI at the edge is becoming increasingly important to process large volumes of information.”

So-called ‘edge computing’ is seen as being one of the forefronts of deeptech right now.

RealPage acquires real estate IoT startup Stratis

RealPage, a publicly traded full-service property management technology firm with over 12,200 clients worldwide, today announced that it has acquired Stratis IoT,  a startup that provides IoT services to the real estate industry, with a focus on access and energy management tools.

“RealPage aims to become a leading provider in the burgeoning rental property automation market, and thereby create significant opportunity for operators to increase rents, improve sustainability, add operational efficiencies, reduce operating costs and enhance the customer experience for the company’s approximately 19 million units throughout the United States,” said RealPage CEO Steve Winn. “The smart building technology also provides a launching pad for expanded international operations, thanks to Stratis’ existing international presence.”

Stratis is currently installed in about 380,000 homes in the U.S., Japan, UK and several countries in Europe and Latin America. Both Stratis and RealPage target a wide range of the real estate industry, ranging from multifamily units to student housing, vacation homes and commercial real estate.

Image Credits: Stratis

Traditionally, the real estate market wasn’t always the first to adopt modern technologies. That’s quickly changing now, though, in part because of the promise of IoT, which isn’t just a boon to renters looking for modern solutions in their apartments but also represents the possibility of significant cost savings for the industry. RealPage argues that smart technology can generate a revenue lift of $55 per unit, for example, and that’s the kind of saving (and higher revenues) that will push even legacy B2B platforms to modernize.

One area where Stratis stands out is its ability to integrate with a wide variety of third-party solutions.

“Holistic building-wide access and utility management and control are integral to building optimization and the resident experience, which have become increasingly intertwined,” said Stratis IoT CEO Felicite Moorman. “RealPage and Stratis IoT combine two industry-leading, best-in-class platforms to create a powerhouse of control and single-app resident experience for multifamily, student housing, and beyond.”

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. It’s worth noting that RealPage isn’t a stranger to making acquisitions to bring its technology up to speed. A year ago, the company acquired Hipercept, for example, a firm that provided data services and data analytics to the institutional real estate market. Then, in December, it also acquired Buildium, a SaaS property management solution with over 2 million units under management. In 2019, the company said planned to spend just over $100 million on acquisitions.

 

The Oura Ring is the personal health tracking device to beat in 2020

The Oura Ring has been getting a lot of attention lately because of its role in a number of COVID-19 studies, as well as its adoption by both the NBA and WNBA as a potential tool for helping prevent any outbreaks of the novel coronavirus as those two leagues get back to a regular schedule of play. Oura has released multiple generations of the Ring, which is a health and fitness tracker that reports a range of data, and I’ve spent the past month using one to see what all the fuss is about.

The basics

The Oura Ring is a health tracker that’s unlike just about any other wearable with a similar purpose. It’s a ring that’s virtually indistinguishable from an actual ring without any smart features, available in a couple of different designs and multiple finishes. The Ring has sensors located on the inside surface, but these barely add to its overall thickness and are totally hidden when the ring is worn.

Despite its small size and low profile, the Oura Ring is still a connected device, with an internal battery, and the ability to talk to a smartphone via Bluetooth to transmit the data its sensors collect. In the box, you also get a USB-C stand for the Oura Ring that powers it up via induction charging.

The built-in battery is good for up to seven days of continuous use – and that includes wearing the Oura Ring during sleep. During my usage, that seemed to be an accurate estimate. In general, though, the battery life just seemed to be ‘long enough,’ prompting me not to really think about specific spans, and charging is so quick that it’s easy to just remember to put it on the dock occasionally when it’s convenient (I would often do this during the work day while at my desk, where I keep the Oura dock). Oura’s app also sends helpful notifications to remind you to charge before bed when you’re getting close to the end of your ring’s battery life.

Design

Oura’s design for this most recent iteration of their Ring is fantastic – both as just a piece of jewelry, and doubly so as a connected health and activity tracker. It’s available in two styles, called “Balance” and “Heritage,” both of which come in multiple metallic finishes. There’s a polished silver and gloss black option for both, while “Balance” has a premium-priced version with inlaid diamonds, and “Heritage” has a matte black finish option (which I reviewed).

All the various finishes ore made of a lightweight titanium, with a molded plastic inner to protect the sensors and provide transparency for them to work. The exterior finishes are all coated with a scratch-resistant outer layer – but just like with just about any other metal jewelry, scratch-resistant isn’t scratch proof. The matte black finish I reviewed is definitely showing some wear and tear after multiple weeks of use, but that’s something I was fully expecting, and it’s surprisingly resilient given how often it comes in contact with other metal surfaces, stone and whatever else you come in contact with on a daily basis. The minor blemishes that appear lend it a pleasing patina, rather than negatively impacting its aesthetics, in my opinion.

The Oura Ring is also fixed in terms of sizing and fit, and the company has come up with a clever way to handle ensuring a good fit for customers. They offer a free sizing kit that they ship out first so that you can figure out which Oura size is most comfortable, and decide on which finger you want to wear it. Size is important because you want the Oura Ring to fit snugly enough that it won’t fall off or shift around too much, but also not too snugly that it becomes uncomfortable.

Ultimately, the design is fantastic because it’s both an attractive ring, and an incredibly comfortable device to wear all day – and through the night. Unlike even an Apple Watch or other wrist-worn wearable, there’s virtually no adjustment required for getting used to wearing it while sleeping, or any discomfort from various types of bands. It’s the first wearable I’ve used where I truly was able to forget that I was wearing one at all, and it’s one that no one else will realize you’re wearing, either.

Features and performance

So what does the Oura Ring actually track? A lot of things, actually. It measures sleep, as mentioned, as well as various other metrics under two other broad categories: Readiness, and Activity. Sleep, Readiness and Activity all provide one overall summary score out of 100 to give you a topline sense of where you’re at, but each is actually calculated from a range of sub-metrics that add up to that larger score.

Oura’s sleep tracking is much more in-depth than the forthcoming Apple Watch sleep tracking that Apple is releasing with its next watchOS update in the fall. It monitors when you go to sleep, how long you sleep, how much of that qualifies as “deep” and how much is “REM,” and gives you a metric or you sleep efficiency, your time in bed, your total sleep time and more. Readiness tracks your ambient body temperature, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and your resting heart rate, while activity automatically measures calorie burn, inactive time, you steps and how close you are to your overall activity goal.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

For all three of these categories, you can dive into each individual sub-metric and see trends over time or individual scores per day, but you can also just look at the overall score, which is provided in a feed-like dashboard in the app and accompanied by practical, actionable advise about what to do with your day, your activity or your sleep habits based on that score and how it’s trending.

It’s at once both the easiest to understand health tracking app I’ve used, and also one of those with the most depth when it comes to digging into what is actually being tracked, and what that means in greater detail. And because the app focuses heavily on establishing a baseline and then monitoring deviations from that baseline and providing advice based on that, it’s more likely to be useful and specifically relevant to you.

Bottom line

With most wearable tech, including the Apple Watch, I periodically have a sort of internal revolt where I end up finding them too much of an intrusion, or too much of a hassle to maintain continuous use. With the Oura Ring, health self-monitoring reaches a perfect pinnacle of combining convenience, with useful and actionable information, with an unobtrusive and attractive design that actually makes me want to put it on.

The jury remains out on whether the Oura Ring can actually accurately detect COVID-19 or anticipate the onset of its symptoms, but regardless, it’s a fantastic personal health tracking device and a great tool for anyone looking to take more control over how they feel on a daily basis. And by actively establishing an individual baseline and comparing your actual overall state to that every day, Oura provides one of the best potential platforms for long-term personal wellness insight out there.

IoT and data science will boost foodtech in the post-pandemic era

Even as e-grocery usage has skyrocketed in our coronavirus-catalyzed world, brick-and-mortar grocery stores have soldiered on. While strict in-store safety guidelines may gradually ease up, the shopping experience will still be low-touch and socially distanced for the foreseeable future.

This begs the question: With even greater challenges than pre-pandemic, how can grocers ensure their stores continue to operate profitably?

Just as micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs), dark stores and other fulfillment solutions have been helping e-grocers optimize profitability, a variety of old and new technologies can help brick-and-mortar stores remain relevant and continue churning out cash.

Today, we present three “must-dos” for post-pandemic retail grocers: rely on the data, rely on the biology and rely on the hardware.

Rely on the data

Image Credits: Pixabay/Pexels (opens in a new window)

The hallmark of shopping in a store is the consistent availability and wide selection of fresh items — often more so than online. But as the number of in-store customers continues to fluctuate, planning inventory and minimizing waste has become ever more so a challenge for grocery store managers. Grocers on average throw out more than 12% of their on-shelf produce, which eats into already razor-thin margins.

While e-grocers are automating and optimizing their fulfillment operations, brick-and-mortar grocers can automate and optimize their inventory planning mechanisms. To do this, they must leverage their existing troves of customer, business and external data to glean valuable insights for store managers.

Eden Technologies of Walmart is a pioneering example. Spun out of a company hackathon project, the internal tool has been deployed at over 43 distribution centers nationwide and promises to save Walmart over $2 billion in the coming years. For instance, if a batch of produce intended for a store hundreds of miles away is deemed soon-to-ripen, the tool can help divert it to the nearest store instead, using FDA standards and over 1 million images to drive its analysis.

Similarly, ventures such as Afresh Technologies and Shelf Engine have built platforms to leverage years of historical customer and sales data, as well as seasonality and other external factors, to help store managers determine how much to order and when. The results have been nothing but positive — Shelf Engine customers have increased gross margins by over 25% and Afresh customers have reduced food waste by up to 45%.

Taking on the perfect storm in cybersecurity

The cybersecurity industry is at a turning point.

Traditional security approaches were already struggling to deal with rising cyberattacks, a shift to cloud and explosive growth in Internet of Things (41.6 billion IoT devices by 2025, anyone?).

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and all the changes that were fomenting for years accelerated, with remote work becoming the norm and digital transformation taking on urgency. New levels of complexity are piling on top of an environment that was already too overwhelming for most organizations.

To me, the biggest risk in cybersecurity today is that organizations can’t keep up with the amount of work it takes to be secure. The people on your cybersecurity teams are drowning under an impossible amount of manual work. When people are asked to use manual processes against machines, they can’t keep up. Meanwhile, the hackers are getting smarter every day. They use machine learning (ML) algorithms to scale attacks that can only be successfully prevented by comparable techniques.

Under these conditions, you’ve got a perfect storm brewing.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that these challenges can be addressed. In fact, now is the right time to fix things. Why? Because everything is in transition: cloud adoption, a mobile workforce, the proliferation of IoT, etc.

In this sophisticated threat landscape, you can’t be reactive — you must be proactive. You need integrated machine learning to lift the burden off cybersecurity teams, so that they can be faster and more effective in dealing with attacks. At the same time, you must embrace cloud delivery and a holistic approach to cybersecurity.

Where’s the core foundation?

A popular expression from a few years back was “the cloud changes everything.” OK, it doesn’t change everything, but it does change a lot.

When organizations move to the cloud, they’re often unprepared. Staking critical pieces of their business on a cloud future without understanding the full implications of cloud can be challenging. And it doesn’t help that they are inundated with so many disparate products on the market that don’t work easily together.

If your security teams are drowning now, the cloud will hit them like a tsunami.

Automation can help ease the burden. But it’s nearly impossible for security teams to operate successfully when there are multiple vendors that need to be manually integrated and managed.

Most organizations have taken a stopgap approach to cybersecurity over the years. Each time there is a new type of threat, a new set of startups are founded to come up with a solution to counter it.

I have seen companies with dozens, or hundreds, of disparate security products that don’t interoperate and don’t even offer the possibility of a holistic approach to cybersecurity. This has become a house of cards. One product piled on top of another, with no core foundation to hold everything together.

It’s time to act. The technology to do cybersecurity right is available. It’s all about how you deploy it.

A new model for cybersecurity

The future of cybersecurity depends on a platform approach. This will allow your cybersecurity teams to focus on security rather than continue to integrate solutions from many different vendors. It allows you to keep up with digital transformation and, along the way, battle the perfect storm.

Our network perimeters are typically well-protected, and organizations have the tools and technologies in place to identify threats and react to them in real-time within their network environments.

The cloud, however, is a completely different story. There is no established model for cloud security. The good news is that there is no big deployment of legacy security solutions in the cloud. This means organizations have a chance to get it right this time. We can also fix how to access the cloud and manage security operations centers (SOCs) to maximize ML and AI for prevention, detection, response and recovery.

Cloud security, cloud access and next-generation SOCs are interrelated. Individually and together, they present an opportunity to modernize cybersecurity. If we build the right foundation today, we can break the pattern of too many disparate tools and create a path to consuming cybersecurity innovations and solutions more easily in the future.

What is that path? With an integrated platform, organizations can still use a wide range of tools, but they can coordinate them, manage them centrally, eliminate silos and ensure that all across the organization they are fighting machines with machines, software with software.

Only with an integrated platform can cybersecurity teams leverage automation to rapidly monitor, investigate and respond across multicloud environments and distributed networks that encompass users and devices around the globe.

2020 is a year of accelerated transformation. You can break the old cybersecurity way of doing things and embrace a new approach — one driven by machine learning, cloud delivery and a platform model. This the future of cybersecurity. It is a future that, by necessity, has come upon us faster than we would have ever imagined.

Xiaomi’s investment house of IoT surpasses 300 companies

Xiaomi, the Chinese comapny famous for its budget smartphones and a bevy of value-for-money gadgets, said in a filing on Thursday that it has backed more than 300 companies as of March, totaling 32.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion) in book value and 225.9 million yuan ($32 million million) in net gains on disposal of investments in just the first quarter.

The electronics giant has surely lived up to its ambition to construct an ecosystem of the internet of things, or IoT. Most of its investments aim to generate strategic synergies, whether it is to diversify its product offerings or build up a library of content and services to supplement the devices. The question is whether Xiaomi’s hardware universe is generating the type of services income it covets.

Monetize from services

Back in 2013, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun vowed to invest in 100 hardware companies over a five-year period. The idea was to acquire scores of users through this vast network of competitively-priced devices, through which it could tout internet services like fintech products and video games.

That’s why Xiaomi has kept margins of its products razor-thin, sometimes to the dismay of its investees and suppliers. Its vision hasn’t quite materialized, as it continued to drive most of its income from smartphones and other hardware devices. Services comprised 12% of total revenue in the first quarter, although the segment did record a 38.6% increase from the year before.

Over time, the smartphone maker has evolved into a department store selling all sorts of everyday products, expanding beyond electronics to cover categories like stationaries, kitchenware, clothing and food — things one would find at Muji. It makes certain products in-house — like smartphones — and sources the others through a profit-sharing model with third parties, which it has financed or simply partners with under distribution agreements.

Xiaomi’s capital game

Many consumer product makers are on the fence about joining Xiaomi’s distribution universe. On the one hand, they can reach millions of consumers around the world through the giant’s vast network of e-commerce channels and physical stores. On the other, they worry about margin squeeze and overdependence on the Xiaomi brand.

As such, many companies that sell through Xiaomi have also carved out their own product lines. Nasdaq-listed Huami, which supplies Xiaomi’s Mi Band smartwatches, has its own Amazfit wearables that rival Fitbit. Roborock, an automatic vacuum maker trading on China’s Nasdaq equivalent, STAR Market, had been making Xiaomi’s Mi Home vacuums for a year before rolling out its own household brand.

With the looming economic downturn triggered by COVID-19, manufacturers might be increasingly turning to Xiaomi and other investors to cope with cash-flow liquidity challenges.

Along with its earnings, Xiaomi announced that it had bought an additional 27.44% stake in Zimi, the main supplier of its power banks, bringing its total stakes in the company to 49.91%. Xiaomi said the acquisition would boost Xiaomi’s competitiveness in “5G + AIoT,” a buzzword short for the next-gen mobile broadband technology and AI-powered IoT. For Zimi, the investment will likely alleviate some of the financial pressure it’s feeling under these difficult times.

Competition in the Chinese IoT industry is heating up as the country races to roll out 5G networks, which will enable wider adoption of connected devices. Just this week, Alibaba, which has its finger in many pies, announced pumping 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) into ramping up its Alexa-like smart voice assistant Genie, which will be further integrated into Alibaba’s e-commerce experience, online entertainment services and consumer hardware partners.

Otonomo raises $46 million to expand its automotive data marketplace

New vehicles today can produce a treasure trove of data. Without the proper tools, that data will sit undisturbed, rendering it worthless.

A number of companies have sprung up to help automakers manage and use data generated from connected cars. Israeli startup Otonomo is one such player that jumped on the scene in 2015 with a cloud-based software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

The startup announced this week it has raised $46 million to take its automotive data platform further. The capital was raised in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The funds will be used to help Otonomo scale its business, improve its products and help it remain competitive, according to the company. Otonomo is also aiming to expand into new markets, particularly South Korea and Japan.

“We now have the expanded resources needed to deliver on our vision of making car data as valuable as possible for the entire transportation ecosystem, while adhering to the strictest privacy and security standards,” Otonomo CEO and founder Ben Volkow said in a statement.

Otonomo’s pitch focuses on creating opportunities to monetize connected car data while keeping it safe from the moment it is captured. Once the data is securely collected, the platform modifies it so companies can use it to develop apps and services for fleets, smart cities and individual customers. The platform also enables GDPR, CCPA and other privacy regulation-compliant solutions using both personal and aggregate data.

Today, Otonomo’s platform takes in 2.6 billion data points a day from more than 20 million vehicles through partnerships with more than automakers, fleets and farm and construction manufacturers. Otonomo has more than 25 partnerships, a list that includes Daimler, BMW, Mitsubishi Motor Company and Avis Budget Group. The company said it’s preparing to bring on seven more customers.

That opportunity for Otonomo is growing based on forecasts, including one from SBD Automotive that predicts connected cars will account for more than 70% of cars sold in North American and European markets in 2020.

Chinese startup Rokid pitches COVID-19 detection glasses in U.S.

Thermal imaging wearables used in China to detect COVID-19 symptoms could soon be deployed in the U.S.

Hangzhou based AI startup Rokid is in talks with several companies to sell its T1 glasses in America, according to Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan.

Rokid is among a wave of Chinese companies creating technology to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. 

Per info Guan provided, Rokid’s T1 thermal glasses use an infrared sensor to detect the temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes from up to three meters away. The devices carry a Qualcomm CPU, 12 megapixel camera and offer augmented reality features — for hands free voice controls — to record live photos and videos.

The Chinese startup (with a San Francisco office) plans B2B sales of its wearable devices in the U.S. to assist businesses, hospitals and law enforcement with COVID-19 detection, according to Guan.

Rokid is also offering IoT and software solutions for facial recognition and data management, as part of its T1 packages.

Image Credits: Rokid

The company is working on deals with U.S. hospitals and local municipalities to deliver shipments of the smart glasses, but could not disclose names due to confidentiality agreements.

One commercial venture that could use the thermal imaging wearables is California based e-commerce company Weee!.

The online grocer is evaluating Rokid’s T1 glasses to monitor temperatures of its warehouse employees throughout the day, Weee! founder Larry Liu confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

On procedures to manage those who exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms, that’s something for end-users to determine, according to Rokid. “The clients can do the follow-up action, such as giving them a mask or asking to work from home,” Guan said.

The T1 glasses connect via USB and can be set up for IoT capabilities for commercial clients to sync to their own platforms. The product could capture the attention of U.S. regulators, which have become increasingly wary of Chinese tech firms’ handling of American citizen data. Rokid says it doesn’t collect info from the T1 glasses directly.

“Regarding this module…we do not take any data to the cloud. For customers, privacy is very important to them. The data measurement is stored locally,” according to Guan.

Image Credits: Rokid

Founded in 2014 by Eric Wong and Mingming Zhu, Rokid raised $100 million at the Series B level in 2018. The business focuses primarily on developing AI and AR tech for applications from manufacturing to gaming, but developed the T1 glasses in response to China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The goal was to provide businesses and authorities a thermal imaging detection tool that is wearable, compact, mobile and more effective than the common options.

Large scanning stations, such as those used in some airports, have drawbacks in not being easily portable and handheld devices — with infrared thermometers — pose risks.

“You have to point them to people’s foreheads…you need to be really close, it’s not wearable and you’re not practicing social distancing to use those,” Guang said.

Rokid pivoted to create the T1 glasses shortly after COVID-19 broke out in China in late 2019. Other Chinese tech startups that have joined the virus-fighting mission include face recognition giant SenseTime — which has installed thermal imaging systems at railway stations across China — and its close rival Megvii, which has set up similar thermal solutions in supermarkets.

On Rokid’s motivations, “At the time we thought something like this can really help the frontline people still working,” Guang said.

The startup’s engineering team developed the T1 product in just under two months. In China, Rokid’s smart glasses have been used by national parks staff, in schools and by national authorities to screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

Temperature detectors have their limitation, however, as research has shown that more than half of China’s COVID-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital.

Source: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center

The growth rate of China’s coronavirus cases — which peaked to 83,306 and led to 3,345 deaths — has declined and parts of the country have begun to reopen from lockdown. There is still debate, however, about the veracity of data coming out of China on COVID-19. That led to a row between the White House and World Health Organization, which ultimately saw President Trump halt U.S. contributions to the global body this week.

As COVID-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., technological innovation will become central to the health response and finding some new normal for personal mobility and economic activity. That will certainly bring fresh facets to the common tech conundrums — namely measuring efficacy and balancing benefits with personal privacy.

For its part, Rokid already has new features for its T1 thermal smart glasses in the works. The Chinese startup plans to upgrade the device to take multiple temperature readings simultaneously for up to four people at a time.

“That’s not on the market yet, but we will release this very soon as an update,” said Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan .

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be colocated at a physical workplace even while social distancing and physical isolation measures are in place.

The devices, called simply the “Proof of Health” wearables, aim to provide contact tracing – in other words, monitoring the potential spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person – at the level of a local workplace facility. The intention is to give employers a way to hopefully maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to hopefully curtail any local spread before it becomes an outsized risk.

The hardware includes passive GPS location-tracking, as well as proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE. It also includes a manual control to change a wearer’s health status, recording states like certified health, symptomatic, and verified infected. When a user updates their state to indicate possible or verified infection, that updates others they’ve been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management. That’s designed for internal use within an organization for now, but Cheney tells me he’s working now to see if there might be a way to collaborate with WHO or other external health organizations to potentially leverage the information for tracing across enterprises and populations, too.

These are intended to come in a number of different form factors: the pebble-like version that exists today, which can be clipped to a lanyard for wearing and displaying around a person’s neck; a wrist-worn version with an integrated adjustable strap; and a card format that’s more compact for carrying and could work alongside traditional security badges often used for facility access control. The pebble-like design is already in production and 2,000 will be deployed now, with a plan to ramp production for as many as 10,000 more in the near future using the company’s Poland-based manufacturing resources.

Estimote has been building programmable sensor tech for enterprises for nearly a decade and has worked with large global companies, including Apple and Amazon . Cheney tells me that he quickly recognized the need for the application of this technology to the unique problems presented by the pandemic, but Estimote was already 18 months into developing it for other uses, including in hospitality industries for employee safety/panic button deployment.

“This stack has been in full production for 18 months,” he said via message. “We can program all wearables remotely (they’re LTE connected). Say a factory deploys this – we write an app to the wearable remotely. This is programmable IoT.

“Who knew the virus would require proof of health vis-a-vis location diagnostics tech,” he added.

Many have proposed technology-based solutions for contact tracing, including leveraging existing data gathered by smartphones and consumer applications to chart transmission. But those efforts also have considerable privacy implications, and require use of a smartphone – something that Cheney says isn’t really viable for accurate workplace tracking in high-traffic environments. By creating a dedicated wearable, Cheney says that Estimote can help employers avoid doing something “invasive” with their workforce, since it’s instead tied to a fit-for-purpose device with data shared only with their employers, and it’s in a form factor they can remove and have some control over. Mobile devices also can’t do nearly as fine-grained tracking with indoor environments as dedicated hardware can manage, he says.

And contact tracing at this hyperlocal level won’t necessarily just provide employers with early warning signs for curbing the spread earlier and more thoroughly than they would otherwise. In fact, larger-scale contact tracing fed by sensor data could inform new and improved strategies for COVID-19 response.

“Typically, contact tracing relies on the memory of individuals, or some high-level assumptions (for example, the shift someone worked),” said Brianna Vechhio-Pagán of John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab via a statement. “New technologies can now track interactions within a transmissible, or ~6-foot range, thus reducing the error introduced by other methods. By combining very dense contact tracing data from Bluetooth and UWB signals with information about infection status and symptoms, we may discover new and improved ways to keep patients and staff safe.”

With the ultimate duration of measures like physical distancing essentially up-in-the-air, and some predictions indicating they’ll continue for many months, even if they vary in terms of severity, solutions like Estimote’s could become essential to keeping essential services and businesses operating while also doing the utmost to protect the health and safety of the workers incurring those risks. More far-reaching measures might be needed, too, including general-public-connected, contact-tracing programs, and efforts like this one should help inform the design and development of those.

Mirantis co-founder launches FreedomFi to bring private LTE networks to enterprises

Boris Renski, the co-founder of Mirantis, one of the earliest and best-funded players in the OpenStack space a few years ago (which then mostly pivoted to Kubernetes and DevOps), has left his role as CMO to focus his efforts on a new startup: FreedomFi. The new company brings together open-source hardware and software to give enterprises a new way to leverage the newly opened 3.5 GHz band for private LTE and — later — 5G IoT deployments.

“There is a very broad opportunity for any enterprise building IoT solutions, which completely changes the dynamic of the whole market,” Renski told me when I asked him why he was leaving Mirantis. “This makes the whole space very interesting and fast-evolving. I felt that my background in open source and my existing understanding of the open-source landscape and the LTE space […] is an extremely compelling opportunity to dive into headfirst.”

Renski told me that a lot of the work the company is doing is still in its early stages, but the company recently hit a milestone when it used its prototype stack to send messages across its private network over a distance of around 2.7 miles.

Mirantis itself worked on bringing Magma, a Facebook-developed open-source tool for powering some of the features needed for building access networks, into production. FreedomFi is also working with the OpenAirInterface consortium, which aims to create an ecosystem for open-source software and hardware development around wireless innovation. Most, if not all, of the technology the company will develop over time will also be open source, as well.

Renski, of course, gets to leverage his existing connections in the enterprise and telco industry with this new venture, but he also told me that he plans to leverage the Mirantis playbook as he builds out the company.

“At Mirantis, our journey was that we started with basically offering end-to-end open-source cloud buildouts to a variety of enterprises back when OpenStack was essentially the only open-source cloud project out there,” he explained. “And we spent a whole bunch of time doing that, engaging with customers, getting customer revenue, learning where the bottlenecks are — and then kind of gradually evolving into more of a leveraged business model with a subscription offering around OpenStack and then MCP and now Kubernetes, Docker, etc. But the key was to be very kind of customer-centric, go get some customer wins first, give customers a services-centric offering that gets them to the result, and then figure out where the leveraged business model opportunities are.”

Currently, enterprises that want to attempt to build their own private LTE networks — and are willing to spend millions on it — have to go to the large telecom providers. Those companies, though, aren’t necessarily interested in working on these relatively small deployments (or at least “small” by the standards of a telco).

Renski and his team started the project about two months ago and for now, it remains self-funded. But the company already has five pilots lined up, including one with a company that produces large-scale events and another with a large real estate owner, and with some of the tech falling in place, Renski seems optimistic that this is a project worth focusing on. There are still some hurdles to overcome and Renski tells me the team is learning new things every day. The hardware, for example, remains hard to source and the software stack remains in flux. “We’re probably at least six months away from having solved all of the technology and business-related problems pertaining to delivering this kind of end-to-end private LTE network,” he said.