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EPISODE #2 | August 5, 2021

Quuppa and The Emergence of Indoor Tracking Technology and Its Purpose

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SiliconExpert Podcast Episode 2 Quuppa - Transcription

Fabio Belloni: If you would get the standard Bluetooth, you could not track an ice hockey pack traveling at 160 miles per hour with the precision and the latency of a fraction of a second.

[00:00:13] Eric Singer: That voice you're hearing is Fabio Belloni, the chief customer officer, and co-founder of Quuppa.

[00:00:19] Fabio Belloni: We (together with WiseHockey.com)  have more than 50 stadiums where every single professional game is tracked by us. We track pucks, players, referees, anything moving on the ice.

[00:00:32] Eric Singer: Welcome to the Intelligent Engine, the SiliconExpert podcast that lives in the heart of the electronics industry brought to you by SiliconExpert. SiliconExpert is all about data-driven decisions, with a human driven experience. We mitigate risk and manage compliance from design, through sustainment, the knowledge, experience, and thought leadership of the team, partners and those we interact with every day expose unique aspects of the electronics and the product life cycles that live within it. These are the stories that fuel the Intelligence Engine.

[00:01:08] Today's spotlight falls on Quuppa, a company headquartered in Finland that provides a powerful technology platform for location-based services and applications for indoor positioning, their real-time indoor positioning systems keep track of everything from equipment to people, to hockey pucks. Quuppa provides accurate, real time positioning using AI and Bluetooth interoperability to talk about all this today, we have Fabio Belloni, the chief customer officer, and co-founder of Quuppa. He's a leading authority on advanced location technologies.

[00:01:40] At Quuppa Fabio focuses on accelerating the success of companies in Quuppa's partner ecosystem, evangelizing the benefits of accurate positioning capabilities across a wide range of use cases in industries that include manufacturing, health care, sports, supply chain, and logistics, security, and others.

[00:01:59] He's a frequent contributor to leading industry publications. And he's the author or co-author of numerous academic papers and has several granted patents and patent pending applications. Fabio. Thanks for being here today.

[00:02:12] Thanks for having me here. It's a pleasure.

[00:02:14] First of all, we're talking to you in Finland, right?

[00:02:17] Are you in Helsinki or,

[00:02:18] Fabio Belloni: I'm currently in Espo, which is right next to Helsinki.

[00:02:23] Eric Singer: And how long have you lived there?

[00:02:24] Fabio Belloni: It's been a long time. I was supposed to stay in Finland for one year for my Erasmus time, which is these European exchange program between universities and that one year translated into more than twenty.

[00:02:38] I did my PhD. I got married. I had a couple of kids and just, I think, life happening.

[00:02:45] Eric Singer: Did you grow up in Italy?

[00:02:46] Fabio Belloni: Yes, I was born in Italy. Grew up in Italy. In the north of Milan, between Milan and the Alps.

[00:02:53] Eric Singer: Were you studying electrical engineering at that point already?

[00:02:56] Fabio Belloni: I've always been interested in technology. My father was studying telecommunication and he worked for 35 years in telecom Italia, which is the major Italian operator for landline. And then later on became also for mobile communication.

[00:03:13] Eric Singer: And was your dad an engineer or what kind of job did he have.

[00:03:16] Fabio Belloni: It's one of those story that the, he worked at the same company for more than 30 years. He started by driving around with a car and fixing landline by literally crawling under the roads into the cabinets to fix the lines and wires, and he ended up his career by leading some teams, selling ADSL line for internet connections. I remember him driving back home with the company car every now and then. It was a Fiat Panda, red. I still remember dad with written telecom Italia on the side. When I went to high school, I went to a technical high school, not the classical.

[00:03:58] So I studied a lot of technology. I've been doing soldering and building circuit design now, already when I was what, 15, 16, 17. So I did that, but in my youth, I liked a lot staying outside, playing soccer or football with friends, and one of my passions is sailing. So I spent a lot of time sailing, both in the Mediterranean sea and in the Italian lakes.

[00:04:27] So starting in 2003, I started to do my PhD studies, which took four years. And then once I graduated in 2007, the deadline was to try to be aligned with my first born. I wanted to finish my PhD studies before my kid was born and I managed to accomplish that. And then when the last part of my studies for about a year, I was already cooperating as an external for Nokia.

[00:05:01] So Nokia was having a problem of trying to localize radio devices from a phone. And that was the main topic of my research work in the university. So I started to cooperate with them and then I enjoyed a lot and probably they enjoyed as well because at the end of my PhD, they offered me a job. And that's when, roughly in 2008, I joined Nokia as a full-time employees.

[00:05:31] And I was a senior researcher at that time hired to develop localization algorithym.

[00:05:38] Eric Singer: That's amazing that your first job as a young person and your first job after the PhD were in your field of interest? Not many people can say that.

[00:05:48] Fabio Belloni: I feel myself very fortunate. I agree with you. It rarely happened that someone can put in practice everything that he has been studying and investigate in doing this PhD time.

[00:06:02] I consider myself as very fortunate in this respect. And that's also why Eric, when in Quuppa, we say that we have been working with localization technology for more than 15 years, we are not joking.

[00:06:12] Eric Singer: Yeah. So the project at Nokia was that also using radio triangulation instead of GPS, or was it a combination of both?

[00:06:23] Fabio Belloni: When I joined Nokia, the project I was working on was called the find and do find and do was approaches where you could take a phone, you could open your phone and the phone will show you the direction and the distance to where a transmitter is. So that, that was done with the Bluetooth technology. I think that just a few weeks ago, Apple launched a product called Air tag. That does exactly the same thing.

[00:06:56] Eric Singer: So in other words, using your phone, you could find a device with Bluetooth and home in on it. And this was how many years ago.

[00:07:04] Fabio Belloni: When we started that project was an, I got involved with 2006. And I would say either 2009 or 2010, it was CES in Las Vegas, Consumer Electronics Show.

[00:07:17] If you actually Google online for Nokia locate sensors, you will find a picture of a modified N 95 phone which shows the green arrow to a green tag, attached to a key chain.

[00:07:32] Eric Singer: That's amazing 15 years before the Air tag and Samsung Smart tag. You're doing this already with a Nokia 95 phone.

[00:07:41] Fabio Belloni: Yes. That was exciting.

[00:07:43] Nokia was an extremely innovative company and they were really scratching the surface of what really consumer-based localization technology could bring. Well, 15, 20 years later into the, into the today. In 2012, Nokia was undergoing some turbulent time. And myself and the member of my team, we decided to effectively leave Nokia and that we took the technology and we took the prototype in work we have done over those six years actually more. It was almost eight years outside Nokia and that's how Quuppa was created. So Quuppa is a completely independent company from Nokia. We have been growing steadily and organically since 2012 started in five, and now we are almost 60 people.

[00:08:37] We have, I think 2,600 deployments at this stage. And we operate with more than 500 customers globally across 55 countries. So it's been quite a journey from where we started to where we are now.

[00:08:55] Eric Singer: How much range did that technology have? How far away could you find something?

[00:08:59] Fabio Belloni: We were already quite good.

[00:09:01] We had a good antenna in the phone and I remember staying within the limits of radio propagate over radio transmission. We were doing easily like tens of meters. I remember we were playing hide and seek in the office.

[00:09:18] Eric Singer: I love that picture of engineers hiding under desks and sitting up on top of a toilet and hiding their legs running around, trying to chase each other.

[00:09:29] So that really is incredible that you were that far ahead of this because Apple's air tags and Samsung smart tags. Everybody's talking about that these days. It sounds like everything that was needed for that technology you had already figured out 15 years ago. Why do you think it took this long to come to the consumer market?

[00:09:52] Fabio Belloni: Standardization always takes a long time and the market wasn't ready. And also we were using a different technology back then. For instance, the Air tag currently are using the actually the Air tag are for the most Bluetooth still Bluetooth tags. But then for the last part, for the precision measuring of distance they use ultra wide band.

[00:10:16] In our case, we were able to pull everything in Bluetooth, but I have to admit that our ranging was not very accurate because we were based on power measurements, but the angular estimation was actually very reliable already back then.

[00:10:32] Eric Singer: When we talk about industry 4.0, what we're really talking about is another industrial revolution.

[00:10:38] Fabio Belloni: So if you think about it. Industry 4.0, it effectively describes the fourth revolution. So depending on where you read that you could summarize that the first industrial revolution was the one that happened in the 1800, where we started to run machinery on steam, the industry 2.0 that's where electricity came in and replaced the steam machinery.

[00:11:04] Then the 3.0 revolution was where internet became part of the manufacturing by allowing optimization and information to be sent, not over snail-mail, but over email. So in a blink of an eye, everything was moving faster. And now with the industry 4.0, that's effectively where we are talking about the whole digitalization era.

[00:11:32] That's where the new revolution come, because now you give the information, you give a new set of eyes to the people that are in charge of making those decisions. And the decision is not made only on the executive level in a company, but anybody and everybody working within the factory is in charge of some level of decision.

[00:11:55] Eric Singer: So tell me a little bit about the hardware that you're using these days is Bluetooth a part of that? Is it ultra wide band? What are you using in the guts of the transmitters especially?

[00:12:06] Fabio Belloni: At the moment we are focusing on using for the majority Bluetooth radio. And the reason why we still defend this choice is because our vision and our soul.

[00:12:20] So during the early days of that research, we did a lot of analysis with many different radio technologies, including ultra-wide band, wifi, Bluetooth, audio, visual. Magnetic field, anything that could localize the device indoor without using GPS. You have to consider that back then. Eric, when we were talking about indoor location and I still remember when we went public in 2008 for the first time with Nokia, when we showed that we were talking about mounting an infrastructure indoor, enabling localizing devices indoor.

[00:13:01] The answer from the people was like, why don't you use GPS? And we were saying, GPS does doesn't work indoor. And the second question was like, why do I need to pay for an infrastructure? GPS is for free. And they forgot that actually GPS costs a few billions in terms of infrastructure. It's just that it's paid by governments, but it doesn't come for free.

[00:13:28] Eric Singer: So you've got the challenges of GPS not reaching through ceilings and into underground facilities, or even in some standard buildings. You've got the problem of Bluetooth having a limited range inside passing through walls, especially I'm imagining in settings where there are. There's a whole lot of chatter across the frequency spectrum, like in a healthcare environment, how do you tackle all of those issues?

[00:13:56] Do you rely on a single technology or are there multiple locating strategies that allow you to solve that problem?

[00:14:04] Fabio Belloni: So what we did there was to build an engine, a positioning engine, which is practically technology agnostic. So at this stage, we are getting directional information from Bluetooth radio operating at 2.4 gigahertz, but we could get any other kind of measurement from other radio at different frequencies.

[00:14:32] So when we built our technology we chose to really focus and develop the brain of the system. And of course, since nobody has built it, we have to build our own leg for running in the market. And that's why we use the concept of locators. We embraced Bluetooth, but also in there, the Bluetooth radio.

[00:14:57] For our standpoint, we can run them either in a fully standard compatible mode, which is interoperable with all the billion devices out there, or we can run it with our own stack or with our own proprietary technology.

[00:15:14] Eric Singer: What are some examples of what you can do with your proprietary that you can't do with standard bluetooth?

[00:15:22] Fabio Belloni: For instance, if you would get the standard Bluetooth, you could not track a ice hockey pack traveling at 160 miles per hour with the precision of 10 centimeter and the latency of a fraction of a second.

[00:15:37] Eric Singer: You can do that with yours.

[00:15:38] Fabio Belloni: Yes,

[00:15:39] Eric Singer: that's incredible.

[00:15:40] Fabio Belloni: And this is not just me saying it's already two years that we are in the market.

[00:15:45] We are tracking every single professional hockey game, across three leagues, the Finnish hockey league, continental league, and the Norwegian league. And we have more than 50 stadiums where every single professional game is tracked by us. We track puck, players, referees. Anything moving on the ice.

[00:16:11] Eric Singer: So when you're tracking players, I think about sports fans who are obsessed with statistics, the plus minus, and all of the other stats, especially in hockey, people are obsessed with that. Are you gaining any interesting insights about player performance through that tracking?

[00:16:29] Fabio Belloni: Oh, yeah, there is a ton of data.

[00:16:31] Someone calls it data junkie. The people that they never have enough data to analyze the game. And in a way effectively, if you think about for instance baseball, which is the king of the sport when it comes to analytics, you can really have so much data about the players that you really draw statistics and analytics, not just about the single person performance, but those about the tactic, the, our partner that has built that the software application for analyzing our data, they have the concept of momentum, which means how much a team is pushing towards the other team.

[00:17:11] And it's the kind of thing that when you watch a game. Any game, any sport, anyone that understands something about that game, you have that gut feeling that my team is doing well, my team is doing bad or for the past 10 minutes they play well, or now they are suffering. That is what is the momentum it's to have that kind of positive edge on the opponent and kind of squish them into their half of the field.

[00:17:37] Eric Singer: And can you actually see that in a quantitative way? Because I feel like momentum is such an intangible thing. Like you described it, it's just something you feel, but can you actually see that in the numbers?

[00:17:51] Fabio Belloni: Yes. And it's quite amazing once you see it because it correlates often very well with the score, with the goal happening.

[00:18:00] And likewise, you can do it in sport. We have been in projects where even in logistics, we were talking with the end customer and of course they have the floor manager. Of course we have the person that knows like nobody, his colleagues and how the goods are moving within the floor in a shortened time-span or for being able to deliver to a given customer and so on.

[00:18:25] But still after having applied the RTLS and location-based logic. And location-based service analysis with statistics, they're able to optimize their work efficiency by 30%, it means that in this case, this customer was able to squeeze the same amount of delivery in two third of the time.

[00:18:49] Eric Singer: That's unbelievable.

[00:18:50] Fabio Belloni: So at the end of the day, he was able within any shift to send out one truck more full of goods.

[00:18:57] Eric Singer: Yeah. Just by knowing where everything is.

[00:19:01] Fabio Belloni: Not just where it is, but how does it correlate to what surroundings? So it's a, it's really a combination of seeing the whole. You probably have seen Eric this map where you see all the dots moving. Now think that you would know exactly what each of those dots represent.

[00:19:20] Is it, the forklift is it a good, which kind of good it is. And then in automatic, the logic and the machine would know where these goods needs to go. Together with which goods it needs to travel and then build a real-time optimization on how to collect and instruct, someone walking on the field in making the right choice at the right time to optimize all the workflow.

[00:19:47] It also helps the worker himself because I don't think nobody likes to walk the floor and search for goods.

[00:19:54] Eric Singer: Yeah, that's a waste of time. It's bad for morale. Nobody wants to do that. So are you playing a part in that AI piece of the puzzle where you're actually analyzing the data and figuring out how to optimize that?

[00:20:08] Or is that something that the customer then takes the information from your engine and has to develop their own analytics to actually make changes based on what they're learning?

[00:20:19] Fabio Belloni: We do a little bit of both. So Quuppa was born originally as a data generator. So we were the one responsible to accurately locate the object provides that dot on the map information to someone that then would start to run analytics, statistics, and so on. And our role is, has been of course, very important because when you run analytics algorithm, the output of any algorithm. It gets better if the data that you're feeding the algorithm with are reliable.

[00:20:54] And our job, but our aim has always been to create the most reliable dot on the map to be able to create the reliable information that could hopefully feed any kind of algorithm from convention and basic flow chart logic into complex AI with the machine learning and anything before that, in order to make the artificial intelligence even more intelligent so to say, so we have been historically really much focused on creating that reliable data, but now we are actually moving into start building some of our own analytics and logic because anyway, the amount of data we give out is only a portion of the immense amount of data we actually generate in terms of raw information.

[00:21:49] Eric Singer: Talking a little bit more about the COVID example that you brought up, where we're talking about a form of electronic contact tracing.

[00:22:00] I think that's something we have all become familiar with using our phones. So we know when two devices are close to each other, have there been other applications in healthcare or otherwise during the pandemic that have used Quuppa technology?

[00:22:16] Fabio Belloni: Absolutely. There has been use cases for instance, related to hand hygiene, especially in hospitals or in other healthcare system or healthcare centers we have, for instance, published a study done as output one of our product in Japan, where the study highlighted that by using location-based technologies was possible moving increased by 300% that the time that a caregiver, whether a nurse or a doctor is washing his hand before touching the next patient.

[00:22:56] Eric Singer: So you're tracking the time that they spend in front of a sink or a washbasin washing up.

[00:23:02] Fabio Belloni: Yeah. So doctors, nurses. They should wash their hand every time before touching the next patient. And unfortunately this is not always the case is not always enforced. And even though there are great campaigns done by hospital in different shape size and form to provide education, there is always situation when because of something that doctor might walk in without doing that routine of a hand hygiene, but now having a system that doesn't know exception that would always measure when someone walks in the room, identifying that, okay, you cannot walk straight to the patient. You first need to go to the sink and spend a certain amount of time there.

[00:23:49] And by doing so wash your hand and then work, walk to the patient that's practically where creating that basic, simple rule, you can greatly have the doctor himself to execute his job, but also the patient to feel more safe that he is taken care of in a great facility.

[00:24:10] Eric Singer: What else are you tracking in a healthcare setting?

[00:24:13] Fabio Belloni: Yeah, we have been tracking for instance crash carts that are also extremely important, especially in case of emergency, of course, when you have an emergency, you got to know where the crash cart is immediately. You can't start searching for it. So that's one use case. We have been tracking defribulators. We have been tracking IVs.

[00:24:33] We have been tracking different kinds of pumps. We have been tracking beds. This has been one of the things that I always find amazing that we were interviewing some hospital system in north America and they were telling us they lose, about 10 to 20 beds per year.

[00:24:52] Eric Singer: They lose beds.

[00:24:54] Fabio Belloni: Yes.

[00:24:54] Eric Singer: That's a pretty big thing to lose.

[00:24:58] Fabio Belloni: They, I always found it amusing because it's not something that you put in your pocket and you leave, it's what they do for whatever reason. And they lose them and the same thing. In this electrocardiogram machine or any kind of mobile vital sign machinery that they might take in intensive care.

[00:25:20] Some of those machines, they cost like $50,000. And I remember visiting the warehouse of one of these hospital and they had 30 or 40 of these cardio measuring machine now on the line. And I was asking, wow, why do you need all of these in the warehouse? And they say, well, because that's the basic stock because we lose them.

[00:25:43] We lose them and we need to buy them again. So every hospital has million dollar budget every year that they use to effectively keep on buying components that they misplace tools. Anything.

[00:25:57] Eric Singer: Yeah. And are any of those things ever tracked outside the facility? So obviously indoors. We know how you're doing that.

[00:26:07] If let's say particularly here in the Western United States, we have a lot of rural hospitals that share equipment across multiple locations. Do you ever work with GPS or another technology to be able to track things if they leave the facility and go somewhere physically distant?

[00:26:24] Fabio Belloni: Yeah, we do. We have a lot of great technology partner and one of the company we work with in the outdoor scenario especially.

[00:26:34] Has been Semtech and Semtech is the company that builds Lora. And it's a very good technology for being able to measure the approximate position of objects outdoor by using devices that consume very little power, a fraction of what the GPS would consume, or they can be combined with GPS so that the device computes GPS location, but then you use Lora to export that into the network.

[00:27:04] So we have announced for recent partnership with them. Some company where we may be able to tag that combines the Quuppa technology built on top of Bluetooth with Lora. And in that case, this tag that can allow the, what we refer to who has hybrid RTLS where hybrid RTLS means that you have now objects that can seamlessly move from indoor to outdoor, but the end customer doesn't want to have multiple tags attached to the device. So for us working with SiliconExpert has been great, because we use a platform called Arena that connects into SiliconeExpert database. And we are always just a click away to know in real time, which components is best for us to choose for a certain production line and ensure already at the beginning at the design phase that whatever element or component we put inside our hardware is ultimately fulfilling. All of them be Intel or radio requirements that are part of our product quality.

[00:28:14] Eric Singer: What would you say is the most precise application of Quuppa technology that you can talk about?

[00:28:22] Fabio Belloni: Well, we actually went public in a couple of trade shows where we play our ice hockey table game. The ice hockey game, the one sport on the table, the classic. So the hockey team. We are able to be literally centimeter, accurate

[00:28:43]Eric Singer:  one centimeter

[00:28:44] Fabio Belloni: Yeah, to position that miniature puck on the table.

[00:28:47] Eric Singer: I could see a lot of practical applications for that beyond the fun one of the tabletop hockey in an industrial application, what's the most sensitive deployment that you've done so far.

[00:29:00] Fabio Belloni: Typically, what is asked for Quuppa to fulfill as a requirement is less than a meter accuracy. We have projects. I will say that this is for the very large majority, but we have projects where requirements are like a 50 centimeter or even 30 centimeters requirements or like a foot, but then they become very special projects.

[00:29:23] Eric Singer: This has been so fascinating. Thank you so much for your time, Fabio.

[00:29:27] Fabio Belloni: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.

[00:29:30] Eric Singer: And I'd like to thank our audience for tuning in to this episode of the SiliconExpert Intelligent Engine. A look at Quuppa's industry 4.0 advanced location technologies. Be sure to tune in for new episodes that will delve into more of the electronics industry.

[00:29:46] Upcoming episodes will explore the advent of Bluetooth 5.1, wi-fi six, and the intricate financial nuances of finding the best possible pricing for your components. This episode of the intelligent engine is sponsored by Quuppa. Be sure to share our podcast with your colleagues and friends, and you can also sign up to be on our email list to receive updates and the opportunity to provide your input on future topics.

[00:30:09] Go to SiliconExpert.com/podcast to sign up. Until next time, Keep the data flowing.

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