Avrohom Gottheil – IoT and wireless power

24 September 2018

Avrohom is the founder of Ask the CEO, which is a community of technology thought leaders. We discuss IoT growth, use case and how wireless power can impact the world of IoT.

This episode was recorded in September 2018

Yuval Boger (CMO, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hello, Avrohom, and welcome to the show.

Avrohom Gottheil (Ask the CEO): Hello, Yuval. Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be on your show.

Yuval: It’s great to have you. Who are you and what do you do?

Avrohom: You know, I sometimes wonder that myself. Okay, so I’m the Founder of Ask the CEO, which is a community of technology thought leaders. It’s a place where people can come and learn about the latest trend in technology without being bombarded by sales pitches or industry jargon or call to action. This came about … so I’ll give you my back story. I come from a 20-year background in telecom. I used to work for Avaya, the big phone manufacturers. I worked for them for nine years, had a few more stints in corporate America. Then, in 2006, I started my own consulting business supporting Avaya partners and resellers with installation and support of their phone systems and contact center applications.

Over the last couple of years, telecom has been going through some changes. As you know, there’s been rising popularity with Cloud communications and PBX sales were declining. Now, to make matters worse, last year Avaya went through a bankruptcy and just imagine who Avaya is. They are the number one global telecom manufacturer and my entire business was based on the Avaya product line, so when sales are flat, people don’t really need an expert, an industry expert to support their installations. I found myself in a very difficult situation.

I was looking around for a different industry to start over and what I decided at that time was that IoT was the perfect evolution to my career because telecom is human to human communication and IoT is human to machine communication. That seemed like a perfect fit and starting out in a new industry, you don’t know anybody, you don’t know much about the technology except what you hear on the street. I wanted to educate myself on IoT. What I realized was that there isn’t a place that you can go, sort of like a one-stop shopping where you can go plug your brain in and just learn about all the latest trends in technology from an objective source. Yes, there are lots of videos out there, but they’re usually made by companies and they have an agenda. They want to push their products, but I wanted a place where I can hear objectively from industry experts what’s going on.

As you know, technology changes every 15 minutes. What was relevant yesterday is no longer relevant today, so it had to have been something that’s current. That’s when this came to me that there’s a need for a platform like this. That’s what I created with Ask the CEO.

Yuval: Excellent. You’ve developed expertise in IoT, so just for my benefit, what are the major applications or verticals that you see IoT growing these days?

Avrohom: Sure. What’s important to understand with regards to IoT, IoT’s no longer an industry in and of itself. It’s more of an ecosystem where we communicate with smart devices connected to the internet. It’s pretty much a part of every single segment of every single industry, but within that, within that ecosystem, there are several areas of growth. For example, there’s a sale … excuse me … there’s a saying that data is the new oil. Analytics is where it’s at. Everybody is trying to get more data, more information about their customers, about their product line, so that they can serve their customers better, they can improve their products, and increase their bottom line.

For example, there was this company in Germany that was plagued by forklift accidents and the accidents weren’t actually occurring in their German location where the safety standards are high, but rather in their offshore warehouses in developing countries where the local safety laws weren’t as stringent as in Germany. Now, if you think about it, in order to solve a problem like this, which is a serious problem, you really need to understand why it’s happening. I mean, we know the forklift hit something or God forbid, someone because all you’ve got to do is look, but the question is why did the forklift hit something? How many near misses has this driver had before he finally hit something?

This kind of data is not being reported at all because, after all, nothing happened, so there’s nothing to write up and there’s nothing to report on. What this company did was they installed proximity sensors on every single forklift and not just the forklifts, but the gear that people wore, so the vest, the hardhats so that every near miss that occurred was instantly captured by that sensor. Then, immediately recorded into the company logbook, so that when it came time to do a safety review, the managers knew clearly which drivers needed additional safety training and what areas they needed to focus on. The analytics that they received from these sensors helped them not only save lives but also improve their profitability because they were no longer dealing with damaged goods. Areas that provide analytics are areas of growth.

Let me give you another example and let’s just take a coffeemaker, for example. You’re hearing about all sorts of applications where regular household devices are becoming IoT enabled. We’ve got smart coffeemakers, smart refrigerators, smart microwaves, smart cups, smart plates, and so on and so on. What’s the deal with that? Why is it so popular? There are two components to that. Let’s just take a use case, a scenario. It’s 7:30 in the morning, you’re a single parent trying to put your kids on the school bus, but you’re also the CEO of a cutting edge IoT company and you’re scheduled to deliver a presentation to the Board of Directors in one hour. Okay? The school bus is coming in five minutes, your 10-year-old can’t find his shoes, your seven-year-old can’t find his socks. No pressure there. As you’re frantically rushing through the house, gathering everyone’s belongings, packing lunches, stuffing knapsacks, you shout out to Alexa, “Alexa, make me a coffee.”

Now, that transaction was not about coffee. That transaction was the sale of time. People nowadays are busier than ever before. You don’t have a minute to wipe your nose, let alone eat breakfast. All you need is a cup of coffee to get you through your morning and by IoT enabling this coffeemaker, you just sold this poor, frazzled mother back some of the valuable time in her day. With regards to the mass adoption of this technology, time is the new currency and time is what’s driving that mass adoption, but let’s take it one step further. Every time this mother orders her coffeemaker to make coffee, what type of coffee is she making? Is she making black coffee, is she making Starbucks, is she making Dunkin’ Donuts? What type of coffee is she using? She’s got to buy that coffee somewhere.

By connecting that coffeemaker to the internet, the manufacturer is now collecting analytics and what you can do now is you know that she buys this coffee in bulk, comes in a case of 24, and she just made 23 cups of coffee or let’s just say 20 cups of coffee, you can now send her a message, “Hey, Mary. I’ve noticed you’ve been using Starbucks coffee. Amazon’s got a sale on Starbucks. It saves you five bucks. Would you like me to order one for you automatically?” She could just reply to that message, “Sure, absolutely.” Now what’s happened was you went from becoming a manufacturer of transactional goods because once you make that sale for that coffeemaker, that sale is over and it’s now become the gift that keeps on giving, so every single time she drinks a cup of coffee from your coffeemaker, you’re actually earning revenue. This is just another way that manufacturers are able to increase their profit line. Again, that goes back to analytics. Areas, where there are analytics, are seeing a lot of growth.

Yuval: Got it. You had the example of … embedded in the coffee machine or in the refrigerator. Are most of the sensors that you’re seeing embedded into larger devices or are most of them standalone? A temperature sensor, a presence sensor in a smart building, a lighting sensor, something that serves for the whole purpose of sensing as opposed to augmenting a different machine?

Avrohom: That’s a great question and think about it this way. You have two categories of products. You have your typical household appliances like the washing machines, the dishwashers, the refrigerators, the coffeemakers. Those devices have their sensors built-in. They’re embedded. It’s a fixed, closed system, and you typically have whatever they come with, but then, you also have standalone IoT solutions, so let’s take our forklift operator. The forklifts didn’t come with sensors, neither did the vests and hardhats, although there are companies out there that are manufacturing those as well. Those devices, the forklifts, the work gear, those were standalone IoT solutions that were installed after the fact. Depending on the use case, you would actually have standalone sensors that you would install on an existing device.

Yuval: Got it. Let’s take a building for instance. Let’s assume it was a municipal building, you know, a public library, and the government says, you know, it’s time to turn this building that was built 50 years ago, or a hundred years ago, into a smart building. Obviously, these sensors did not exist before, but now if we could only figure out the temperature in various areas and where people are congregating, then we could save money. We could turn off the lights when no one is there or we could make it more pleasant in terms of temperature, we could do all these great things. What’s involved in installing IoT sensors in say, a building?

Avrohom: Sure. During the 20 plus years of my telecom career, I’ve had many opportunities to work on infrastructure projects, so when you think of something like a sensor, there are two kinds of sensors that you can install. There are wired sensors and then there are sensors without wires. I wouldn’t quite call them wireless because they would be battery-powered sensors. For example, if you would have a sensor that would measure temperature, you could just install a battery-powered sensor and you could just pretty much place it anywhere versus, let’s say, in a server room if you wanted to install a sensor to measure things like temperature or humidity or a security sensor. That would typically be wired somewhere, so one of the considerations to think about would be is this going to be a wired or a wireless sensor?

Now, if it’s a wired sensor, how are the wires going to be laid out because you can’t just have your installation look like a dorm room, a college dorm room with five different power strips plugged into one another and the wires flying all over the place. They have to be wired nice and neat. How are wired going to get from floor A to floor B? Are there conduits that you have, are you going to install riser cable? Are you going to be using cable management? There’s lots of consideration that you need to think about when installing these types of sensors.

Now, in addition to that, there’s also the data transmission, so the data transmission can also be wired or wireless. Going back to the server room example, in a server room you have ample power and you have ample network connectivity, so that’s usually not so much of an issue versus retrofitting an older building from the 1950s, for example, which may have concrete ceilings and there may not be conduits going from one floor to another. You may need wireless data transmission, so either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or some other technology that would let you transmit that data securely wirelessly. This is just high-level, some of the considerations that are involved in installing these sensors.

Yuval: You basically said as far as power, it could be wired or it could be battery operated, which of course, they would need to be periodically replaced, the battery runs out. Then the communications could be wired, but obviously it’s more convenient to have it wireless. Imagine that power could also be delivered wirelessly, that you didn’t need a battery or you didn’t need to actually run a wire to the sensor. What would be the impact on that? Is that useful or should we just close down the shop and go home?

Avrohom: For sure it would be useful. I mean, think of the factory that gets these sensors installed on the wall and then somebody installs a 30-ton unit right in front of it. Now, when that battery runs out, you’re in trouble because no one’s moving that heavy monster. Pretty much, you know, any remote sensor where it would be hard or impossible to replace the battery, would benefit tremendously from wireless charging. And what the impact would be for the industry, for the technology and for the industry, you would find a major uptick in the mass adoption of IoT technology.

For example, let’s take smart homes. There is a lot of interest right now in the Amazon door locks. Not me personally. I wouldn’t trust those, but it’s something that’s popular. You have smart locks that have fingerprint scanners, embedded video cameras. Let’s say your kid is locked out of the house. From work, you could just push a button on your phone and unlock the door. These are all great things, but there’s an expense involved to install all that. Furthermore, many Americans are renting. Now, can you imagine spending all that money getting all the smart technology, your smart thermostats, your smart doorbells, your smart light switches, and then a year from now you have to move, so now what? Are you going to leave all that technology behind or are you going to pay an electrician to de-install all that technology and pay twice?

The fact that you can accommodate and power all that technology wirelessly, without incurring that expense, that would trigger much greater interest in the technology. Not just in smart homes, but in factories as well, so in the industrial IoT. Let’s talk about smart factories, smart manufacturing. As you know, a factory has many moving parts and moving parts have a habit of breaking down. Parts have a limited life span of however long they were rated for. Now, what typically happens when a part breaks down is that if you have a motor, for example, that’s rated for 1,000 hours, so when you get somewhere up to the 950-hour range, you schedule a maintenance window, take the machine offline and replace the part. That can be very wasteful because you still have 50 hours left and maybe you took good care of it, you oiled it well, so you got another 200 hours left. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a crystal ball to actually see when this part’s going to finally break down? That’s what smart manufacturing is all about in the industrial IoT.

You’ve got these sensors now that are monitoring all this equipment and all these different sensors. Now, imagine if one sensor from a critical component … and let’s say it’s not battery powered. Let’s say it’s wired, it’s plugged into a power source, but somebody blows a fuse or somebody rips a cable or the power just goes out for that one outlet. That has the potential of suddenly shutting down your entire supply chain, which will pretty much shut your business down for the day. That is a terrible tragedy. In the telecom world when we built out phone rooms and data centers, the most important thing that we took care of, or the most important thing that we had to think about was power and redundant power. For any critical infrastructure, you never just rely on municipal power. You always have a redundant power supply. For example, a battery backup, motor generator, solar-powered generator, what have you, but you always need a second source of power for any critical infrastructure.

Talking about these IoT sensors, if you were to have a wireless charger, let’s say, installed in the ceiling, that is a single interface to your power. Now, if that charger were to also be connected to a redundant power supply so should the power go out your factory keeps on going. More than just having a positive impact on the consumer side, there will be a major impact on the industrial IoT as well.

Yuval: It seems to me like there would be a lot of cost savings. I mean, so for instance, if I go on Amazon, not to pick on them, or go to Best Buy, and want to buy a surround speaker system and maybe it’s $300, they try to sell me another $300 for professional installation. This installation is about running the cables, burying them in the wall or running them so, as you said, it doesn’t look like a dorm room, it looks like a nice living room. Now, all of a sudden, if installing a surround speaker was as easy as putting double-sided tape on the wall and basically just sticking it there, it’s already Bluetooth enabled and now it’s got wireless power, then wow. Then even I could do it. Right?

Avrohom: It cuts down the cost by $300 because now you’re not paying the $300 for an electrician.

Yuval: Right.

Avrohom: Yeah. I’ve seen figures in terms of installation costs for industrial IoT. For example, an industrial IoT sensor is relatively expensive, yeah I’m sorry relatively inexpensive. You can get a sensor for about $50. The installation of that sensor could run you a thousand dollars just for the wiring and the power. Could you imagine if you were able to eliminate all those thousand-dollar charges for loads and loads of sensors? I mean, in a factory you don’t just have one sensor, you’ve got hundreds of them. That wireless charging solution would pay for itself in no time.

Yuval: That sounds exciting. Avrohom, how can people connect with you to learn more about your work and gain more insight from what you’ve learned?

Avrohom: Sure. You can connect with me in several ways. On my website, AsktheCEO.biz. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. My Twitter handle’s @AvrohomG. I always love meeting new people and connecting with them and I’m also on Instagram, the same handle as @AvrohomG. Look forward to connecting with people.

Yuval: Excellent. Thank you so much.

Avrohom: Yuval, thank you so much for the opportunity. It was a real pleasure.

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