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