In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, MistyWest’s CEO, Taylor Cooper, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss the engineering side of IoT and the current chip shortage. The podcast opens up with a discussion around MistyWest, the industries they focus on, and the current state of engineering in IoT. Ryan and Taylor then talk about where engineering firms add the most value to an IoT solution and how the chip shortage has affected companies within the industry. They wrap up the podcast by breaking down challenges Taylor has seen IoT companies encounter.
Taylor has over 15 years of experience working in hardware product development and is a founding employee and CEO of MistyWest. He graduated from Engineering Physics at UBC, has worked on medical instrumentation, and is an author on the foundational patents for HAVEN IAQ. At MistyWest, Taylor has led projects for medical diagnostics, Agtech, and IoT.
Interested in connecting with Taylor? Reach out on Linkedin!
MistyWest is an engineering design consultancy that exists to create an inclusive and prosperous global community enabled by technology. By empowering our world-class research and engineering team, we create technically complex intelligent connected devices that accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable future.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:15) Introduction to Taylor
(02:16) Background of MistyWest
(05:21) Where is the engineering completed
(06:20) What industries do MistyWest focus on?
(07:39) Current state of engineering in IoT
(10:05) Where engineering firms add the most value
(11:40) Chip shortage
(17:45) Challenges in the IoT space
– [Voice Over] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon and on today’s episode, we have Taylor Cooper, the CEO of MistyWest. MistyWest is a product development partner that acts as a bridge from lab to assembly line for intelligent and connect devices. Super interesting company. Now you’ll learn a lot about that in our conversation. And aside from that, we actually talk a lot about the role service firms play in IoT. What do they do? How do they compare? We talked about chip shortages because it influences pretty much everybody and how that’s playing a role in IoT, the future expectations on that front, other trends in IoT we discussed. Then also challenges they’ve seen on the IoT engineering side of things. So all in all fantastic conversation, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of. But before we get into this episode, if any of you out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market, but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor, Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform, provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com. That’s iotchangeseverything.com and without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Taylor to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Taylor] Yeah, great to be here. Thank you for inviting us, Ryan.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, so let’s start off by having you give a quick introduction to our audience, background experience, anything can think be relevant about you.
– [Taylor] Yeah, so my name’s Taylor Cooper. I’m an engineering physicist by training out of the University of British Columbia. And I’ve spent the last 15 years doing product development hardware. I started off working at a molecular diagnostics company, building instrumentation for doing cell free DNA detection for cancer diagnostics. So lots of interesting hardware problems there, lots of science. And I moved over, about seven years ago, to a company called MistyWest, which I’m now CEO of. At MistyWest, we’ve worked on a whole range of things, largely in the IoT space, but with a leaning towards kind of deep tech. So places where it helps to have some understanding of the underlying science.
– [Ryan] So tell us a little, yeah, yeah, feel free to tell us a little bit more about MistyWest and kind of what you all do. Like what kind of role you play in the industry, value provide, that kind of thing.
– [Taylor] Yeah, so we’re an engineering services provider. We primarily help people who have a novel idea productize that. So we productize great innovation would be a really quick way to say it. And I have some examples I can throw out there, but yeah.
– [Ryan] Let’s do that, yeah, yeah. No, no, definitely do that.
– [Taylor] Okay, so one of the more interesting examples we’re working on right now is for a company that’s trying to build basically, an x-ray technology for the earth. So a good analogy would be, if you think of what medical imaging has done for heart surgery. So nowadays instead of getting, you know, a triple bypass, you can potentially get a stint surgery and be in and out of the hospital in a day. That whole workflow is enabled by, you know, advanced medical imaging technologies like MRI. This company that we’re working for, they want to do the same thing, but for mining. So right now how they figure out what’s in the ground is very much based on drilling. They’ll drill a bunch of holes, see what you get. It’s a very luck based approach. There’s other technologies that they use, but they don’t do basically line of site imaging. So you can’t really see what’s in there. What these guys want to do is use technology out particle accelerators, so basically technology for detecting cosmic radiation, specifically neurons, to image up to a kilometer of rock. So if you can imagine you deploy these sensors underground, in a borehole, and you wait for a while and eventually cosmic rays will hit that thing and from those cosmic rays, you can infer what they pass through. So you can tell what the density of the rock around that is. So in terms of how this is impactful, it allows you to do much more efficient exploration, but it also allows, you can imagine, minimally invasive resource extraction. So instead of having to dig up a gigantic section to get, you know, just a little bit of ore you can target it, so it’s more efficient and it’s really more relevant given our transition to sustainable energy generation, so renewable energy. You know, you need minerals, you need mining to make that happen. You can’t build solar panels or wind turbines without, you know, metals or lithium powered cars. So they’re kind of answering that whole challenge. In terms of what MistyWest does there, you know, we provide full stack engineering services. So we’re helping them go from, you know, an experiment in the lab to a first prototype that’s like a one by one meter cube down to something that’s 10 centimeters in diameter and can go into a borehole. So we’re miniaturizing all of their electronics. And we’re basically turning that into an IoT solution where they can, you know, connect to a dashboard and monitor an entire fleet of devices. So going from like one research experiment to hundreds or thousands of devices in the field.
– [Ryan] And so you’re providing the engineering services part, is that all done in house? Do you work with partners? How does that usually work?
– [Taylor] Yeah, it’s all done in house and, you know, we have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, firmware, software, the whole shabang. You know, we don’t do a lot of the design side, so like front end engineering. We don’t really do that. The ID that we do is kind of more focused on like industrial and like user experience. It’s less on cosmetics. Yeah. We’ll also work with our clients to help them build out a team. So for this client, as an example, like, as they’ve grown and as they’ve scaled, we’ll help them to actually hire up their own engineering team where it makes sense. You know, it’s an important point that you really have to think about carefully when you’re launching an IoT product is like, you know, where do we want to be experts? Where does it make sense to get expert help? And that’s also a role that we’ll help our clients, you know, try to figure their way through.
– [Ryan] And do you all have a focus when it comes to certain industries and areas that you all try to kind of stick within from an expertise standpoint or are you kind of more horizontal?
– [Taylor] Yeah, we kind of think of it in two ways. You know, the technology we work on is kind of horizontal. You know, we kind of have two horizontal technologies that we work on. They’re still quite broad, but we have a group that works on, you know, embedded vision. And this, you know, tomography solution really is a fairly niche application of embedded vision. It has a lot of the same challenges. You know, you need, I won’t go too much into the tech unless you want me to but you need to have an FPGA reading out a bunch of photo dials effectively. So it’s very similar. And then the other group that we have focuses more on the low power side, so very low power wearables, things like that. You know, we’re working with some of ST micro electronics latest IM use where they have like an ML core enabled IMU, so you can do gesture recognition without really turning on the MCU or anything like that. So you can these very low power gesture recognition applications on a risk or something small.
– [Ryan] Very cool. So let me ask you then when we’re to talking about kind of an engineering services firm in the IoT landscape, talk to me a little bit about kind of how that compares to how companies in IoT, or with IoT deployments have gotten the engineering work done in the past, and maybe you still do now, but you know, how you kind of compare to other avenues companies can go down to have the engineering work done.
– [Taylor] Yeah, totally. I think there’s a few options. I mean, it depends where you are. Like, if you’re at a large company, you’re gonna do different things and if you’re a lone founder or startup. But in terms of the options, you know, they’re generally like the obvious one hire up some staff either, you know, if your startup, equity might be a significant piece of that comp. If you’re a large company, you know, you’re gonna be hiring on salary and things like that. And then another option obviously is to hire a sole proprietors or contractors to do the work. And then another option is to hire firms like us. In terms of, you know, what we advise our clients to do really is to think about their product development roadmap and think about where they are in terms of, you know, their business objectives and financing. So, you know, it’s expensive to bring in an engineering services firm like ours, but we really help you, you know, shift that new product introduction curve to the left, get to market way faster. And another thing a lot of our clients find, and this is a particularly true in medical devices is that, you know, you develop all the tech and all the design works done, and then you need to go to market, and see, you know, where the fit is, who you’re gonna sell it to. And you don’t need a whole design team sitting on a bench and if you’re a small company or a small initiative, you know, it can be difficult to find things for that design team to do. And that’s really the whole that we fill is, you know, when you don’t have a product development roadmap where you’re developing some core IP that you really want to keep internal, and you have, you know, a really long stretch of development, these people can do. If it’s, you know when you have like a year long project or something like that, and then you need to wait a bit, that’s where it really makes sense to bring in engineering services firm. And then when you have a project that’s smaller, you know, if it’s just a one person engineering problem, it can make sense to bring in a contractor. Or if you have a really experienced engineering leader, you know, we’ve seen our clients, some of our clients are, or helped our clients take that experienced engineering leader and build a team around them and go from there.
– [Ryan] So when companies kind of talk about, you know, building an IoT solution, and they’re thinking about platforms, and they’re thinking about the hardware and the firmware and all the different pieces that go into it, where do you feel like an engineering firm like yours really adds the most value. Because are you all building on top of your own platform or are you utilizing other platforms to kind of build a solution on? How does that kind of mix in with when we talk about IoT, it’s oftentimes around those other areas. So this is definitely a unique angle to kind of understand the moving pieces.
– [Taylor] Yeah, totally. I think, you know, the ideal engineering partner has, you know, definitely had experience rolling similar projects. The only exception to that is, and ideally they’re bringing, potentially bringing, some IP potentially not. I mean, usually one of the advantages of working with an engineering services provider is it’s usually fee for service, so you keep all of that IP. Whereas, you know, if you work with an OEM or an ODM out of Asia, you’re really at their mercy a bit, like if your needs align really well with what it is they’re doing, then it can be great. But we’ve seen with a lot of our clients where they want tweaks for power performance, or they want to add a feature, or like one of them wanted to go intrinsically safe on a risk wearable. And like, that is a huge ask. And the ODM said they would do it, but once they got into it, like it was just too much work. And like, if you’re not hitting their MOQ, they’re just not gonna spend time on you. So that’s a place, you know, where it can make, where, you know, ideally you’re finding an engineering services firm that has expertise in area you’re looking for.
– [Ryan] Right, right. Okay. Now I wanted to pivot a little bit here and talk about a major topic as it relates to IoT solution development lately has been the chip shortages that we’re seeing in the space and just across the board in many different industries. From going and buying a car, you’re hearing about it to, you know, technologies and industries that are not as connected to IoT. But in the IoT space, particularly, what are you all seeing as far as how that chip shortage is playing a role in IoT solutions, getting to market, how do you expect that to kind of continue to unfold or change or improve? And then what advice do you have for companies mitigating kind of that situation?
– [Taylor] Yeah, absolutely. This is a very relevant challenge for a lot of our clients. So, I mean, and across the board, really. It’s worse, as you said, in automotive components or components that are industrially rated. So, you know, this neurotomography project I was talking about, they were very heavily impacted by this. We did see it coming back in April, so we were lucky to be able to risk buy some of those key components you just can’t do anything without. And we are seeing, you know, the signs that things are starting to come back in stock. Like I could share a link later, but there’s a Raspberry Top Pi tracker for CM4s that someone put together and you can see, I think the last time I checked it a couple of days ago, there were a few places that were starting to report that they had inventory. But we also have, you know, clients that were using the CM3 or the Raspberry PI computer module three. And they had an order that was supposed to arrive in April, get pushed to September and August, and now it’s just not going to be fulfilled. So there are some things where they’re like, end of lifeing products earlier. Generally, you know, the advice we give our clients is, you know, previously sourcing would be an exercise that you might start later in the product development life cycle, so you might actually build a proof of concept or an MVP, and then check on sourcing. What we advise all of them to do now is to start with a strategic sourcing exercise. So look at the lead times of all your critical components, single source components, and plan accordingly right from the beginning. And that’s one thing we’re doing. The other thing we’re doing right now is there are, so in the SOC space, so system owner chip space, there’s particular shortfalls. So some of the things I mentioned like Raspberry PI can be module fours. NXP is also struggling to provide components. So one thing we’ve actually started doing and kind of get back to your earlier question is building up some of our own IP. And we’re actually in the process right now of building a SOM with some Renaissance components which are available. So the G2L and the V2L are the two parts we’re looking at. But basically, you know, they have very similar performance to some of these as Raspberry Pi like systems. And you can actually buy the chips right now. And the V2L actually has some innovative technology in it and then it has a neural processing unit for running very low power, like jets and nano level in terms of flops, very low power image recognition and object detection at the edge, which is something that’s useful for a lot of people we work with.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. And through those conversations you’re having with the companies, I mean, we talk briefly here about the chip shortages, but what other trends and things are you all seeing from your perspective in the industry, as it relates to maybe what we’re seeing happen now, or where we see potentially going in the IoT space particularly? Because I think you have a very unique perspective in this, as opposed to a lot of the other guests that I’ve talked to.
– [Taylor] Yeah, so, I mean, one thing that I’d like to reference occasionally is some of Cisco’s market research, I think back in, this might have been like 2008 or 2010, where they were predicting the market cap for IoT, like 10 years down the road. And I think that they predicted like, I don’t remember the exact number off hand, but it might have been like 20 billion or 100 billion or whatever it was. And they were off by, I think, like a factor 50%. So the IoT moved a lot slower than they were thinking. And I think this trend is continuing in that, like, you know, the solutions people need to their IoT problems, they tend to be very specific, you know. We’re not seeing the same trends we saw with smartphones where, you know, a smartphone is a smartphone as a smartphone. In IoT the solutions tend to be very application specific. They have very specific needs. So that is definitely a trend we’re seeing. And we’re also seeing, you know, more and more specialized in these technologies coming out. Like these neural processing units I was mentioning, for example. There’s gotta be over 100 firms that I’m aware of, not that I can name, but that I’ve looked up over the past, who are developing different, unique, no processing units. That’s a big trend IoT right now, right. It’s like, how do we make edge devices more intelligent? And there’s a lot of diversity in that market and it might not consolidate in the way, well, we’ll probably eventually consolidate, but like we’re a long ways away from that market consolidating. So Renesas is building their own MPU, but there are also companies, you know, everywhere in the world in Israel and California who are building these and they’re targeting different applications. There’s a group, I forget the name of hand, which is a group in California where they have, I think like a three year battery life on a camera. So it’s a low res camera, but like, that opens some interesting ideas, right? Like what if you can just, you wanna have a people counter in a room, right. It’s Bluetooth connected. You just stick it to the corner. It’s jus a small little device you can stick on with a piece of tape, you leave it for three years and you know, what the occupancy of that room is.
– [Ryan] Yeah. Definitely. Yeah, I’m kind of curious to see how things continue to progress in the space, but as we kind of think about the opposite side of that, not just the trends and things that we’re seeing, but there’s also a lot of challenges I think companies are currently facing. From your perspective, are there any specific challenges that relate more, or you’re seeing more regularly as an engineering services firm that may be worth kind of bringing up and discussing and also sharing how companies can overcome those challenges?
– [Taylor] Yeah, it’s a great question. Oh, we’ve got some guests. Yeah, in terms of challenges we’re seeing, I mean, you know, the chip shortage is a big one. I think the labor market right now is really tight as well. And there are some specific challenges on that front, particularly finding software developers with IoT experience. So actually building a scalable IoT solution on like Azure IoT or IoT is challenging just because it’s difficult to even find the people who can do the work. So that’s a challenge. Another interesting trend, well that’s a trend not challenge. What other challenges are there?
– [Ryan] How about like, kinda the buy-in side of things when you’re working with companies and their expectation of what they think is possible versus what is actually reality from your end and then the buy-in they have to have from other stakeholders within the organization to move things forward. Does that ever come into play and kind of ever cause any issues?
– [Taylor] Yeah, absolutely. And I think I can give examples from our current clients there. You know, it can be, yeah, it’s one of those things where hardware moves a little slow. So like, you know, people are moving towards, you know, this lean model of, or their already there, lean has been around for forever. But like how do you do lean hardware, right. And how do you build something that you can use to get buy-in above you quickly. And get it to scale through a company. It’s a real challenge. That’s a place where we always try to stay super lean and help our clients as well. You know, one example example is like, we might, well, I don’t know, it’s kind of specific, but one of the companies we’re working with, they want to do, basically, they want add a sensor package to a facial product that they’re doing. So it’s like an applicator you apply to the face, it removes blackheads and applies lotion. So they want to build a whole sensor package for that, but it’s really hard to know what they want there. Like they want say, do force sensing because they want to know if the esthetician is pushing too hard on your face. So getting a force sensor on the front of that into a small enough package is a real challenge. So, you know, it’s the kind of thing where we’ll just build something that is really janky, 3D printed, and it won’t work well, but like you try to get it out the door, put something in hands as quickly as possible so that you can try to validate with real customers.
– [Ryan] Makes a lot of sense. Yeah, it’s always interesting to kind of get a sense of what challenges you all face and see, or I guess as you all, I mean, my guess from different perspectives in the industry, but there’s also a lot of similarities between a lot of the challenges you all face. And it’s always interesting to learn more. So I really appreciate you kind shedding light on those. For our audience out there that’s listening and wants to learn more about MistyWest and kind of get a sense of you know, follow up questions, connect, anything like that. What’s the best way to do that for them?
– [Taylor] Yeah, the best way to reach out, you can send me an email. [email protected] You can also find me on LinkedIn. And then the company LinkedIn is not a bad way to reach us. And then there’s obviously the webpage, which is just mistywest.com. There’s a contact us all of that. Yeah, happy to talk to anyone about hardware anytime.
– [Ryan] And anything coming out over the next number of months that we should be on lookout for. Coming from you, I know you have the awards thing that’s been going on which is really cool. Anything else kind of on the horizon?
– [Taylor] Yeah, we have an IoT award that we’re presenting. We’ve actually got a few big sponsors there. I think Solid Works, Ada Fruits, there’s one other big sponsor. I think there’s like a 15K cash prize in there. So, you know, if you’re building a novel hardware product or IoT solution, you should check it out. Just Google The Misties, M I S T I E S. The other thing to call out, which we will be posting more about is that, that som that we’re working on, so our Renaissance som. So basically for people who are right now using like low to mid volume SOCs, that they can’t order like a NXPIMX8 or a CM3 or CM4. We’re planning on releasing a solution that’s compatible with that kind of thing. We’re gonna try and do pin compatibility with the CM4 actually. But if you’re having trouble finding those parts, send me an email, let me know, and maybe we can help.
– [Ryan] Sounds good. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation, Taylor. Thank you so much for taking the time, looking forward to getting this out to our audience and love to have you back. We’re doing some more series around kinda the hardware side, more the technical conversation. So we’ll have to make sure we get you into those series as well, ’cause I think there’s a lot of insights you could definitely provide value to our audience and we’d love to have you back.
– [Taylor] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me, Ryan.
– [Ryan] Yeah. Thanks, Taylor. Alright. Alright, everyone, thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notification so you get the latest episodes as soon as it become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.