On this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Ryan Chacon discusses asset tracking with Bob Proctor, CEO and Co-Founder of Link Labs. The podcast opens up with a discussion about Bob and his company’s background and the current state of asset tracking. Bob then talks about how indoor and outdoor tracking differ and the importance of each. Bob also discusses his experience with clients and what industries contain the most knowledgeable customers. Ryan and Bob wrap up the podcast with a high-level conversation on IoT’s involvement with the supply chain and how COVID has affected the industry.

Bob Proctor is the Co-Founder and CEO of Link Labs, a leading provider of an end-to-end IoT platform for tagging, locating, and monitoring equipment, supplies, and assets anywhere at any time. With a Ph.D. in applied physics and 25 years of entrepreneurial and business leadership, Proctor is also a founding principal of Blu Venture Investors, a venture capital investment company that supports early-stage entrepreneurs in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Blu Venture has invested more than $75 million in 70 technology companies with eight successful exits. Before Link Labs, Proctor served as CEO, board director, and lead investor of FlexEl, a University of Maryland spin-off that manufactured ultra-high capacity batteries and power management systems. He also served as CEO of GlobalLogic, a digital product engineering services company based in Silicon Valley with more than 16,000 employees.

Interested in connecting with Bob? Reach out on Linkedin!

About Link Labs

Link Labs provides the industry’s most complete, end-to-end IoT platform for tagging, locating, and monitoring equipment, supplies, and assets. Its flagship product, AirFinder, helps companies in nearly every industry locate, monitor and manage business assets anywhere at any time – indoor, outdoor, and everywhere in-between. Founded in 2014 by a group of engineers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Link Labs today is trusted by top global enterprises for their essential IoT solutions. It has deployed hundreds of thousands of IoT devices, managing billions of IoT events each month. Link Labs is based in Annapolis, Md., and holds more than 20 patents on its technological innovations.

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(1:20) Introduction to Bob Proctor

(1:57) What does Link Labs do?

(2:56) Current state of asset tracking

(7:02) Indoor vs Outdoor tracking

(11:30) Importance of asset tracking

(14:05) How informed are customers on asset tracking

(15:34) How IoT is improving the supply chain

(17:32) Covid and IoT


– [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, the number one publication resource for IoT. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, and on today’s episode, we have Bob Proctor, the Founder and CEO of Link Labs. They are a complete end-to-end IoT platform for tagging, locating and monitoring equipment supplies and assets. So, guess what, we talk a lot about the current state of asset tracking and IoT, how far it’s come, why it’s better now to adopt than it maybe it has ever before. We talk about the top challenges as it relates to asset tracking. Basically how companies can be competitive to stay on top of all the moving pieces that come with an asset tracking solution. And then we also dive into the supply chain conversation for a bit. It’s very relevant, kind of given the times right now and talk about how IoT is helping solve the issues that we’re seeing with supply chain. So all in all fantastic episode, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of it. But before we get into the 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 Bob to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here.

– [Bob] My pleasure. Thanks for hosting.

– [Ryan] Absolutely. So let’s kick this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself.

– [Bob] Yeah. Bob Proctor, CEO of Link Labs, been with the company since it’s inception, first as a board member CEO, a couple years in. Background is technical, PhD in Applied Physics, and then a long tour of duty in the business world, consulting Silicon Valley, helping grow, take the company public and approach this space really as an investor first, and then jump back into an operating role as CEO about six years ago, Link Labs.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. And tell us more about Link Labs. What do y’all do? What’s the focus, role y’all play in IoT?

– [Bob] Yeah, we are a solution provider focused on asset tracking and monitoring, indoors and out, and we’re really have narrowed down into four vertical markets. The hotel market we’re installed about a hundred thousand hotel rooms as a IoT solution provider in that market. Discreet manufacturing, we do a lot of work in process tools, calibrated instruments, material flows into a discreet manufacturing environment, logistics space, where we’re more concentrated in things that flow in loops, returnable plastic containers, as an example, and then healthcare. The classics sort of for real-time location systems, biomedical engineering departments looking for lots of equipment in hospitals, as an example, or wander management in elder care facilities, for example.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. All right, great. So let’s talk about asset tracking here for a bit. Tell me from your perspective, what the current kinda state of the asset tracking market looks like and, you know, kinda talk about how far it’s come technology wise and why it’s a good time to be adopting, thinking about asset tracking and how it could fit into certain businesses, indoor/outdoor solutions, you name it.

– [Bob] Yeah, I think of the market’s come a long way or the technology has come a long way. I think of asset tracking as attaching tags and creating if you will, a Uber-like experience for real time. So this is how I tend to think about it. It’s like the difference between Uber and FedEx is with Uber, you look on your phone and you see where the car is and you can watch it come to you. With FedEx, you know, it’s scanned out of their distribution center at 6:30 in the morning and it’ll show up sometime today. You know, if you’re lucky it’s on a truck somewhere, but you have really no real-time visibility. So why isn’t everything like a Uber-like experience with active tracking, say at the package level, it’s because it’s too expensive. I like it to say, you know, you could put a cellphone and a motorcycle battery on something and you could track it today, but obviously that’s an economic for most things you wanna track. So to me, asset tracking and monitoring is really about driving down the cost curve as an industry so that the business case for tracking more and more things starts to make sense. And that really is dominated by a handful of economic drivers. One is the cost of a tag, right? If you’re gonna tag millions of things, what’s the cost of the tag? That drives very quickly into, well, how long does it last battery life? And then how much data does it consume? And it’s on air time. So where we focused is driving down the cost curve on the tag side. We pushed the envelope now and multiple generations of product to, you know, four to five times the battery life for a typical tag. So someone that might have looked at this technology two, three years ago and said, well, I wanna track tools in a manufacturing setting would say, well, they only last 9 to 12 months of battery life, and I’m not gonna be replacing batteries on 10,000 tools in my factory, once a year, just too complicated. Today, we can make those last, you know, four or five years, and that starts to get a lot more interesting. Similarly, the infrastructure cost has come down, the location accuracy has gone up, so the cost of actually tagging and monitoring things, when you think about it from a kind of lifetime cost, of providing that capability has, has come way down. So suddenly now, the business case we’re doing this, is much more significant today than it has been even a few years ago.

– [Ryan] Definitely. And I think the technology too, I may mentioned the accuracy piece, but having more options, as far as what’s available to you to bring down the cost, and make things match better to the individual use cases that you’re working on in order to make the ROI make sense for a lot of these organizations.

– [Bob] Absolutely. I mean, I think you had nailed it. I think the biggest problem that we at Link Labs were focused on for the longest time was how do you have, kind of, scale volumes, kind of mass production capability, with mass customization. Because you have so many different sensors, form factors that you need, that you need a lot of SKU’s at the edge to do what you want to do in terms of data gathering. But then if you have so many, it’s very hard to get to mass production. We focused as a company on Bluetooth-enabled devices because there’s so many of them out there at, kind of, mass production volumes, and then we look to make them more performant through firmware enhancements basically. And that’s how we sort of look to crack the code of that part of the equation.

– [Ryan] And when it comes to like indoor versus outdoor, I know that’s usually a big conversation, not every use case needs both. Some are very specific to one or the other, but it’s always seemed that indoor asset tracking has been kind of the tougher of the two to implement. How have things kind of changed and made indoor asset tracking more of a viable solution. Now, you’ve talked about being in the hospitality space, in the manufacturing space, and then at the same time in the medical space where a lot of these asset tracking solutions have been tried over the years, but maybe not have been as widely adopted as they could be now. So what’s kind of, are you seeing kind of change or kind of shift a bit for this to be more of a viable thing for the use cases that are in demand?

– [Bob] Yeah. I mean, I think there’s really three or four generations of technology for indoor location capability. And so, again, if you’ve only looked at it several years ago, there’s a whole nother generation, which fundamentally works differently than the earlier generations. So, you know, gen one to me, I would describe as the beaconing approach. I put a tag on something and it beacons And the problem with that is you get an enormous amount of data traffic, different tags stomping all over each other. The data volume through the back haul is huge. Location accuracy is pretty poor. Gen two for us was we actually reversed the roles of Bluetooth. And so we had a little light piece of infrastructure say, this is, you know, zone A, zone B, zone C in a facility. And the tag would listen for that and do the edge processing on the tag. And it would say, oh, zone B is a new place for me, I need to report that to the cloud. So the data volume goes down by a factor of a thousand and you get much better accuracy and longer, battery life with that. But it still requires a fair amount of deployment of something that’s saying now zone A, zone A, zone B, zone B, et cetera. And then a variant on that, I would call angle of arrival, you know, where you’re starting to triangulate rather than putting beacons around. For us, the latest generation has been phase ranging, which is really how GPS works. And we’re basically creating a synthetic, if you will, ultra wide band like capability within Bluetooth. We use all the Bluetooth channels and we stitch them together in order to actually range to some fixed infrastructure. So the amount of infrastructure we need today has dropped by about a factor of, I don’t know, 30 or 40 in terms of just the number of pieces of equipment for a given unit area. Very, very simple. And then similarly, the location accuracy with the ranging approach is much higher, you know, one to two meters, and then we’ve got designs on pushing that well under a meter with an off the shelf, you know, $5 Bluetooth tag. So it’s fundamentally different technology basically, in terms of how it works under the hood.

– [Ryan] Yeah. It’s definitely seeming like a lot of this use cases that were in demand for so many years required that kind of level of accuracy and just was never able to be matched to make it make sense for these larger scale solutions for these different industries and different companies. So it’s been fantastic to kind of see that start to change and people start to really solve that indoor side and also the indoor, the outdoor, when you have to go kind of between both, but potentially, and it works seamlessly. Right?

– [Bob] Yeah. And I would note, you know, the accuracy piece, people need more accuracy than they think. There’s kind of two dimensions to it, but you know, if I describe zone A and zone B, well, there’s a boundary there and what you don’t want, if you have a poor accuracy solution, is that you’re reporting it in zone A one minute, and then because of noise in the system or the inherent limit on the accuracy system, it then says, it’s in zone B, then it flips it back to zone and you sort of get this bouncing between a border, a boundary. And we see this with, you know, warehousing where they might just be having a lay down area with tape on the floor. Well, you wanna know which side of the line on the tape it’s on. You know, so you think of that as, well gosh, I need to get down to, you know, meter level. So there’s a meter, kind of boundary on right there, but you know, if you have five meters of accuracy, you’ll never get to. To that.

– [Ryan] So, let me ask you, we kind of step back and look at, not just necessarily indoor or outdoor, but just generally when it comes to asset tracking, where do we see some of the biggest challenges currently. We talked about what the challenges were before and what’s changed to enable it to be more of a widely adopted kind of path for people on the IoT front, but generally speaking today, where do you see the top challenges in the asset tracking space and why is it so important for companies to kind of stay on top of all these different pieces in order to be competitive?

– [Bob] Yeah, I think one challenge is that asset tracking requires a lot of different technologies to be pulled together for a solution. You’ve got device, you’ve got the hardware at the edge, and the supply chain associated with that and all the stuff that’s happening in the supply chain world. You’ve got wireless communications on a very, you know, local level around that tag. You may have a infrastructure layer indoors. It might be an LPWAN capability that might be back hauled through cellular. And you’ve got, you know, database structures, device management capabilities on the back end. Then you gotta flow that through to reports and analytics, infrastructure monitoring. And on ideally to workflow, right? So you, you add all this up and you go, wow. That’s a lot of different technology domains to put together and getting all that to work together is, you know, for us, being a vendor in this space second year is to really get, I think, to appropriate level of competence. I think, you know, the first thing I would say is, what’s one of the things we see that’s really hard is if you’re trying to do it on your own and stitch all this stuff together as a company, trying to learn all these different domains that are all moving together. I think we see a lot of companies sort of go down that road and then look for a journey partner. So that’s probably one of the most significant challenges. And then I think, you know, today I frame it as COVID is not gone, it’s just different, the supply chain disruptions and the implications of that. Just dealing with getting access to install things, depending on the rules in a certain facility, dealing with people out either on the customer side or sometimes we’ve had it on our field support and delivery side. So there’s just a lot to manage through. There’s a lot of friction in the system today that remains.

– {Ryan] Yeah. And let me ask, when you talk with companies about these solutions, how informed are they when they kind of come into discussion with you? I just know, on the IoT For All side, one of the biggest things we’ve seen as a challenge earlier when we got started with this, to where we are now, education has come a long way. People understanding what IoT is, more about the technologies, more about the use cases, the potential for what IoT can kind of solve for them. How do you kinda see that when you speak with organizations about building solutions for them? Do they come in relatively informed or are you doing a lot of education upfront or how do you kind of see that?

– [Bob] I think it varies by vertical market. So, in the hospital market, for example, where real-time location systems have been sold for a long time, they are fairly well educated. Now, they may not be on top of the latest technology, but there’s certainly been a lot of vendors selling into that market for a long time. I think you get into other markets, equipment leasing and those types of things, and they’re very familiar and kind of grounded in sort of what I might call legacy 3G, GPS trackers, but not really aware of what the newest generation of wireless technology and the carrier infrastructure can allow you to do today. So, I call it at the 80% level, but it’s just such a fast-evolving technology landscape. That definitely, I think there’s that last mile that’s always required.

– [Ryan] For sure. And something you mentioned a second ago that I wanted to bring up before we wrap up is around supply chain. So that’s a very, kind of, hot topic right now. A lot of people are feeling the kind of pain of a lot of the supply chain issues, whether it’s at a consumer level, at a company level, you name it. How are you seeing IoT helping solve that problem? Or what solutions or use cases or companies adopting to try to solve that problem now?

– [Bob] Yeah, that’s a great one. We see it, for example, in the auto industry, you’ve got fleets of cars that are produced anywhere between 90% and 99%, but they’re missing a part or they’re missing a last piece of finish or something like that. And they’re taken off production and now they’re getting stacked up all over the place, every public parking garage, field, et cetera. So you have a lot of semi-finished goods. And so in the field of a thousand white autos, you need to find the one that’s missing the door handle, or something like that, or some interior component. So, by starting to be able to put real-time location capability and manage that inventory and stand up infrastructure and storage facilities where they might not have it before, we’re allowing them to retrieve the specific vehicles that they need very fast, as an example. Other things we’re seeing are just, again, the real time visibility, you know, once things are delayed where it’s going, maybe reroute that kind of stuff, particularly with goods that are flowing in loops. So we’re seeing distribution centers that get backed up. We can tell when a delivery route, a stop has been missed. And those types of things. So we’re seeing that. We’re just scheduling resources for unloading and those types of things just to speed things along. So a lot of use cases haven’t.

– [Ryan] Absolutely. And I’ve also noticed, you mentioned COVID a second ago, that there’s been kind of a shift in priorities for a lot of organizations, whether it’s been things they maybe already had on the roadmap, but have to now shifted to top of the priority list because of COVID or new demand for certain use cases, especially within smart buildings and medical environments have changed because of COVID and the pandemic and things that maybe were not thought about in a certain way beforehand, because we haven’t really been through something like this in the recent future, or recent past. So it’s been very interesting to see just, kind of, how the landscape of society and the world has changed just even in the IoT space from a demand standpoint, technology standpoint, you name it.

– [Bob] Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree more. We see it like in industrial manufacturing, they’re under tremendous productivity gains and production strains and the labor markets type. So, you’re starting to say, well, I need to deploy IoT technology to really understand the constraints in my production system to free up capacity- With the labor they’ve got. So we’re seeing a lot of interest in just improving, you know, production throughput on the indoor tracking side.

– [Ryan] Absolutely. So let me ask you kind of going through, looking at 2022, I know we’re into almost end of the first quarter here, but what are you most looking forward to seeing kind of happen in the space or projecting what’ll happen in the space this year, as well as anything coming out of the Link Lab side that we should be on lookout for, and kind of stay in touch with.

– [Bob] Yeah. On our side, in the space, I mean, I think this space is really maturing. So I think that just in general, I think you’re gonna see more and more sophisticated vertical market solutions that really cover multiple use cases very effectively- kind of out of the box. I think that the industry has really started to crack the code on some of the stuff you mentioned earlier with different sensors, form factors at the edge, different customization on the user experience. Now on the Link Lab side, you know, we’re pretty excited about where we are now in terms of our ability to kind of roll out different use cases for any vertical market, because we sort of solved the ability to configure and customize the edge, as well as configure and customize the user experience in a matter of days now. So that’s exciting for us. And then we’ve got partnership with Wirepas I’m pretty excited about On the Bluetooth mesh side, which just allows us to go international, which we’ll expect to do later this year with the international SKU. So now we can have one SKU that serves sort of, any industrial manufacturer facility around the globe.

– [Ryan] Awesome. That’s super great. It’d be very exciting to, kind of, stay on the lookout for all the things you have coming out there. For our audience that’s listening, watching, wants to learn more, wants to stay in touch, follow up with questions potentially, what’s the best way to do that?

– [Bob] There’s contact us on LinkedIn, I mean Link-Labs.com. It’s Link hyphen Labs.com and just simple contact form is the best way to best way to get ahold of us. And there’s a lot of great resources available on our website as well.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, Bob, it’s been a great pleasure to have you on. It’s been kind of a long time coming to get you on the show. We’re gonna be doing a lot more content around solutions and hardware and things like that, that I think you’d be a great expert for, even maybe members of your team would like to jump in and participate in some of that content we have start to produce shortly. So we’ll just stay in touch and figure out other ways we can work together.

– [Bob] Happy to do it. Thanks for hosting me, Ryan.

– [Ryan] Yeah. Thank you. All right, 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 notifications so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.

Hosted By
IoT For All
IoT For All
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.