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The Evolution of RFID and Its Impact on IoT

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Impinj’s Vice President of Product Management, Matt Branda, joins the IoT For All Podcast to discuss RFID, how it’s evolving, and its impact on IoT and society. Matt Branda discusses the next evolution in RFID, RAIN RFID, and talks about why right now is the right time for it. He also discusses how COVID has impacted adoption and other challenges he’s seen in the industry. Ryan and Matt wrap up the podcast with a discussion regarding the education side of IoT and the challenges it imposes.

Matt Branda is Vice President of Product Management for Impinj. He leads a team focused on delivering world-class RAIN RFID connectivity products that provide industry-leading performance and reliability. Before Impinj, Matt worked for Qualcomm as Director of Marketing, 5G, and Cypress Semiconductor. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Interested in connecting with Matt? Reach out on Linkedin!

About Impinj

Impinj, Inc. (NASDAQ: PI) is a leading provider and pioneer of RAIN RFID and has shipped more than 60 billion endpoint integrated circuits (ICs) and three million connectivity ICs and devices, extending the Internet to everyday “things” such as apparel, pallets, cases, pharmaceuticals, automotive parts, and luggage. This achievement reflects the adoption of the Impinj platform for digital transformation across diverse markets, including retail, supply chain and logistics, healthcare, automotive, and air transportation. The company recently launched the Impinj E710, E510, and E310 RAIN RFID connectivity ICs, which can be embedded into various industrial and consumer IoT devices. The chips extend the item connectivity opportunity to hundreds of billions of things worldwide and enable IoT device makers to meet the increasing demand for item connectivity in consumer-focused industries like retail and consumer electronics. 

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(01:36) Introduction to Matt

(02:25) What is Impinj?

(03:27) Impinj use case

(05:08) What is RAIN RFID?

(06:52) Why is the time right for RAIN RFID?

(08:37) Impact of COVID on adoption

(11:34) Challenges encountered in development

(15:11) What makes RAIN RFID the right solution?

(16:57) Education side of IoT


Transcript:

– [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 Matt Branda, the Vice President of Product Management at Impinj. Impinj is a leading provider in pioneer of RAIN RFID. Their business is focused on helping other companies and people analyze, optimized, innovate by wirelessly connecting billions of [things] around everyday things so apparel, automotive parts, luggage, shipments, connecting all that to the internet. A very fascinating company. Great conversation, today. We talk a lot about RAIN RFID, what it is, kind of how it works, how it compares to just RFID, a technology that I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with. We talk about why right now is a really good time for RAIN RFID adoption. We talk about COVID-19, and how it’s accelerating the adoption of RAIN RFID in the retail and supply chain space. And then we talk about other challenges in the industry that Impinj is seeing, how to scale trillions of [things] every year, how to make items connect more easily, and develop solutions in that manner. So a lot of great stuff here. 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, Matt, to the IoT For All Show. Thanks for being here this week.

– [Matt] Yeah, thank you. Happy to be here.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, we’re glad to have you. Let’s kick this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself, any background information, relevant experience, things interesting for audience to know.

– [Matt] Sure, Matt Branda, Vice President of our connectivity products here at Impinj. Been working in IoT for over 20 years now doing various roles, mostly focused on wireless technology. At Impinj, I’m responsible for a roadmap. So I really am defining new products, new technologies, that we’re bringing to market to connect the internet of things.

– [Ryan] So you were IoT before it was IoT?

– [Matt] Yeah, yes, for sure, yes.

– [Ryan] Very cool. So tell us a little bit more about Impinj. What do you all do, role you play in IoT, kind of an overview from that perspective?

– [Matt] Yeah, Impinj is a leading provider and pioneer of RAIN RFID technology. which is a passive wireless technology that we’re utilizing with the industry to extend the internet of things to actual things. So if you look at the internet of things, like I said, we’ve been working on it for quite a while. To date, it’s been mostly internet of devices, you know, connecting smartphones, smart energy meters, smart appliances, smart industrial equipment. At Impinj, we’re focused on connecting actual things, everyday things. And that gives us an opportunity to extend the IoT by a factor of a thousand. So when I say things I’m talking about, you know, your clothes, your luggage, your food items, your tires, are all things that we’re connecting to the internet at Impinj.

– [Ryan] So tell me about, I think a good way to kind of bring this full circle for our audience is tell us a little bit about, in a particular use cases of your technology in the market for a normal person that’s listening to kind of get a sense of exactly what it’s doing, and the benefit and value it’s providing versus what maybe was being done before?

– [Matt] Sure, sure. So, if you look at one use case I’d love to talk about because it has both the benefit to business enterprises as well as consumers is Delta Air Lines is using our technology to tag their, or to connect their luggage that’s moving about an airport to track the… And so from a Delta Air Lines perspective, it allows them to virtualize their operations. They get visibility into those bags as they move across an airport. So it optimizes their efficiency, it shrinks their loss of of luggage which is a big cost to airlines. But they extended that even further to the consumer. And so in your Delta application, you now have visibility into your bag. So as I’m sitting on an airplane about to take off, I can check my app and have visibility that, that bag is indeed gotten on that plane. And so that tracking of items, that connecting of items, is something our technology enables.

– [Ryan] Just outta curiosity, what happens if you’re on the plane checking your bag and it does not get on it? How do you handle that? Is that in the app too?

– [Matt] Yeah, maybe you panic, you start to hit that button.

– [Ryan] The most panicked flight I’d ever have just thinking my stuff is not on there. So what I wanna ask you next, you mentioned about pioneering RAIN RFID, we’ve talked about RFID on the show before. How does this differ and how does it compare? What is the value it’s providing as opposed to kind of what we all have come to know as on the RFID side?

– [Matt] Sure, yeah, so the one key aspect of the RAIN RFID is the passive RFID technology. And so what I mean by passive is it’s battery-less. So when you talk about connecting things like luggage, or clothes, or food item, you know, a battery is just not possible. And so it’s a passive RFID technology. And then when you compare it to other passive RFID technologies that are also out there such as NFC that’s utilized for payments with your mobile phone, the difference with RAIN RFID really comes in the robustness of the link. So it allows us to get much longer ranges of up to 10 meters of range versus the proximal nature that you get with NFC. But it also allows you to be connecting to thousands of items of population versus that one to one that you get with NFC. And then all of that can be done with something that costs about, you know, pennies per item to connect. And so that really opens up the ability to connect things like parcel, and clothing items, and luggage, but also brings utility that you don’t get with something that’s relatively short range, that’s line of sight, and can only connect one to one.

– [Ryan] And, you know, we’ve obviously, and you know this better than I do, the evolution of technology in the IoT space, how far it’s come, where we are now versus where we used to be. Why is now kind of, why is it more possible now for technology like this to exist than it was five, 10, 15 years ago?

– [Matt] Well, I think, you know, RFID has been evolving for a long period of time, but I think why is now the right time for RAIN RFID is really the rising importance of data to enterprises. And so when you look at, you know, for example, the supply issues and the supply chain issues that we’re hearing about in the news constantly, yes, part of that has to do to lack of inventory, but it also has to do with lack of visibility into that inventory. So why now is data is so important to enterprises, and RAIN RFID really gives enterprises and consumers visibility into data about their most important things, their assets that are moving across their supply chain whether it’s in an airport, a hospital, a retail store, or an industrial environment. All of that is critically important to an enterprise, not only to operate more efficiently but also to start to deliver more delightful experience to consumers. Is my package gonna arrive on time? Is my bag on the plane? Can I, you know, walk into a store and know that item is gonna be there when I arrive at the store? All of that is possible with better visibility into my inventory as not only when it’s in a location but as it moves across the supply chain.

– [Ryan] And outta curiosity, ’cause when we talk about supply chain, it’s been heavily connected to a lot of different things going on in the world, and COVID-19 is one of them. How has kind of the pandemic and the everything that happened during the last number of years kind of accelerated the adoption of the technology particularly in the retail and supply chain space? And tell us a little bit more about kind of that evolution and implementation of the technology due to kind of what we’ve been going through with the pandemic.

– [Matt] Yeah, I mean these trends existed pre-pandemic, but it definitely shown a light on what happens when you don’t have efficient operations and visibility into your inventory. So if you look at retailers that have equipped their operations with RAIN RFID have been much more successful in dealing with some of the market dislocations as a result of COVID, a much bigger shift to e-commerce, a much bigger shift to omnichannel fulfillment where the consumers are not just buying in the store, they’re buying online, they’re buying in various different channels. This is giving them the ability to know that item is gonna be where they say it’s gonna be when that consumer arrives. And so what we’re seeing as retailers that have made that investment are being able to react to these market dislocations in a much more efficient manner, and now are looking for ways to optimize or take advantage of that investment for other things that the pandemic has brought to light. So one of the key things that we’re seeing with retailers after the pandemic is a need for an acceleration of more frictionless checkout experience. And so I’ve invested in RAIN RFID to track inventory in my store, now I can utilize that technology to also enable self checkout machines and a much more frictionless checkout experience.

– [Ryan] Have you seen a pivot or maybe re-prioritization of certain use cases over the last two years because of the pandemic that maybe going before we knew, obviously, before the pandemic happened, you all were thinking, okay, here are the use cases that are gonna kind of lead the way that we’re gonna focus on and then do the pandemic, it’s kind of shifted, potentially a lot of your customers, or just the demand for what is that you’re doing to something maybe you were not expecting by chance?

– [Matt] I don’t think it is fundamentally changed the use cases. I think where it’s had probably the biggest impact is in supply chain and logistics which was in the early phases of adoption of RAIN RFID. Pre-pandemic has really accelerated as a result of the demand on the supply chain as a result of the pandemic. And so I think it’s more of an acceleration not necessarily different applications that are emerging.

– [Ryan] And through the development of this technology which is very fascinating to kind of learn about here with more detail. What are some of the biggest challenges that you all of a company have either overcome, had to work through, or at the same time have been seeing in the market that you’ve encountered that you’ve, you know, been able to kind of figure out a way around through the development of this, and maybe that you’re seeing across the board? ‘Cause obviously when it comes to scaling tons of devices, that’s obviously a tricky process in general, things like that.

– [Matt] Yeah, I think I’ll focus on two. The first one is on the actual items like connecting these things, you know, scaling. When I talk about, you know, we’ve shipped to date 60 billion integrated circuits to or chips to connect these items. And that’s a small percentage of the potential things, you know, less than a percent of the potential things that could be connected. And so scaling from, you know, billions of items per year to trillions of items per year is a real challenge. And that requires, you know, continued advancements in technology and really focus around embedding, and making smaller and more embedded so that not only can you put this technology on a a tag or a sticker that goes on this item, but you can start to embed it into the packaging, weave it into the tags that are on clothing. That really opens up new new opportunities, not only in the enterprise but now those tags exist beyond the businesses and are out there in the world that you can start to possibly take advantage of. And then the other challenge is, we haven’t talked a lot about, the connectivity side. So you tag these items with a passive technology. You put a sticker or a tag or something on it to allow it to talk to the internet. You need devices to connect to that and then connect to the internet to share that item data. To date, most of those devices have been specialized for RAIN RFID. We call them readers ’cause they’re reading data. And those, they come in two primary forms, a fixed reader that looks like a Wi-Fi router, or they come in a hand tell that looks kind of like a wand that sometimes you see an employee in a store walking around with to do inventory. If you look moving forward, as we scale the utility of RAIN RFID moving forward, I think one of the key challenges is moving from these specialized devices to embedding RAIN RFID connectivity into IoT devices everywhere. And so you get this, you know, you’re carpeting the planet with read points to take advantage of those billions of items that are connected. And so it allows RAIN RFID connectivity to be embedded into a Wi-Fi router, to be embedded into a POS machine directly. So it’s not a specialized connectivity device, it’s embedded into that. And so, you know, part of the technology that we’ve been working on is making that connectivity much smaller, much lower power, much more accessible to IoT developers so that they can, you know, a much wider range of developers can integrate it into a tablet, into a robot, into a POS machine, into shelving in stores or in a closet so that you get more… More use cases can emerge if you can embed it into the IoT devices that are already out there.

– [Ryan] And if I’m listening to this as somebody who’s, say, coming across RAIN RFID for the first time, what would you say to somebody trying to understand if this is the right technology for their individual use case? What kind of characteristics of a use case or an IoT solution, or I guess problem that they’re trying to solve, is this more ideal for versus not as ideal for? And how could people that are listening be thinking about where this fits into the general landscape when they’re trying to build a solution or adopt a solution and make sure they have the right technology to fit the use case and not be overkill but also not perform poorly? Just how does that kind of educational process go when you talk to potential customers?

– [Matt] Yeah, I think the key thing I would focus on is are you trying to get visibility into your items in inventory? Is that what you’re trying to do? Is that a problem you’re trying to solve with knowing where parcels are throughout your factory? Would that help you? With knowing luggage, where luggages throughout your airport, would that assist in solving some of the challenges that you’re trying to discover? Because it’s not intended. If I have a battery powered device, I can connect that in other ways. That’s where other IoT technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and those technologies play very well. But when I’m trying to connect and get data from something that can’t afford to have a battery, and I wanna be able to track that item and know where that item is throughout my supply chain, throughout my retail store, for example, that’s where a RAIN RFID really excels.

– [Ryan] Gotcha, and one question I had for you, so with a new technology like this, when we started IoT for all back in 2016, one of the biggest gaps we saw in the market was just the educational component of technology in the IoT space. There’s lots of different kinds of technology across all different areas whether it’s the connectivity side, the hardware side, the software side, you name it. And we felt like a lot of the non-technical adopters. We’re having trouble really deciphering the difference between them, figuring out what’s right for them, what’s not right, how things work. When you all were working with, and bringing a new technology to the market, how has that educational process been for you? You know, where have you seen kind of the biggest, I guess, challenges with the educational side, and where has it really resonated with an audience to understand what this technology is and what it does?

– [Matt] Yeah, I think it is a constant challenge ’cause there’s so many different technologies out there that solve problems in different ways. And so if I’m a business, and I’m trying to, you know, start my process of digital transformation, there’s tremendous amount of things coming at me. I think, you know, that’s the challenge, is there’s so much noise out there that’s rising above the noise? And I think, you know, I would say two things. One, you know, what we’ve found is focus, focus on the use cases that bring the most value where we know and have proven that our technology can bring real value to enterprises and to consumers and bring, you know, and start with that, you know, start with that value, and then bring the technology in because most people wanna see how it’s gonna solve the problem first and then understand how the technology actually works. The other thing is we have our RAIN Alliance which is an industry forum. This is not an Impinj only technology. The RAIN Alliance helps us in kind of promoting this worldwide standard across the industry into industry retailers, to hospitals, to airlines. So utilization of an Alliance like that is really important when you talk about awareness and education.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah, it’s super fascinating to talk to anyone who’s kind of very close to the creation and as you put it earlier, the pioneering of something new in this space, just to kinda understand how you’ve been able to not just develop it but bring it to market, and get people to understand and adopt it based around the value that it provides. So it’s super fascinating to kinda have this chat with you. For audience out there who wants to learn more, kind of get a better sense, maybe follow up with questions even, what’s the best way that they could do that?

– [Matt] I guess first go to www.impinj.com. We have a lot of great information on our website, not only about our products but also about the RAIN RFID technology in general. And then, yeah, there’s lots of information there too on how to contact and even to receive more information.

– [Ryan] Fantastic, and last question I wanted to ask you is what does the future of this look like? Like where does this technology go? What use cases maybe are on the horizon that you’re most excited about? What kind of things is this going to enable that, or even what kind of, I guess, upgrades and new features and applications do you see this enabling?

– [Matt] Yeah, I think what I’m most excited about for the future. We talked a lot about the use cases that are happening right now, is the possibility and the real possibility of RAIN RFID extending into the consumer world. And so as you start to not only embed the tags into items that are now in the consumer world but embed the reading technology into consumer IoT devices. You can envision smart appliances being able to read food for an example, or your doorbell being able to read your parcel that was delivered on your steps. And so I’m really excited about the opportunities of where the technology is evolving of emerging beyond just solving enterprise problems but solving real consumer problems as well.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah, the more I’ve learned about this technology, and through this conversation even, your brain kinda just go crazy thinking about all the potential applications. And it’s super fascinating. You know, it’s been great to just kind of have more exposure to everything going on in Impinj since we were introduced to each other, a number of months back, and we really look forward to kind of getting more information about this out. So Matt, thanks again for taking your time today.

– [Ryan] Thank you. For sharing your expertise. Yeah, it’s been great. We’re gonna have you doing some more content around solutions and hardware, and other types of things I think would be very applicable to kind of bring you in to talk about from your perspective. So we’ll have to find other opportunities to work together but this is a great first piece of content that the audience gonna get a ton of value out of.

– [Matt] Yep, it was great talking to you, Ryan.

– [Ryan] Thank you.

– [Matt] Yep.

– [Ryan] 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 it become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.



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