The Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere. Every connected device, be it for home automation, automobiles, or next-gen manufacturing and retail is marketed as "smart." The problem is, up to this point, much of what we've seen from IoT is the foundation; laying the "connected things" infrastructure and imbuing every device in sight with sensors and connectivity. Now the embedded appliances and devices in this ecosystem need to start talking to each other. Using a combination of versatile, pluggable hardware and open-source software, MATRIX aims to build out an actual Internet of Things, as opposed to a bunch of things that happen to be connected.
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MATRIX is democratizing and opening IoT app development through a centralized experience. The successfully Kickstarted "smart home app ecosystem" from Miami-based start-up AdMobilize is an IoT hub where developers can build and download IoT apps for consumers and businesses. As AdMobilize CEO Rodolfo Saccoman put it, the MATRIX device and newly released MATRIX Creator technology—which recently won the Editor's Choice Blue Ribbon Award at Maker Faire 2016—make up a converged hardware/software platform giving developers the freedom to experiment with IoT apps and create an open-source ecosystem around MATRIX.
Why It Works For Businesses
MATRIX is a very buzzy Kickstarter success story, and with crowdfunded hardware start-ups it's not always such a happy ending, but the shiny IoT hub isn't what should make AdMobilize attractive to investors; not quite yet, anyway. MATRIX isn't AdMobilize's only product.
The company is already making money with its first product, a computer vision analytics platform for businesses combining its AdBeacon Camera hardware, application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) to integrate AdBeacon tech into existing camera systems, and a cloud-based AdDashboard analytics portal. According to the company, AdMobilize currently has more than 2,500 customers globally using AdBeacons across 17 countries in use cases from digital advertising signage and retail spaces to live events and small to midsize businesses (SMBs).
The computer vision technology uses facial, emotion, vehicle, and crowd analysis to track real-time engagement with advertising campaigns, analyze store layout and customer flow for optimized point-of-sale (POS) efficiency, and gather business intelligence (BI) data. Saccoman said the start-up's experience with hardware product development and open-source software through AdBeacon helped prepare AdMobilize to design MATRIX for business applicability and with a developer-focused mindset. He described AdBeacons as "Google Analytics for the physical world."
"The company was born as a way of connecting the physical world with the online grid. That was four years ago," said Saccoman. "The concept was thinking about what types of technologies we can create to allow that to happen, and we were one of the early companies thinking about how computer vision could be one of the steppingstones.
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"We think of MATRIX as creating the IoT app economy in a way that is really controlled by a platform that works for developers, and gives them the freedom to do amazing things," Saccoman added. "Think of Steve Jobs and his team creating and launching the iPhone in 2007. It was successful because they had a complete hardware solution, but also involved developers around the world motivated by their hunger for creation and making real money to help create the app ecosystem."
Founders: Rodolfo Saccoman, Brian Sanchez
HQ: Miami Beach, FL
What They Do: IoT app development; computer vision; real-time analytics
What That Means: A young but diversified tech start-up using an established business product to bankroll a moonshot one
Business Model: Subscription-based hardware and software sales
Current Status: AdBeacon tech deployed in businesses worldwide; MATRIX and MATRIX Creator shipping this summer
Current Funding: $5.8 million seed funding
Next Steps: MATRIX Creator shipping July 15; MATRIX shipping in August; AdMobilize seeking Series A funding round
Inside MATRIX and MATRIX Creator
AdMobilize is positioning MATRIX as an all-in-one replacement for everything from Canary and Nest to the Amazon Echo. The hardware itself is a 1.2GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 with 32 GB of memory, a 5-megapixel 1080p camera, 2.5 and 5GHz WiFi, eight microphones, Bluetooth 4.0. Most importantly, the device houses 15+ sensors including an ultraviolet (UV) light sensor, piezoresistive absolute pressure sensor, 3D accelerometer, 3D gyroscope, 3D magnetometer, a relative humidity sensor and temperature sensor, and a near-field communication (NFC) sensor for payments. In the post-Steve Jobs tech world, devices have to be sexy, too, so MATRIX also sports a rainbow-colored LED light ring around the circular device called the "Everloop."
On the software side, the company's open-source gesture.ai software development kit (SDK) lets developers code gesture triggers into any camera-supported application. MATRIX also comes with three IoT applications the company developed itself—MATRIX Automation for connecting and controlling home or business devices, MATRIX Security using computer vision to monitor locations remotely, and MATRIX MIA (MATRIX Intelligent Assistant), which uses voice and gesture commands to control organization and productivity a la Alexa, Cortana, or Siri.
Though the key to the start-up's approach is the ecosystem. The MATRIX App Market, similar to the App Store or Play Store, is a searchable marketplace where all the IoT apps live and can be sorted by category, popularity, or by a particular developer. The MATRIX setup app, available for Android and iOS, gives users access to the marketplace and the ability to download IoT apps, toggle them on and off, and control them all from the mobile app.
"The approach was to create something that was very simple for developers; something they would be comfortable with," said Brian Sanchez, AdMobilize Chief Technology Officer. "When you're building hardware solutions as a novice developer, you're assembling things you find online and nothing is put out in front of you. The idea of the platform was to remove that complexity of hardware and software and lay the groundwork of how to create IoT applications very simply."
Canton and Sanchez said the end vision is for developers to program MATRIX apps, but with software and an ecosystem that lives on your Raspberry Pi, connecting multiple devices and, especially for businesses, leveraging the platform's machine learning technologies and data analytics. The Kickstarter campaign showed the start-up there was significant developer interest in the platform proposition, and spurred the team to launch the Creator board and bring the technology to the Raspberry Pi community.
"When talk about the MATRIX software, we're also talking about the [AdMobilize] computer vision algorithms," said Canton. "The MATRIX operating system will allow developers to create things out of the box. The OS is about simplifying development and making it accessible to pair with things in the physical world. So if a particular demographic enters the frame in a retail store, MATRIX will respond in a dynamic way by flashing a light, alerting a salesperson, sending a text, etc."
The newly released MATRIX Creator is configuration-driven. The $99 hardware board (shown above) works with the MATRIX OS and the MATRIX CLI (command-line interface) including a hardware simulator. The accompanying app gives developers a visual dashboard of the IoT hardware components represented as objects to see the correlation between software and hardware components as they build apps, iterate, and experiment. As far as MATRIX use cases, Canton talked about a few of the many the company has come up with.
"For a home user, think about a facial analysis that unlocks your front door or a unique security gesture so someone can't just pull up a cardboard cutout of your face. Once the door unlocks, MATRIX could fire off logic to turn on the lights or TV, etc. We're trying to make it the brains of the smart home, as opposed to the current simpler approach of a remote control," said Canton.
"Then there are retailers," he added. "For them, a MATRIX could identify regions in their store and do a heat map. In a restaurant, devices could watch customers' facial reactions. If Table 12 isn't happy with their steak, the server gets a text. Think about how the system could work with Yelp or Airbnb. As people are leaving a restaurant, they could give the MATRIX a thumbs up or down, or record a vlog on their experience. A MATRIX outside a home or apartment could help the Airbnb host and customer with payments or opening and closing the locks. We built Creator to create a community around MATRIX."
Business Plan Breakdown
For a four-year-old start-up, AdMobilize has a pretty wide global footprint. The headquarters are in Miami, but the company's 35 employees are spread across a hardware production and back-end infrastructure engineering facility in Bogota, Colombia, and business development offices in London and Washington, D.C. To date the company has raised approx. $5.8 million in seed funding from Azoic Ventures and Rokk3r Labs, and will soon be seeking a Series A round.
Saccoman said the company has AdBeacon partnerships with companies across the globe, from Verizon Wireless and a digital signage partnership with Adam's Outdoor to retail chains in Mexico and Brazilian media conglomerate Grupo Bandeiratnes. The company does direct sales, and also recently began selling AdBeacon cameras on Amazon. Saccoman said he's even in talks with the Miami Beach police department about leveraging AdMobilize vehicle detection technology to better understand traffic flows during peak times.
AdBeacon sales are a definite boon from an investment perspective. The tougher business prospect for AdMobilize is carving out a piece of the crowded IoT market with MATRIX, which is far from the only solution attempting to tie IoT together in a single platform.
Thingworx offers an IoT development platform for enterprises, and the list of IoT software platforms on the market also includes big names like AWS IoT and IBM Watson IoT. Where MATRIX differs is holistically—it's offering the hardware, software, open-source tools, mobile functionality, and app marketplace—and in accessibility. MATRIX Creator is $99 and MATRIX itself is $299. MATRIX Creator will beginning shipping on July 15, and the MATRIX itself is currently available for pre-order and will begin shipping in August.
Shaun Kirby, CTO of Rapid Prototyping and IoT Vertical Solutions at Cisco, weighed in on MATRIX and how the company fits into the IoT space. He said MATRIX's combination of versatile hardware, a powerful application platform, and beautiful design could spark great interest across industries from the enterprise to the hobbyist. Though looking at the market, Kirby added that competition with these types of multi-sensor platforms is fierce, with other crowdfunded examples like crowdfunded smart home device Canary entering the market as well.
"We see assurance of privacy and security for these kinds of devices as paramount, so building consumer trust will be key. Also, since the device touches many disciplines from computer vision to natural language processing and other artificial intelligence areas, maintaining a capability edge for features that are not easily commoditized will be challenging," said Kirby. "Leap Motion is one example of an important IoT device that focuses on one area and far outpaces the competition—highly granular, responsive motion tracking in a small space—and will likely find it easier to maintain margin. That said, MATRIX is a fascinating and incredibly useful device with wide IoT applicability, and we encourage the team to focus on developing a few of its strengths and building consumer trust."
Ask the Experts: Start-Up Advice
Brian Ascher, Partner at Venrock said MATRIX is tapping into a few important trends, from businesses wanting to measure physical world activities as they do for their online metrics, to consumers adopting connected products that make their lives easier through intelligent automation. Ascher said the feature-rich hardware gives the start-up a wide range of potential directions they can go.
"The challenge I see is that MATRIX wants to be a platform for application developers, but today they really only offer technology to developers, rather than access to a large customer base. To be a true platform I think you need to offer both, otherwise you are not really a platform but rather a component vendor or white label solution," said Ascher. "The distinction is important because true platforms grow value for their own customer base and partner ecosystem the more technology partners who develop on top of them making the core product more useful to all, whereas a component vendor is subject to margin pressure and competition over time due to lack of network effects. MATRIX will need to balance the broad power and wide ranging capability of their product with the need to very clearly demonstrate to customers exactly what problem their solution solves and that it is the optimal choice for those particular needs."
RJ Joshi, General Partner at Cross Valley Capital runs a venture fund investing primarily in data-driven software companies. Joshi likes that AdMobilize has a proven track record with its AdBeacons and computer vision tech, and said MATRIX is solving a key access-to-entry problem for developers in building IoT apps.
"When it comes to interactive technologies like Amazon Echo and Siri with voice and wearables blowing up, but whenever you get hardware involved the cost of putting things together and access to resources can mount quickly," said Joshi. "The platform is really helpful from a developer perspective and an entrepreneur perspective, and to combine all that [with MATRIX] is a very natural segue. It really unifies the axis that a lot of people who felt like they had barriers to entry due to hardware."
Ivan Rapin-Smith, Managing Director of Watsco Ventures runs both an investment fund and start-up incubator to complement Watsco's HVAC distribution business with business-to-business (B2B) investments. Looking at the MATRIX technology and the scale of the manufacturing and distribution infrastructure AdMobilize already has in place, Rapin-Smith said that while there are serious upfront costs, the platform has huge enterprise applicability, particularly in supply chain operations and industrial IoT.
"The test for MATRIX is whether the use cases and ROI dwarfs the upfront cost of the hardware plus development of the software. Building hardware is hard," said Rapin-Smith. "From a B2B perspective, what happens when you put MATRIX in a warehouse? Take an AdBeacon camera and a MATRIX device with its sensors and the freedom to define applications as an app platform: can you solve a specific business problem? Consumer-side IoT adopters are trying a lot of cool stuff, but the market is still early. On the industrial side, MATRIX can prove its ROI by solving problems that impact business processes."
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