Can you tell us about how Humatics was launched and the background of the technology you are using?
Humatics was founded in 2015 by CEO David Mindell and President Gary Cohen. David is an MIT professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, and Chair of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future. Gary has 30+ years of experience as a technology executive, lawyer, and intellectual property strategist.
David wanted to bring the technology that he and the legendary Bob Ballard (who found the Titanic) pioneered in the early 90’s for millimeter scale location under the ocean to a broader range of applications. To come up with a way to do this above the ocean’s surface in free-space, David and I connected after he picked up a copy of my book, Small and Short-Range Radar Systems, and together we hashed out a plan for what would eventually become the Humatics microlocation technology. At that time, I was working with two medical start-ups, Butterfly Network Inc. who is bringing the first ultrasound system on a chip to market, and Hyperfine Research Inc. Shortly after, Gary and David successfully raised money and convinced me to join the team. By combining David’s idea and my expertise of innovating technology and launching companies, our vision for Humatics went full speed ahead. We created the first prototypes in true start-up fashion – in my garage in Guilford, CT.
Humatics has developed the Spatial Intelligence PlatformTM, can you tell us about the platform and its unique features?
Humatics offers high-precision short-range indoor positioning for industrial applications and will eventually roll-out versions for IoT and other volume markets. This short-range positioning technology not only scales in size but also in precision. Our technology is very precise, much more precise than GPS and works at shorter ranges where the customer needs to know exactly where things are located; such as automated robotic systems, inventory, or even larger things like the precise position of an overhead crane. The Spatial Intelligence Platform™ is our software platform that ties it all together, it is the customer-facing part of our technology. It is a microlocation system and analytics software that will power an ecosystem of new position-based products and services. Tying it all together with this platform will change the way we interact with and control factories of the future, industrial automation, next-generation construction, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities.
How is the system able to precisely locate objects so accurately?
Humatics has two types of indoor location technology. The first is our millimeter scale technology, the KinetIQ 1000, which is for short-range applications (0-10+ meters). The second is our centimeter scale technology, the KinetIQ 300/100 which are great for medium range applications (0-500 meters). The technology behind the KinetIQ 300/100 is a result of our recent acquisition of Time Domain Inc, which gave us access to their ultrawideband impulse (UWB) technology. The KinetIQ 1000 provides ranging precision of about 100 micrometers. It can pinpoint the location of multiple tags at ranges 10 meters or more. The KinetIQ 300/100 uses the Time Domain chipset, which is a UWB impulse-based radio capable of indoor navigation, data communications, and radar with a ranging precision of about 2 centimeters or less out to long ranges of 500 meters or more.
Both technologies, KinetIQ 1000 and KinetIQ 300/100 provide a complimentary capability, wherein we can track things at long ranges down to centimeters with our 300 and 100 systems but when something gets close and requires precision, the 1000 will take over providing 100 micrometers of range precision. Working together, our systems provide broader, ultra-precise positioning coverage – from factory work cells, to entire distribution centers and beyond -including outdoors.
What were some of the main design challenges you had to overcome to develop such a precise positioning system?
Our KinetIQ 1000 technology has the highest level of prevision and the hardest design challenges. In order to achieve this level of precision, Humatics needed to create an antenna that could hold 100 micrometers or less of phase center over a wide range of angle of incidence. However, this proved to be extremely difficult since it was not a typical spec that anyone had previously cared about when designing an antenna system.
What RF technologies are used in this platform?
In our KinetIQ 300/100 technology, we use the proprietary UWB chipset from Time Domain that has been the standard-bearer for all UWB radar, ranging, and data communications for the past two decades.For our KinetIQ 1000 technology, we have created our own proprietary time-of-flight measurement technique, building all of our sensors including antenna system, data acquisition, and all RF circuits from scratch. In order to ensure that we hit 100 micrometers in range, we had to do things the old-fashioned way by leveraging transistors, diodes, MMICs, inductors, capacitors, and microstrip circuits.
You recently acquired 5D Robotics and its subsidiary, Time Domain, can you tell us about their technologies and how they will fit into the company?
KinetIQ 1000 was never meant to reach out beyond 30 meters, but many customers were asking if we had any longer-range offerings. We realized that we needed another complimentary tech to hit these ranges. So, we sought after 5D Robotics and Time Domain since their technology was so complementary to ours. It was an easy decision. Now, Time Domain’s technology is the core of KinetIQ 300/100 product. With the 300/100 and 1000 technologies we now have a strong portfolio of solutions to offer our customers for any precise indoor and outdoor radio navigation application.
What are the primary markets you are targeting first?
For the KinetIQ 300/100, the industrial automation and manufacturing markets where centimeter-scale precision can quickly and dramatically improve safety, efficiency and productivity. In these markets, we have a clear view into a diverse range of applications including smart manufacturing, robotics, material handling, logistics, safety, additive manufacturing, and an across the broad category of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Given the depth and breadth of these applications within a typical manufacturing environment, our Spatial Intelligence Platform™ will be capable of providing coverage throughout an entire facility.
In terms of millimeter scale with our KinetIQ 1000, we are focused on industrial markets where high precision is required. In other words where customers could project the precision of a machine tool, robot, or assembly line out to 10+ meters onto the factory floor. This includes, applications such as virtual fixturing, tool tracking, robotic assembly, and many others.
How can your technology help autonomous vehicles?
In today’s world, GPS is something that almost every human relies on while traveling in a car, but in fact, in urban-canyon environments like NYC, Boston or Chicago, GPS can have errors as great as 50 to 100 meters. Humatics’ microlocation level of precision far exceeds the capabilities of today’s GPS. This type of precision helps autonomous vehicles navigate the complexities of a busy urban environment, but also increase their capabilities to “see” and perform in inclement weather conditions. This advancement can have a substantial impact on future smart city applications.
Many companies are using your technology to enable smart cities and industrial automation, what are the main applications you see in this area?
Microlocation is defining the future of the connected world and the future development of self-driving vehicles, smart factories and other IoT and IIoT applications. We envision many applications from precise drone navigation in smart cities, to inspections of construction, transportation and other infrastructure.
What is next for Humatics?
Humatics has been piloting their KinetIQ 1000 technology and growing customer and partner relationships for KinetIQ 300/100 throughout 2018 and the team is excited to expand the vision further. Humatics has big news in store to close out 2018 that will help escalate the growth of the company within the industrial sector. Stay tuned for more to come!