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Dan Bugos Of Origin Wireless On The Future of The Internet of Things (IoT), And How It May Improve Our Health & Our Lives

An Interview With David Leichner

Keep up your technical skills. You don’t have to be writing code necessarily, but I’ve found it very helpful to constantly be in the weeds with your engineering team regarding things like architecture design and new feature feasibility. It’s allowed me to understand development complexity, which I can map against perceived value to ultimately prioritize what we build.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is beginning to become more mainstream. Millions of people use Fitbit health trackers, Nest smart thermostats, and Ring doorbell cameras, which are early examples of IoT. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential commercial applications of IoT. IoT has the potential to change the way cities are run, the way our healthcare is managed, the way our cars communicate, and the way our supply chains and manufacturing are utilized. But how exactly will IoT improve our lives? How can it improve our health? What are the new IoT technologies that we should expect to see around the corner? How does one create a successful career in the IoT industry? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who are incorporating IoT into their business or who are developing IoT applications, who can share stories and perspectives about the future of IoT. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Bugos.

Dan Bugos, Director of Product at Origin, is a proud University of Maryland Computer Science graduate, specializing in machine learning and entrepreneurship. During his five years at Origin, he has touched many aspects of the company from business strategy, app & UI development, technical marketing, experiment design & algorithms, and data strategy. He’s been a part of Origin expansive growth and has led a product team to deliver a robust roadmap to Fortune 500 companies. Before Origin, Dan has worked with notable healthcare technology companies and startups like Philips Research and has a passion for advancing technology in the healthcare and preventative care markets.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in the IoT industry?

My professional career began at Philips Research, where I studied healthcare technology, gerontology, and data-driven preventative care. At Philips, I learned that data was important. By continuously monitoring a person’s health biometrics, you could fill in the gaps between doctor’s visits and identify little problems before they become bigger problems. To get this data, you need devices connected to the internet — medical sensors equipped with WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. This was my first exposure to IoT.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

After Philips, I conducted market research for a smart home company called Casaplex. They were looking to expand into the health-tech space. I developed a catalog of health products: heart-rate watches, sleep trackers, fall detection pendants, and many more IoT sensors. These devices all gathered large quantities of data to identify trends and deviations.

Through this research, I stumbled upon Origin. At the time they were a small startup claiming to perform motion detection, breathing monitoring, and fall detection by sensing WiFi waves.

To my luck, Origin happened to have been founded by a University of Maryland professor, Dr. Ray Liu, where I was currently finishing school. I sent him an email, and after a few exchanges, we scheduled a visit to his office.

That meeting changed my life. Ray showed me demos of Origin’s technology in action. They really could detect all of these biometrics with just WiFi! I saw the potential use cases immediately. With WiFi Sensing, data could be collected passively without any wearables. Adherence is the biggest problem with health-tracking devices and there’s a lot of hassle with wearing and charging a device.

I left his office elated. This technology was a game changer and I had to get involved. I expressed interest in joining the company, and was fortunate to be brought onboard a few months later.

For me, this was a good lesson that you should take that chance, send that email, and dig in when you find something that interests you. Poke the world and it will poke you back.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting IoT projects you are working on now?

Sure! I’m working on three pretty cool projects right now. The first one is what I like to call the “traditional” WiFi Sensing application. This is where Origin’s WiFi Sensing technology is embedded directly into a router, and all of the connected IoT devices are as used as sensors. For example, your typical home might have an Alexa smart speaker, an Apple TV, and a few Wemo Smart Plugs, all connected to the router. When that router is Powered by Origin, it analyzes how the WiFi waves from those devices are changing. This unlocks new applications like home monitoring and security, where users can monitor real-time motion in their home, receive alerts, and have more awareness of their spaces. It’s a nice light application for people who want simple security and don’t want to buy more stuff. We launched this with Linksys last year, and we’re looking forward to launching with more router makers and internet service providers in the near future.

The second project I’m working on is even more applicable to IoT. This is a newer approach to WiFi Sensing, where we embed Origin’s technology directly into the IoT devices themselves. These devices can talk and sense amongst each other, without the need for a WiFi Sensing router. We’re super excited about this approach, for a few reasons:

(1) Lower barrier to entry — anyone can now purchase a few low-cost devices and access WiFi Sensing technology.

(2) More utility — with IoT devices Powered by Origin, WiFi Sensing becomes more actionable and useful. It is the engine that controls a device’s native functionality. It’s the transition from passive monitoring to monitoring + action.

(3) Better user experiences — our partners are designing rich, immersive WiFi Sensing experiences and interfaces. Embedding directly into the IoT device gives them this flexibility, which was previously unattainable.

One of our partners, nami, has been a driving force behind this approach, and we’re extremely excited to unveil what we’ve been working on together.

This transitions well to the last big project I’m working on — the Matter protocol and how it relates to WiFi Sensing. I’m sure your readers are familiar, but to give a tl;dr: “Matter” is a new standard that aims to connect all devices, regardless of their manufacturer or their connectivity interface. We plan to incorporate WiFi Sensing into the Matter specs and data model, and we also aim to start a WiFi Sensing focus group. Right now, the Matter specs are currently limited to PIR, ultrasonic and contact sensors. WiFi Sensing data is much richer than these binary sensors. Our goal is to bake WiFi Sensing data into the specs, via a “wide area coverage” model of sensing, so that IoT manufacturers and users can achieve richer experiences with more robust data.

How do you think this might change the world?

Origin proves that WiFi can do more than just connectivity and can play a significant role in improving lives. Through the lens of the typical person, WiFi Sensing will change the world by providing a safer and smarter alternative to traditional home security and elderly monitoring systems.

In home security, WiFi Sensing will power better user experiences. Whole-home security can be achieved with just a few devices, due to the wide area coverage of WiFi Sensing. It also enables a “neater” experience, as users won’t have to stick plastic sensors in every nook and cranny of their walls, doors, and windows. Instead they can use dual-purpose devices that blend into the home, via smart plugs, light bulbs, and other connected devices. I’m not saying PIRs and contact sensors will go away anytime soon — there will likely be a transition period where WiFi Sensing complements these devices — but eventually I think WiFi Sensing will make these traditional devices obsolete. WiFi Sensing also provides more context for call centers during intrusions. Call center operators will be able to tell if someone is still in the home, and where they are in the home, while a traditional sensor can only tell you that it has been activated. It’s this rich real-time data that will make the home safer for the everyday person.

From the elder care perspective, WiFi Sensing will make it so much easier for older adults to age in place. Gone are the days of wearing a fall detection pendant in the home, as WiFi Sensing can provide whole-home fall detection coverage. Again, it’s about better user experiences. Wearables are cumbersome — they need to be charged, and more importantly, they can make older adults feel like they are losing their independence. With a wearable-free solution that blends into the home, older adults can safely age in place, and their caregivers can rest assured that their loved ones are safe.

Last thing, from an industry perspective, the technology behind WiFi Sensing has the potential to generate significant growth for the greater WiFi ecosystem. WiFi Sensing will bring about new services and features in many industries, including home security and elder care. Organizations in the WiFi ecosystem will soon adopt the tools, software, and hardware that enable WiFi Sensing for the purpose of differentiation. Smart home and IoT companies will integrate the specific software and protocols necessary to run WiFi Sensing services. Silicon vendors and module-makers will have new use-cases and channels for their chips and boards. Networking hardware companies and smart home product vendors will advertise new features for their routers and IoT devices, and internet service providers can provide new service bundles to their subscribers.

Already we are seeing an industry interest, particularly with the creation of the 802.11bf WiFi Sensing focus group, which will become responsible for defining the next 802.11 WiFi standard. This will support today’s WiFi Sensing use cases as well as future applications of the technology.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I would like to start with what WiFi Sensing can and cannot do, to make it very clear to readers what “sensing” really means.

WiFi Sensing can:

  • Measure total motion in an environment.
  • Indicate which WiFi device is registering motion.
  • Indicate if a device is picking up a breathing rate.

This is just a basic list, but it gives an idea of the level of detail that WiFi Sensing can distinguish.

WiFi Sensing cannot:

  • Make out the shape of a body — unlike a radar sensor or a camera.
  • Determine the specific activity of an individual — it cannot distinguish showering vs. brushing teeth, eating vs. typing, yoga vs. burpees. It just can tell that there is motion in a room, and whether that motion is high or low.

Based on these facts, we argue that Origin’s WiFi Sensing is quite respectful to people’s privacy. It’s definitely less invasive than a camera or a radar sensor.

Now to answer the question, one potential drawback to WiFi Sensing is that, if hacked, it presents another channel for bad actors to exploit. For example, a burglar could tell when you aren’t home, and then intrude at an opportune time. You can understand the repercussions of being able to check when someone is coming and going from their home, things that a house robber or stalker might want to know.

We at Origin understand privacy concerns and take extensive measures to ensure safeguards are in place to protect and secure data. We developed WiFi Sensing with security in mind and carefully engineered the technology to protect sensitive data from collection/analysis. Our algorithms pull strings of randomized coding that bad actors cannot crack. We use industry-leading encryption methods to store all sensing data so that private information remains safe behind carefully engineered walls.

In addition, our technology has eliminated the need for cameras, which are more susceptible to being hacked. Because of this, IoT devices that are powered by Origin’s technology can be safely placed in private areas like the bathroom, a recommended location for fall detection in elder care.

Lastly, our partners are also keeping privacy in mind. Many of them are thinking deeply about the different levels of notifications and information sharing within . They are designing their sensing products to have different personas and profile types — Admin, Family Member, Home Helper, etc. — and each profile can “opt in” to share their motion information and entrances/exits of the home.

I think this is the right way for them to be thinking. It’s all about transparency and giving customers the choice of what they do or do not want to share.

What are the three things that most excite you about the IoT industry? Why?

  1. Thread — I’m excited for the high speed data transmissions that Thread will provide. It gives our partners more flexibility when designing dedicated sensing devices. All of the sensing can be done on WiFi, and all of the communications can be done on Thread in a lightweight and high-speed manner.
  2. Matter — I’m a big fan of composable systems, and Matter is just that. Anytime you have a universal standard, it empowers people and businesses to build, and I think we’ll witness a lot of cool experiences built between different IoT ecosystems. Matter has the potential to spark an IoT renaissance — the complaints of disparate products and apps may soon be behind us, and the network effects will be immense.
  3. Privacy — We are witnessing a shift in how big tech treats privacy. Kudos to Apple for leading the charge. It’s exciting to see more privacy-first principles being adopted. I’ve seen some companies starting to not use email for account management. Instead, they just give users a private key to manage.

What are the three things that concern you about the IoT industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

The three items I mentioned above — the things I am excited about — are making strides to combat my biggest concerns. Those concerns are a lack of composability between different IoT ecosystems, and a lack of privacy — companies mining and selling your data without your permission. Matter is addressing the composability issues. Regarding privacy, I think it’s up to companies to allow users to choose what they do and do not want to share. Again I’ll mention Apple here — they now pop up a message asking if you want to share your data with a specific app. Another way to address the privacy issue is to have the default data sharing setting to be “do not share”, where it requires users to “opt in” vs. “out out”. Design decisions like this are fighting the good fight towards a more private technology world.

Can you share with our readers a few of the exciting future applications of IoT that you have seen?

One of the coolest IoT projects that I’ve stumbled upon is called Helium. On the surface, Helium is a wireless communications network that leverages the LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) protocol. It’s for low power, low transmission communications in urban areas — providing a few hundred meters of coverage distance.

The cool part about Helium is that it attempts to be decentralized and powered by individuals. People can buy these little radio devices called Helium hot spots and set them up in their homes. The hotspots provide long range radio communications to low power devices — providing IoT connectivity to things like parking meters, dog collars, and electric scooters in cities. In turn, those people get paid in Helium tokens to power the network and operate the hotspots.

Can you help articulate to our readers a few of the ways that IoT can improve our health and improve our lives?

IoT offers a remarkable opportunity to improve the health and lives of people around the globe. In elder care, non-wearable WiFi Sensing IoT devices can track movements, sleep patterns, and breathing, alerting caregivers and emergency personnel to falls and anomalies. This evolving technology eliminates the need for wearables- which have a low adherence rate- and is making aging in place more viable than ever. As this technology is adopted more broadly in personal homes and clinical settings, it will radically improve the quality of life for elderly loved ones and their caretakers.

Individuals are using IoT devices (most commonly wearable such as FitBit and Apple Watch) to track their activity and sleep to improve their health. Health Care organizations have implemented IoT broadly to enable remote patient monitoring, health metric monitoring (i.e. glucose levels, heart rate), and even to support complex surgical procedures. IoT is enhancing patient care and doctors’ ability to understand patients’ conditions.

Within our homes and buildings, IoT can be used to increase energy efficiency by only turning on HVAC and lights when movement is detected, thus supporting green initiatives and environmental sustainability. Additionally, IoT devices have transformed the home security industry, making it easier than ever for individuals to protect their homes and families through security systems that can be installed in minutes and controlled through a mobile app.

IoT is broad in its applications and in its benefits. Our collective health, safety and wellbeing will only continue to improve as IoT technology advances.

My expertise is in product security, so I’m particularly passionate about this question. In today’s environment, hackers break into the software running IoT devices, for ransomware, to damage brands, or for other malicious purposes. Based on your experience, what should IoT manufacturing companies do to uncover vulnerabilities in the development process to safeguard their IoT products?

I recently learned from a StaceyOnIoT podcast that 80% of data breaches are due to human error, and that the most prominent types of attacks involve ransomware, credentialing, and phishing. These types of attacks target people who are a bit tech-naive. For example, an attacker may impersonate a tech support call center, and ask a user to share their password to “facilitate a software update”. The user obliges, and now the attacker has access to the user’s personal information.

So, I would say IoT companies really need to go back to the basics and educate their users on these types of attacks, using clear messaging like: “we will never message you first”, “never share your password with anyone”, etc. Some of this falls outside the responsibility of the IoT company, but it can’t hurt to include some basic copy and messaging during onboarding flows to lay some ground rules on basic security measures.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The IoT Industry?”

  1. Always keep users and their problems first when designing and thinking about products. Often, product managers can get caught up in “wouldn’t it be cool if” hypotheticals, myself included. The better question to ask is “what problem is this solving”? I constantly try to remind myself and my team to think about this question. It keeps us focused on the important stuff, and helps us avoid over-engineering and wasting time on details that the user doesn’t care about.
  2. Keep up your technical skills. You don’t have to be writing code necessarily, but I’ve found it very helpful to constantly be in the weeds with your engineering team regarding things like architecture design and new feature feasibility. It’s allowed me to understand development complexity, which I can map against perceived value to ultimately prioritize what we build.
  3. Document everything. IoT is very complex and has many different variables and layers. You’re usually dealing with hardware, firmware, cloud servers, and an app or user interface. At Origin, we make it a priority to show our work and document it internally. It saves us hours of work when we need to revisit a backburner project, or onboard a new person to a current project.
  4. Plan ahead. When building an IoT product, you need to design for the future. Ideally, your IoT product will have a shelf-life of 8–10 years. Besides phones and laptops, customers don’t want to have to replace their accessory technology every 1–2 years. To plan ahead, you’ll need to be selective about your chipset platform, to ensure it can handle future firmware updates.
  5. Stay curious. Sign up for tech newsletters to stay informed about the industry. I’m a big fan of Morning Brew — Emerging Tech.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Wow what a question! I’ll give this quote: “talk less, listen more”. If we are to inspire this movement, we’ll need to understand each other, and that starts with listening.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow Origin’s work at originwirelessai.com or on LinkedIn @OriginAI and Twitter @OriginWireless.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.

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David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum

David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum

David Leichner is a veteran of the high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications