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In Episode 11 of The IoT Podcast we dive into the world of Augmented Intelligence with Erik Bjontegard known widely for Inventing and Founding the Spark Compass Platform as the President of Total Communicator Solutions, Inc.

Erik is leading innovation in Augmented Experience for a globally connected space, and paving the way to an increasingly intelligent world where data can predict, act on and encourage behaviour whether that be bringing a football match experience to your home or controlling the pandemic spread.

 

Erik answers these topics:

 

    • His background in the IoT Space sector and how he found his company Total Communicator Solutions, Inc.
    • What the Spark Compass Augmented Intelligence Platform is and what Solutions it brings to our daily lives
    • The role of Augmented Intelligence in transforming healthcare innovation amongst the pandemic
    • His biggest challenges as an entrepreneur and advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
    • What he forecasts for the future in relation to Augmented Intelligence

 

Episode Transcript

Tom White:
Welcome to the IoT Podcast Show. I am your host, Tom White. This is Episode 11. I’ve been looking forward to this actually for some time, we’ve had it in the calendar for a little while. Today I’m joined by Erik Bjontegard.

Erik is the inventor of the Spark Compass platform and the founder of Total Communicator Solutions Inc. Erik, thank you so much for joining the show.

Erik Bjontegard:
My pleasure and I’m excited to be here. We’re going to have some fun, right?

What is your journey in IoT and the Space sector?

Tom White:
Yeah absolutely. Erik, could you start by just explaining your journey in IoT, from your experience in the space sector, up into and founding Total Communicator Solutions Inc and Spark Compass?

Erik Bjontegard:
Yeah. So it’s kind of interesting because in the old days when I started working on the space shuttle and under subsea robotics, on the space shuttle of course, from NASA, the job that I had was to simulate the real world, test the real world with the simulations and verify that the parts survived.

Same thing for engine mounts. But the idea was that we were capturing data from the real world, simulating the real world, and then creating and verifying outcomes. That mindset of looking at simulating the real world and indeed [inaudible 00:02:08] the real world to define and verify outputs and outcomes is what really has been my journey thereafter.

This goes into retail, it goes into telecommunication, and then of course the essence of Spark Compass that we’re going to talk about is that data and actions on the data. Does that make sense?

What is the Spark Compass Augmented Intelligence Platform?

Tom White:
Yeah, absolutely, thank you for that. I mean, of course, your background is fantastic. You’ve done so many different things, but one of the things at Spark Compass that is very interesting for me personally, but also for our listeners is the Augmented Intelligence platform and what you’re doing there with Spark Compass.

How can that affect the man on the street, so to speak, and in layman’s terms, how has it changed people’s lives?

Erik Bjontegard:
That’s a big question, but the mindset here is augmenting and supporting. And when you’re augmenting and supporting intelligence, rather than the typical AI, which is artificial intelligence, which is replacing what we suppose and what we propose and what we do is we take this data in and we monitor and understand the context and then user’s situation.

And then we use that understanding to deliver outcomes supporting whether it’s a marketing person, whether it is a sports teams operator, whether it is a health care operator or provider, we enable them to do better by supporting them with the data.

[inaudible 00:03:53] where they are augmented intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence, we’re not trying to replace anybody, we’re enabling them to do better and by measuring the outcomes, then all of a sudden we can deliver on that.

Erik Bjontegard:
And I know this is very high level, but there’s a whole series of deployments where we’re actually doing this. The ability to capture data in a stadium setting.

In the old days, it was very important to encourage fans to come to the stands. We’re doing this right now with the University of Mississippi. It’s a project that we do with AMG and Coca-Cola where originally we were asked to help encourage fans to come to the stands.

In the old days, there was no problem to get the fans to come and watch the boys play football, but when the girls were playing, what I call real football, soccer as we call it here in America, nobody came to watch them. So we built a reward system. We’ve increased [inaudible 00:04:56] and blah, blah, blah and that’s great.

Erik Bjontegard:
Today, there are no fans in the stands. So how can we maintain that relationship? And that’s where augmented intelligence comes in, where it understands the end user’s context; the fan is not in the stand anymore, they’re watching at home. Can we reward them for that behavior at home? And that’s exactly what we did for [inaudible 00:05:19] and Coca-Cola and this fan engagement at home, these interactions at home, and then extend that relationship from an empty stadium where the game is still being played, the matches are still there and into the fans at home.

And that’s really a big shift. It’s kind of a big shift that we are forced to enter this environment. Unfortunately, however, when you think about it, there are a lot more fans that will never be in the stands than the fans that can come to the stands. That’s been our mantra all along is that we, as long as we can understand the end user’s context, and that’s contextual awareness, and when we can put contextual intelligence on it, then we can augment the communication with that fan. Does that make sense?

How can the Spark Compass Platform help control the pandemic?

Tom White:
Yeah, it does totally. And I think there’s a lot of things within the platform, isn’t there? There’s a lot of things that the Spark platform can actually do.

I know we’ve spoken about this previously with wearables as well, and given the pandemic and everything that’s come up as an outcome from that advancement in med tech healthcare monitoring, how was it that Spark Compass can help with that?

Erik Bjontegard:
Well, it goes back to this premise again, that data helps and right now we have a problem worldwide and the way that we’re looking at things is that we’re taking data and we’re trying to do it after the fact. What we’re trying to articulate is that if we’re able to understand data ahead of the time, and if we’re able to encourage behavior ahead of the time, then maybe we can stop or slow down the spread and the moment we can slow down the spread, we’re starting to win.

Right now, we’re fighting a battle and we’re telling everybody to stay home and not go to restaurants and while that helps, it’s not the end solution. So what we have built is a bracelet, a wearable. It could be any type of wearable, but this is unique in two elements.

Erik Bjontegard:
One is that it will automatically detect distance and verify distance, so we call this distance matters. It’s a solution that we provide maybe. It’s a little hard for the general population, but in the workforce environments, this could help in other elements on it and that is an encouraging behavior. Keep your distance.

We know that distance makes a difference. Good pun there actually, distance makes a difference. But we also have the ability to measure real-time body temperature. And if you’re able to look at a larger population and see where maybe somebody has a temperature rising, and that could be a sign of an infection before the test is done. That’s one of the things that we’re suggesting that if we can get data in earlier and we can give that to somebody that can make output and change outcomes, then all of a sudden it can drive those decide results, slowing the spread.

Tom White:
Yeah.

Erik Bjontegard:
Of course, privacy issues and all of that is a big concern in all of this, but capturing the data is the first steps and then acting on the data is the next step, and then ensuring that we can all be safe is, of course, a critical component. But right now it’s really not a light thing to say, but it’s a matter of life or death. So distance matters.

Tom White:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we’ve had that conversation in the past and I think certainly the pandemic has caused people to take this a lot more seriously whereas previously, it may have been nice to have a wearable that can monitor distance or heat, or what have you. Now it’s becoming mandatory, isn’t it?

Erik Bjontegard:
That’s right.

Tom White:
It’s becoming something that we really need to focus on.

Erik Bjontegard:
And I, as an end-user, one of the things that we do with Spark Compass is that we’re always trying to find and ensure that there’s value to the end-users. Catching data, capturing data is important, but there has to be an outcome. There has to be a result for me as an end-user and in this instance, if I can be encouraged to keep my distance and I do that automatically, just because that’s in my nature.

However, if I could have a system that can do this, and if I can have a system that can alert, if there’s a trend that I should address, hey, that’s [inaudible 00:10:07]. That’s a good thing, that’s augmenting my intelligence.

How can entrepreneurs become successful when starting an IoT business?

Tom White:
Yeah, absolutely. And I know you’re no stranger, you talk about augmenting intelligence, you’re no stranger to being an entrepreneur and having various interests within various fields and clearly, obviously that came from your background in the space sector, but other backgrounds et cetera, one of the things that we’ve got quite interested in, we have a lot of listeners of the show and also people that come on who are in start-ups and scale-up businesses and it can be lonely at the top for some of these people and some of these directors. And I know that from my own experience in starting up my company and initiatives that I’ve done.

For people starting out in an IoT business, in a platform centered around data and driving IoT, what’s your advice to some of these founders of early-stage businesses?

Erik Bjontegard:
Well, I think you addressed the one thing that might come as a surprise before you get started, and that is that this isn’t easy, this is hard work. And I think the key component is true grit. The ability to stick with it.

When you have something keep at it, adjust and learn, have what I call a fluid foundation. You have to have an understanding that it’s a baseline but being able to adapt and understand and keep at it. I think that is the biggest issue for a lot of people, is the surprise of how hard things are.

We hear about the success stories. Behind every success story, there’s a lot of hard work. Even those that have quickly been lucky, it didn’t happen by happenstance. So keep at it and learn.

Erik Bjontegard:
And I think that’s the most important thing, is to use data that’s readily available, build tools. We personally, and – me personally – have a strong belief in doing is better than talking and telling. So we keep building and we keep building fast and we keep failing fast because when you fail, you can fix and the ability to build something fast and fix it and keep at it and improving, then all of a sudden you’re building a value. And that goes back to that true grit.

Keep at it, don’t give up, take advice, learn as much as possible, and right now the world is so full of tools where ideas can be implemented fast. We have a little bit of a strategy within our company because we are tasked with building things fast. We work with a lot of the big boys that are coming to us things takes time when you’re in the big corporations.

Erik Bjontegard:
I used to work at Qualcomm; great, a lot of money, a lot of infrastructure, and it took a long time to do things. So now we’re building things fast and we have an approach that we call in opposite of an MVP, Minimal Viable Products, we build what we call the MAPs. A Map is a Maximum Awesome Product. That’s a mindset of instead of trying to do something that is as minimal and as least as possible, and try to get it out as fast as possible, we want to get it out as fast as possible but we want to make it awesome, and we want to really make a difference in everything that we do. So have that mindset, go big, stick with it and do it.

Tom White:
Yeah, that’s fantastic. I really like that. A MAP [crosstalk 00:13:57].

Erik Bjontegard:
Maximum Awesome Products. And it’s a MAP in this mindset because if you want to go from here, which is innovation of nothing into something that is a full product, you have to have a MAP. And the mindset in our stuff is try to make something that’s awesome. To have that as a mindset, then all of a sudden you’ll find that it is awesome.

Tom White:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s fantastic advice for a lot of people because you’ve really got to be behind what you’re doing 100%. You’ve got to believe in it, you’ve got to breathe it and live it in order for that passion and for that genuine interest to come across to customers and [inaudible 00:00:14:40].

Erik Bjontegard:
Exactly, and I think that’s one thing that is missing in some tech is the passion and the enthusiasm, and let’s do something fun here.

Yes it’s techie, yes it’s sensors and it’s IoT and it’s data, but if you don’t have that passion, how can you innovate? And it has to come from somewhere when you innovate.

I’m blessed; I am an advisor and an industry fellow at the University of Salford in England, where I graduated. So I’m assisting there and I was just appointed an advisory board position at the University of California in Riverside, around design and innovation.

Erik Bjontegard:
So I’m passionate about this mindset, let’s create something new, build something new. It has some passionate enthusiasm in it. Be a little crazy, that’s okay. We are different and that differentiates us as small entities and the big entities. And we work with a lot of the big boys.

They’re looking for that because within the confines of a large corporation, that’s harder to do. When you’re small, we can do that and while we’re big and we’re global, we still have the mindset of get stuff done. I was going to use another S-word, but get stuff done.

Tom White:
Yeah, you could have used that Erik, we would have allowed it.

Erik Bjontegard:
Perfect. Well, again, the passion comes through and that’s really where it is. And that’s why you can take a data-driven platform with beacons and stuff that is boring but if you have that passion, that your fan first, and you want to engage with the fan and you want to create that excitement, where they are taking selfies at home and sharing that with a platform and winning points and sharing the data and sharing their experiences.

This is cool; so we did a deployment in North Somerset with NHS and for senior citizens and care providers, and here’s Rita, who’s 94 years old. She’s on stage and we’re talking and presenting to the board of directors for [inaudible 00:17:03].

Erik Bjontegard:
And I hadn’t met Rita before, but she’s been using our platform, the Spark Compass Alexa platform and she’s on stage and she’s being asked, “So Rita, what do you think about the Spark Compass platform?” And she starts saying, “I am so mad.” And I thought, “Oh no, God, what went wrong here?” And we’ve all been in this demo environment where we’re concerned about how is this demo going to go?

And she starts saying, “I am mad.” And I thought, “Oh no, this is not going to go well.” But then she continues and she says, “Why I’m so mad because I had to go to hospital and when I came back to my flat, somebody had taken away my Spark Compass Alexa. I miss her, I want her back.”

Erik Bjontegard:
That is a huge validation. That’s when you know, those moments of time is when you realize that technology, our augmented intelligent platform that was understanding how Rita was doing and how she was feeling, and that was then sent back to dispatch.

That in of itself was powerful but the unintended consequence of this was that she felt that she was being cared for. She was speaking to our system and unlike Alexa, which you would just instruct, our AI had created a conversation for her. Every morning we talked with her. Every morning we had a conversation with her. That’s powerful.

Tom White:
Yeah, totally powerful. And I think that definitely within that demographic as well because we’ve spoken to a number of businesses who were involved with IoT solutions around the elderly and care for the elderly and the fact that not only giving people their independence for longer so that they don’t have to go into nursing homes and what have you, but it’s the quality of life and also, just the general wellbeing of people being able to communicate when perhaps they don’t have their family or perhaps [inaudible 00:19:10]. And the fact that Rita is engaging with that and that you’ve done that and being able to put that onto the Alexa platform is great.

And that’s a really close thing that I’m passionate about is that there’s a whole Tech for Good movement. The fact that we’re actually creating solutions that genuinely has an influence and an enrichment to people’s lives. And I think sometimes that can be lost. Certainly within the whole [crosstalk 00:19:37].

Erik Bjontegard:
Yeah. But if that’s a mindset, then all of a sudden it works for a worker, a staff member, a healthcare provider because you’re enabling them to do better. And that’s what technology is supposed to do in the first place.

Tom White:
Sure.

Erik Bjontegard:
Not supposed to replace, it’s supposed to enable.

What is in store for the future of Augmented Intelligence?

Tom White:
Yeah, fantastic. Just on that note as well, so obviously you’ve got the augmented intelligent platform on Alexa, IoT obviously, people talk about IoT a lot and you know, about the exciting future that it has and the growth and where we’ll really be with this.

But specifically within your business and what you’re doing, Erik, where do you see the future role of augmented intelligence? Where does that go? What are the limitations? What can we expect to see happening in five years’ time? I’m really curious to find out from you where this is all going.

Erik Bjontegard:
Well, so if you think about it, and it’s a big question and [inaudible 00:20:40] but here’s a couple of ideas and a couple of things that we’re building that can paint a beginning of what the future will look like.

Let’s say that we have a situation in a [inaudible 00:20:53] where you have a choice between a head of lettuce that is out in an open and in an environment where you can touch and feel it, or a head of lettuce that is packaged in an environment and a system where you can verify that it is COVID free from the moment it was planted. That could be cool to know.

So in order for that to happen, you have to have a system like what we’re building right now, where you can get data from the growing conditions, that’s data set and that’s tons of sensors and you can communicate that if you use one of our partners, Sigfox is a great way to have efficient communication across the growing field. Then you can have sensors that are measuring the weather and blah, blah, blah. So now you have the basis of that.

Erik Bjontegard:
Then you can have a system that can capture the harvesting conditions, then the transportation of that product, the packaging of the product, and all the data sets that are around those events. We like to look at in our platform event data. And if we can capture the event data, the growing conditions, the harvesting, the packaging, the transportation, and there’s data sets that are measuring air quality, who is there, are they COVID free? As an example, and take that and put that into a platform that also is tied into a blockchain.

Now that blockchain can then be enabled and unlocked on the product so that I, as a consumer, can tap, scan, whatever it is, QR, AR, or NFC, whatever it is to validate the condition of the product that I’m about to buy. Then all of a sudden you have taken that whole journey and presented it to the end-user. Crazy example, right? But that is something we can do right now. Is that going to change the future?

Not necessarily but what it enables is the connection between the physical and the digital, that’s where it’s exciting.

Erik Bjontegard:
And that’s really where this augmented intelligence comes in because you have to have a system that is intelligent in the way that it captures data, the ability to aggregate the data, the ability to govern the data because governance of data is another key component in this space that a lot of people forget about.

You have to make sure that this data is stored and used appropriately and verifiably so, and then act on the data so that you can deliver those outcomes, whether that is an outcome for a senior citizen, whether that is for somebody buying lettuce, or whether it’s for a worker in a workspace, it doesn’t matter. Or if he is a participant in global sports they would like to play their sports in [inaudible 00:23:55] versus me in San Diego versus you in Bristol.

If you can enable that connection where we are all of a sudden playing together without being together, then you’re onto something really cool.

Tom White:
Yeah.

Erik Bjontegard:
The future is so exciting, right?

Tom White:
It really is and there’s so much there. Erik, if we continue this conversation, I think we could spend a long time talking about lots of different bits and pieces, but I know there’s some exciting things coming up for you with the whole Spark Compass team right now.

I know you can’t go into specifics, but hey, look, it would be great to have you back on the show at some point in the future to talk about that and the outcome from everything that’s going on, because you guys are super busy right now, aren’t you?

Erik Bjontegard:
We are. And as going back to what we started about, we believe in showing and doing, rather than just telling and showing. And you alluded to something that we will be happy to come back when it’s public, but there is something very fundamental shift in the way to use data in a participation sport that is underway and there will be some big announcements.

So yes, we’re very excited about this and this is really taking data and acting on the data and creating enhanced experiences. And going back to your viewers that are looking at starting things, if you can follow that model, that journey, capture data and understanding data and acting data with a purpose. This is where I think that a lot of people go wrong because they think that is really great, that we have is all this data.

Erik Bjontegard:
If you have the data in silos, and you’re not doing anything with the data who cares? And I’m going to be crass about saying who cares. And I don’t mean it that way, but really I do because you’re just capturing data who cares?

If you’re creating a dashboard, that looks nice, okay. It’s when you take actions on the data, that’s when you drive and change outcomes. And that’s really, what Spark Compass is all about, it’s an action event database controlled system, augmented intelligence, contextual intelligence, all in one. I don’t care where the data comes from, I don’t care how the data is communicated, all I care about is that I’m using augmented intelligence to act on the data, to deliver outcomes, and improve outcomes.

Then all of a sudden, when you do a system like this, it learns from itself, it learns and it gets better and better. And that’s my patent. That’s contextual intelligent communication. Patented with multiple patents and multiple pending patents.

Tom White:
Yeah.

Erik Bjontegard:
Exciting times.

Tom White:
Really exciting times. Erik, I know your schedule is being super busy, so I appreciate you taking the time out to come on the show, but thank you so much, and good luck with everything. And we hope to have you back on at some point soon.

Erik Bjontegard:
Thank you so much, I appreciate you. It’s been a pleasure.

Tom White:
Thank you.

The IoT Podcast Team

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