Three year anniversary of reelyActive

Today, August 1st, 2015, marks, from an official perspective, the three year anniversary of the moral entity known colloquially as reelyActive, and more formally as 9266-5777 Québec inc. Although today we may enter our fourth fiscal year, in reality we embarked on full-time development of the project in the first days of 2012. And the name reelyActive? It was registered as a dot-com as far back as April 16th, 2011 when I, (Jeffrey Dungen, co-founder and CEO) sparked on the idea of Active RFID infrastructure in a reel configuration, connected the terms with a ‘y‘, and took advantage of the availability of the domain name.

We tell the right story to the right audience at the right time.

The above slogan is one that we began using in the Fall of 2014 (in yet another attempt) to explain what reelyActive does. I’m proud of that slogan because I feel it extends elegantly to all types of societies, not just those of low-power wireless devices, or humans. But before we digress, let’s put that slogan to the test, because chances are that if you, the audience, have read this far, you’re genuinely interested in our story on this, our anniversary.

In the summer of 2010, in an unmemorable food court café, I sat down opposite a very striking man with the most ridiculous beard. It was a curious moment, because I too had a most ridiculous moustache. There we were, two people at a turning point in our own lives, endowed with intentionally-grown fur on our faces, meeting for the first time. It felt like our whiskers tingled simultaneously and without words, we immediately knew our paths had crossed for a reason. And when those words came, they brought confirmation. “Imagine there were transparency across the world” proposed the bearded man “because you could see anywhere in real-time”. That man was Drew Sechrist, the founder of Koozoo (neé Kuuzuu), which proposed a crowdsourced network of cameras pointed at public spaces all over the globe to foster transparency and real-time understanding through computer vision.

None shall shave!

The facial hair, shown above, lasted until Christmas of 2010 when, upon seeing a photo of my bare face, Drew had his beard professionally removed, knowing himself victorious in the unofficial man-test.

Drew and Koozoo made me believe that it was indeed plausible, if not possible, to actually achieve global transparency and understanding through technology. And for that I owe him a great deal. He chose video, because it was tangible. With my technology background, I would have chosen radio. And for that part of the story we’ll need to go back several more years…

A few days after the 2004 New Year, another bearded man sat down to speak with me. Only this time it was in a lab at École Polytechnique Montréal, the man was my research director, Jean-Jules Brault, and his beard truly suited him well. “Jeff” he said to me (in French), “there’s this physicist who lost his luggage and wants to build a wireless system for precisely locating and tracking luggage. He’s looking for an embedded developer”. Cool. The only problem was that I didn’t believe in the technical feasibility of the proposed means of Time-Difference Of Arrival (TDOA) measurement core to the project. “Don’t worry” he reassured me, “there’s government funding specifically for such experimental development”. Cool. That would be my initiation to the incredible fiscal advantages of Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) in Canada, especially in Québec.

Coding with the baggage

And that was the start of my journey with Purelink Technology inc. which would last until 2010 and would take me to exotic places such as the baggage sorting facility at YUL, shown above, where we would sit on plastic bins, coding and debugging our Real-Time Location System (RTLS) using concrete barriers as makeshift tables. Smiling in that photo is a young Pier-Olivier Genest who would later become not only a reelyActive co-founder, but also the father of an epic beard (yes, there’s a theme here). The other co-founder of reelyActive, Traian Antonescu would also hail back to the days of École Polytechnique Montréal and Purelink Technology inc. where he would consistently show his resourcefulness, not only in the design and implementation of radio circuits, but also in the design of startup sleeping accommodations, as shown below.

Startup Sleeping Accommodations

Purelink made us believe that it was indeed plausible, if not possible, to identify and locate everyday objects using low-power wireless technology. And while we didn’t always agree with Emerson Nerat, the founder, on strategy, I commend him fully on his tenacity, which can only be described as being in a class of its own, and has inspired me not to give up on reelyActive through the many hardships over the last three years, and surely those to come.

Which brings us back to today, the third anniversary of reelyActive. Having survived, for lack of a better term, these past three years, we can look ahead with plenty of optimism that there will indeed emerge a global network for the identification and location of low-power wireless devices embedded in everyday objects that will enable a real-time understanding of the world, laying the foundation for a massive gain in efficiency that will benefit not only humanity, but also everything with which we share this planet. Yes, that sounds bold, but at least now we’re backed up by heavyweights such as Jeremy Rifkin making similar arguments, and the 3 billion Bluetooth Smart devices shipping annually in smartphones, wearables and everyday objects that can already be identified and located by our distributed sensor infrastructure. Plausible has been replaced with possible, and we’re well on the way towards probable.

We unlock the value of the data you choose to share.

The above is another slogan we began using in the Fall of 2014 (in yet another attempt) to explain why reelyActive matters. I’m perhaps even more proud of that slogan because, to me, it encapsulates how the Internet of Things empowers the individual within a society, be it human or otherwise. Sure, you’re likely left scratching your head at how that actually happens. But if we put the technology aside for a moment, imagine your next trip across town where you hop on and off sidewalks, buses, private cars, taxis, bicycles, (hoverboards?) arriving as efficiently as possible. All it takes is real-time understanding of space and the vehicles that occupy it, including their state, which their operators can simply choose to share.

This Fall, a colleague will be moving his family from Europe to join us in Montréal. When we first spoke, he highlighted that we were the only IoT startup he found, after extensive research, with a “user-centric value proposition”, referring to the aforementioned slogan. Another colleague is moving his family from South America to join us in “working toward a more efficient world”. Our team is growing with world-class talent rallied around a common vision. And that is, by far, what makes me the most optimistic about what can be accomplished over the next twenty years, a period of time following which we will again be able to mash up a number up with our name: twenty-threelyActive. A man can grow a hell of a beard in that time!