Slowly yet steadily, the world of tech is moving towards a completely wireless future. We all remember a time when everything was wired, and cables ruled the roster but now, going wireless is the name of the game. There are numerous devices that use wireless communication to transmit and receive data. However, there are certain applications that are critical and require ultra-low latency, which can’t be achieved via traditional wireless means. Here’s where the winner of EIT Digital Challenge in the Digital Tech category comes in.
Winning the first prize at EIT Digital Challenge, R3 Communications is a startup from Berlin that offers an exciting device called EchoRing, which is said to be almost too good to be wireless. EIT Digital, Europe’s leading accelerator, hosted the competition to identify innovative ‘deep tech’ scaleups of the continent. Dr. Mathias Bohge, Managing Director of R3 Communications, received the prize at the EIT Digital Accelerator where over 279 scaleups competed.
At the end of a competition that gathered candidates from 33 different countries, R3 Communications won the first prize in the “Digital Tech” category. The award is also accompanied by a grant and support in development. Silicon Canals was also present at the conference and our founder Remco Janssen sat down with Bohge for a quick chat to know more about the company’s future plans.
What the award-winning EchoRing is all about
EchoRing is a wireless communication system, which is a proprietary technology developed by R3 Communications. “It’s speciality is that its real-time deterministic, and reliable at the same time. It is quite beneficial for industrial applications. For example, let’s say there’s an emergency button for stopping a robot arm or an AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle). If this process is done over Wi-Fi, you’ll never know whether the command will be picked up after a second or after 10 milliseconds, or 50 milliseconds. There’s always latency,” Bohge notes.
On the other hand, EchoRing also has latency but is deterministic and it’s working is touted to be closer to a cable rather than a wireless network. It works by introducing a decentralised and deterministic scheme called token ring over wireless. In layman terms, a token is circulated amongst devices or stations in EchoRing’s network, which can be with a device for a limited time and a station can send data only when it is holding the token. In this way, the devices don’t interrupt each other and the network becomes deterministic and reliable.
Bohge adds, “Our product was designed by professor James Gross, who is a professor of machine-to-machine communication. We did a PhD together in wireless communications and he went on to become a professor, while I went to Boston Consulting. Then, we met later to form the company in 2015.”
Current clients, team size and more
R3 Communications is currently in its early adopter phase, which means it has some notable customers including OEMs, car companies like BMW and KUKA, a German industrial robots manufacturer. Just recently, the company was also selected for building a prototype for an aerospace lab to employ its solutions and reduce cabling within the cabin. “We also manufacture for several companies and on the other hand, we also come up with new internal designs for aircraft.”
“So, one of the first projects we are working on is lighting control inside an aircraft. There are all these little lamps on a 380 that are controlled individually for simulating the rising sun. In case they are not properly synced, they’ll flicker and you don’t want that. There needs to be an option to control them perfectly without the cables and that’s where we come in,” explains Bohge. As for the team size, R3 Communications has currently employed 43 people out of which about 22 are full-time employees and 11 are masters students.
Development and deployment of next-generation technology isn’t an easy task. Currently, to help R3 Communications realise it’s goal, VC’s have invested €3.4 million in the company and has received over a million euros of government support money. “So, there are several support programs and we try to take them all. Very soon, we will again be pitching at the Horizon 2020, in Brussels.
Almost all startups face some challenges while scaling up and when asked about their particular set of challenges, Bohge says, “The biggest challenge, I guess, is finding the right partners with whom we would like to launch ourselves in the market. We’ve now partnered Arrow Electronics, which is one of the largest electronics distributors worldwide, somebody who will help us distribute our products. But another challenge is doing extensive marketing and building an international sales team.”
As for geographic expansion or moving into different verticals, Bohge notes that the company wants to expand geographically to a certain size. Additionally, if there’s some capacity left to build new teams, they could also foray deeper into the consumer market. “Everything related to music needs to have low latency. Today, everything is done with cables and the same also holds true for the gaming community. Gamers always use wired accessories because it really matters when you have a latency of even 10 milliseconds,” says Bohge.
One of the biggest problems right now for R3 communications is the lull in the industry due to the economic slowdown. As per Bohge, there were plenty of projects, which were supposed to happen but are now in danger. “On the other hand, companies really need to innovate right now and that’s a chance for improvement,” Bohge notes.