Lopos is a Belgian provider of real-time localization services (RTLS) based on ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. We’ve come quite a long way from simply being a budding idea in the minds of some researchers to a full-blown start-up with a trialed, tested and certified wearable device – SafeDistance. This blog takes you through the journey we’ve been on to create this wearable that measures the distance between co-workers.
The seed for Lopos was sown in the minds of its four founders – Jen, Bart, Eli and Jan – during their time at IDLab, the joint research lab of Ghent University and imec. The four of them had been studying different localization technologies, including ultra-wideband, at the lab for ten years. They soon realized the business potential of UWB technology, and started looking at ways to translate it into a business concept and market. The first avenue they explored was behavioral analyses on animals. By tracking the location data of livestock and poultry on farms, future clients would be able to research and gain insights into the animals’ behavior based on their location and movement data.
Imec and Ghent University provided great support for Lopos during this time, also from an organizational and technical perspective. And they still are. ‘In 2019, our ambition with ultra-wideband led to us taking part in Ghent University’s Expedition Do! project, where we turned our idea into an actual spin-off. We’d all been working in our full-time jobs until this point, and hadn’t really had the time to take any concrete steps. But Expedition Do! forced us to take action, and we’re really grateful it did. We were one of the winners in 2019, and that really gave us the final push we needed to launch our spin-off,’ explains Jen Rossey.
At the end of 2019, Lopos was accepted into imec.istart, a prestigious business accelerator that helps start-ups to grow. This is where they met Peter Van Roosbroeck, who joined the team as CCO and is responsible for all the commercial aspects of Lopos operations.
Lopos was putting all the building blocks in place for a successful start-up, but it still needed a good market. Behavioral analyses on animals didn’t seem to be hitting the sweet spot just yet, so the founders started exploring other markets as well, such as Industry 4.0, manufacturing and logistics. Jen Rossey, CEO and co-founder of Lopos, explains: ‘We were still looking for the right market for our technology when coronavirus struck. We quickly realized how well our product was suited to social distancing requirements, and how we could be of service for the greater good – in particular with the easy-to-use ultra-wideband wearable device we had built using Lopos technology. Being a start-up allowed us to switch quickly and redirect our company and focus.’
‘We had to turn our technology into an actual social distancing product very quickly, and we still needed to build the right software, hardware, design and housing for this. Fortunately, we managed it all in just six weeks, which is incredibly fast for producing, testing and certifying a wearable device.’ Quick prototyping meant Lopos could approach its first customers and get to work with pilot partners, getting fast feedback from the market and incorporating it in the current iteration of the device.
Rossey: ‘We owe a large part of our quick trajectory to our partners. Dekimo took care of the product assembly. Pilipili designed the casing. And Orange Plastics turned the 3D design into a market-ready product in just one week – that normally takes two to three months to pull off. This is how we went so quickly from simply having pure electronics to creating attractive and robust casing for the wearable device. There were lots of late nights and working weekends for our entire team and partners, but we made it happen.’
There is a wide range of companies actively using the SafeDistance wearables – from the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industry and large electronics companies to local SMEs. ‘Industrial businesses, which mostly can’t work from home, had the highest and most urgent need to begin with. But now we’re focusing on a much broader audience. The wearables can be used in so many different areas. Companies such as AkzoNobel, GSK Belgium, Analog Devices, Borealis and Hubo – to name just a few – are among those already using SafeDistance. And public places such as libraries and museums are also on our radar now too,’ says Rossey.
‘Our mission hasn’t changed, but our areas of application certainly have since the coronavirus outbreak. Our main goal now is to support companies in remaining operational in these difficult times,’ says Rossey. ‘Coronavirus can have a huge impact on businesses: everything might need shutting down, there could be large outbreaks of the disease… Our purpose is to keep employees safe while supporting business continuity.’
‘We realize that the market’s interest in social distancing wearables is probably only short term. But it was never our plan to focus solely on this product. We’re currently working on our post-coronavirus offering. Our ultra-wideband technology is also interesting for asset management, asset localization, zone exclusion, access control and collision avoidance. So we’re not focusing purely on social distancing; other opportunities are definitely on the cards for us,’ concludes Rossey.
Jen Rossey, CEO and co-founder of Lopos, researched localization, IoT, BLE, etc. at the IDLab research group. At the beginning of 2019, Jen and a few colleagues together decided to start a spin-off based on ultra-wideband technology, and Lopos was born.
Bart Jooris, also a senior researcher at IDLab, is the co-founder of Lopos who’s responsible for the hands-on development of solutions. He’s the technological guru of the group and has taken on the mantle of CTO.
Professor Eli De Poorter also co-founded the spin-off and took on an advisory role in the company as he is still actively working as a professor at the IDLab research group of imec and Ghent University. He is currently teaching courses on the Internet of Things, Computer and Network Security, etc.
Jan Bauwens, a PhD student at IDLab, is the fourth co-founder of Lopos. Jan is currently focusing on finishing his PhD on low-power wireless communications. He will join Lopos full-time as an embedded software engineer at the end of the summer.