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 Hatem Zeine.
Hatem Zeine is the founder and president of Ossia. An avid inventor and proven technologist with more than two decades of technical development experience, Hatem founded Ossia in 2008, invented and developed the wi-fi like wireless power technology Cota and launched the company in 2013. He now completely manages Ossia’s global team of engineers who are responsible for both the vision and execution of Cota. Prior to founding Ossia, Hatem was a Director/Principal Engineer at Microsoft, leading PM, Development and Test initiatives. Hatem holds a BS in Physics from the University of Manchester in the UK and is a recognized expert on wireless power and its potential. He holds tens of granted patents globally related to Ossia’s Cota technology and beyond.
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?
Thank you for the opportunity.. Since I was a young kid, I’ve been very interested in how the world works. This drove me to dig into peeking into every device I could get my hands on. I would imagine how the “electricity” flowed inside the devices, obviously following the copper lines. By the time I was ten, this interest was magnified when my elder brother brought home tons of books and manuals on how electronics and silicon components worked. I was ecstatic and it drove me to imagine how new devices work that did not yet exist, sort of inventing along the way. Sometimes, I would imagine how a device, such as a computer, would work and then get disappointed that the actual technology was far simpler in operation and capabilities than what I had imagined.
With years of experience in computer design and programming, I decided to get a bachelors’ degree in Physics from the University of Manchester in the UK which gave me insight on how the universe works and the why behind it. This foundation later became super useful for my invention of wireless power that feels and works just like Wi-Fi. Today, it is known as Cota technology which is behind my company Ossia.
I did not expect that when I graduated, I would become a serial entrepreneur, founding my first company straight out of college to build new platforms and solutions in software. In 2008, I started my third company, Ossia, with the goal of transforming our electronic devices with a new form of power; wireless power that never runs out when you are in the vicinity of a power transmitter.
It was clear to me that the number of devices around us was growing rapidly. We have been doubling the number of devices in our homes every five years approximately. The discovery and invention I made with wireless power seemed to be exactly what the world needed as these devices — now called IoT — will need to proliferate.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most amazing and exciting things to happen was starting to file patents in the remote wireless power space. This was originally a green field, as everyone had thought it was impossible to deliver meaningful power at a distance to IoT devices. But once the invention made it clear that it was possible, there were no other patents or other intellectual property filed by others. This gave Ossia the chance to establish the foundation of wireless power patents globally. This is something that would happen once in many lifetimes.
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?
We have developed the Cota Real Wireless Power technology to power most kinds of small electronic devices we have at work and at home. What we have built is something that is truly next level, ignoring all the techniques that have been tried and failed previously. We have a technology that can safely power multiple moving devices at a distance without needing a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver.
This has huge implications to what devices can do for us. Now that our technology has passed the required regulatory certifications in over 60 countries, indicating that it is as safe to use as Wi-Fi on your phone, we are now the only company with the technology that can be sold and deployed by our partners in the world at large.
Two projects come to mind as most interesting:
One of the interesting devices that are getting more and more popular are home security cameras, whether used in the house or externally such as video doorbells or motion-triggered cameras. Recently, we announced a partnership with French device manufacturer, ARCHOS, to remotely power security cameras for home use, whereby, you will never need to charge them or change their batteries. Your safety at home and elsewhere has just been boosted and our workload to keep these devices alive has gone away. By early next year, wirelessly powered cameras will be available in the market.
The other interesting project concerns medical wearable devices. This is a class of devices that can monitor our health 24/7, without the need to worry about charging them, ever. Smartwatches are cool and all, but we do get to service them, take them off when we sleep, which just happens to be where they can be most useful. So, changing the wearables industry is going to lead to very exciting times for device manufacturers and far less work and worry for the consumers to stay healthy.
How do you think this might change the world?
Just this week, I walked around my home and counted all small electronic devices that are powered by batteries or can be powered by batteries. The total count? 220 IoT devices.
Wireless power has multiple levels of impact on society in just the scale of the number of devices that serve us to the environmental impact of all these batteries we use and throw away.
Why would my family need 200+ devices in our home? Well, they serve us in many ways to improve our safety, security, education, productivity, and entertainment. From calculators, electric toothbrushes, Bluetooth speakers to remote controls, we depend on them in our everyday life. But it was not always like this. 30 years ago we had 1 tenth of the devices we use today, and that trend is accelerating with what our IoT can do for us, with an expectation that the number will go another tenfold in the next 20 years.
Now, imagine yourself spending time everyday charging and changing batteries for 2,000 devices. No thank you.
But with wireless power, all the devices will be “set, use and forget.” No more a burden on our lives just to fill the status quo. Wireless power will enable a whole new class of devices and services that are probably beyond our imagination.
The other aspect of wireless power is the significant reduction in the use of batteries. People use batteries without realizing that the energy you get from a single battery is 5,000 times more expensive than the same energy from the wall power outlet. This difference in cost goes to the mining, manufacturing, distribution, and advertising necessary to put that battery in your device.
Additionally, a recent report from leading ESG firm Sustainalytics reported some key takeaways after studying wireless power. Cota Real Wireless Power allows products to be developed lighter in weight and with a longer expected lifespan, reducing waste throughout the life of the device. In three use cases, our technology was found to avoid 306,500–613,00 tonnes of carbon emissions, save over 41,000 kilotons of waste and over 936M liters of clear potable water.
With this technology, we’re able to support the rapid growth of IoT devices while simultaneously decreasing our environmental footprint for both consumers and commercial businesses.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
There are skeptics who may believe wireless power to be unsafe and we encourage them to check out additional information on our website on how Cota technology is inherently safe for humans and pets.
I think the main aspect of this change will be the advent of new devices that are unimaginable today and would potentially impact our ways of life in similar ways to what social media or instant messaging has done to change the pace of society and render our old ways impractical.
What are the three things that most excite you about the IoT industry? Why?
By the late 1980’s, silicon fabrication had started to scale up its manufacturing capacity and lower the costs of silicon products. In fact, some predicted that we would have a silicon chip in every object we interact with in the world. Now that wireless power is available, we solve the main obstacle that prevented this future from happening: power delivery to those silicon devices.
Areas that really excite me are:
The decluttering of our world — with more powerful IoT devices everywhere, remote controls will gradually disappear. With voice control, gesture detection and even understanding our desires with machine learning, we will need to fiddle less with these remotes and get on with our lives. Getting rid of the wires will be so cool for our world.
The invisible services we will receive without knowing, because these IoT devices help us keep track of our lives, not missing a thing during our days, and making sure that we don’t keep stale food or waste our money without knowing.
Additionally, our quality of life. Did you know that the bottom 1% of Americans have a better quality of life than the Rockefellers a hundred years ago? With better life expectancy, affordable lifesaving medications like antibiotics and aspirin, better entertainment through Netflix and podcasts and better productivity and transportation, IoT will make future generations look back at us as if we are living in the stone age.
What are the three things that concern you about the IoT industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
Frankly, IoT has opened a pandora’s box of possibilities.
We are already imagining more applications than we can build. My concern is the lack of human resources, engineers and other makers to deliver on this promise. We are building increasingly advanced tools with machine intelligence to reduce the burdens of developing the next IoT device. We need to improve our education as machines and soon robots will start taking labor jobs away, a lot of re-education is needed to turn the tide.
Device data security is another concern of mine. As wireless power enables thousands of devices in our homes alone, we need to be able to feel safe. We don’t want to be at the mercy of hackers globally, we need to find means of getting to understand data security when we consider the accelerating growth of IoT.
Finally, short term challenges in creating a global standard for IoT. Not necessarily a single technology standard, but an expectation standard for the users. Something akin to user moving between iPhone and Android, you have certain expectations on your personal privacy, data security and safety.
Can you share with our readers a few of the exciting future applications of IoT that you have seen?
I believe the most exciting future of IoT is the true untethering of devices. Set and forget will be the norm, and it is truly exciting when you consider what it means for the number of devices, their ability to interact and work for our benefits.
From home security cameras and sensors that are easy to deploy (no wires or batteries) to medical devices that can predict any potential health crisis before it happens. I am confident life will only get easier if we can better maintain our mental health as we consume more and more information coming at us.
Can you help articulate to our readers a few of the ways that IoT can improve our health and improve our lives?
For forward-thinking businesses, cities and consumers, wirelessly powered IoT is environmentally transformative, not only helping the generations alive now, but those that will come decades from now. Expanding the use of IoT sensors used in smart buildings, monitoring waste and consumables reducing environmental impact, enhancing the efficiency of building systems such as HVAC are just a few of the monumental capabilities.
To add to this, as if batteries and wires weren’t a burden now, picture the very near future as more and more small and useful inventions created that require power. Safety sensors in vehicles, appliances, machinery, implantable medical devices that assist with hearing, heart rate, and blood sugar, etc. Data providing sensors in buildings, streets, and inventory. As our world becomes more interconnected, so does our need for continuous, reliable power.
Not only will wireless power significantly impact IoT growth and sustainability efforts, but it will measurably increase quality of life for millions of people around the world. In the healthcare sector alone, IoT devices aren’t just being used to monitor patients, but also to track healthcare equipment such as oxygen pumps, ventilators and defibrillators. Many of these devices already contain some form of connectivity with the IoT systems built into these products that are currently receiving and generating data, but still need to be charged with wires or batteries.
I look forward to the day that ubiquitous sensors will help us to avoid water quality problems such as the devastating situation in Flint, Michigan, or the numerous outbreaks of diseases and heavy metals in our food supply. IoT can make a huge difference everywhere you look.
With wireless power, any of these existing devices could go from needing to be charged and constantly plugged in to being smart and powered over the air.
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?
Untethered, battery-less IoT will dominate the future. In my opinion, what we really need is a self-healing ecosystem of IoT. IoT’s great power on our lives brings in a great amount of responsibility. We cannot expect every IoT manufacturer to have excellence in data security and we can’t have a centralized system that becomes a single point of failure for humanity. We need a supportive ecosystem for data integrity, security and privacy.
Perhaps wireless power can provide another stick we can use against hackers. Ossia is doing everything we can to create a secure and strong infrastructure for wireless power to enable the untethered growth of IoT (pun intended).
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The IoT Industry?
- Be adaptable to the changing and shifting world of technology.
- Understand the tradeoffs between power, utility/functionality and security.
- Bring multidisciplinary knowledge, no IoT is an electronic device, it does something useful for some outside itself.
- Keep up with your education throughout your career, learning is part of the job.
- Think in scale, things will blow up 100x, 1000x or even a million times greater in size.
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.
I was working on wireless power 15 years ago. At the time, it was considered to be impossible, in the same category as warp drives and time travel. However, knowing the science behind it, I was confident that it would work. I was not bothered by the nay-sayers around me. Perseverance and hard work yielded a leadership position in a fledgling industry. The time I spent answering the nay-sayers and convincing others to join as investors, employees and customers has provided me with the insight that I could never have realized on my own.
What we have developed with our partners and wireless power has now created a door that will never be closed. This is something that only happens once every decade. I think those who embrace new waves of technology such as wireless power early on will gain meaningful advantage in the marketplace.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow us at www.ossia.com/.
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.