Tech Startups Build Innovative AIoT Applications

Article By : EE Times Taiwan

At the recent TIE show, we caught up with tech startups & teams from nextDrive, AIWin, TMYTEK, imec Taiwan, and DSP Concept to share their creative and smart technologies...

“Internet of Things” (IoT) is becoming a key opportunity for developing emerging businesses. This is especially true as AI (artificial intelligence) integrated internet applications are developing rapidly, and more and more startups or research teams are integrating the domain know-how of their respective fields through big data analytics and landing various “AI+IoT” (AIoT) applications. This has created new applications based on smart voice, internet of energy (IoE), smart healthcare, smart manufacturing, and 5G connectivity.

According to predictions by market research company Fortune Business Insights, the global IoT market will exhibit rapid growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.7% and achieve a market scale of USD $1102.6 billion in 2026. Here, developments in AI-based technologies will become the main driving force in the growth of this market. Additionally, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic since early this year, Fortune Business Insights predicts that this will be a massive opportunity for industry innovation.

In order to grasp the enormous commercial opportunities of IoT (Internet of Things) and comprehensively utilize Taiwan’s industry advantages in ICT (information communications technology), the National Development Council (NDC) initiated the “Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan” (ASVDP) in June 2016 with the mission to “promote research and innovation in the IoT industry” and “establish a healthy startup ecosystem based on innovation.” The initiative drives the development of Taiwan’s IoT industries in the aspects of funding, talent, regulations, and markets while also supporting the growth of startups.

Over the past 4 years, ASVDP has been assertive in building an innovative startup ecosystem based on research and development. The program is connected to core global technology clusters and has introduced global resources and innovative capability to assist more than 78 Taiwanese startups in securing over USD $2 million in funding as well as supporting startups with opportunities in foreign markets.

We had the opportunity to interview several noteworthy startups from ASVDP at the Taiwan Innotech Expo (TIE) including nextDrive, AIWin, TMY Technology, imec Taiwan, and DSP Concept who shared their new and extremely creative smart technologies.

DSP Concept: “Sound” is the Key Element of Smart Products

DSP Concept, a company that identified market demand for smart voice control and advanced audio applications is focused on audio algorithm development tools and audio products. With support from ASVDP, the company has expanded their digital signal processing technology from Taiwan to Asia to drive development of innovative audio technology in the region.

DSP Concepts provides a standardized and advanced audio integration platform that allows chip vendors, semiconductor IP operators, ODM/OEMs, systems integration vendors, and third party algorithm providers to accelerate development of audio products through an intuitive audio processing software with a drag-and-drop UI that requires zero coding.

For IoT systems based on voice interfaces such as voice assistants, smart TVs and speakers, TalkTo AFE can utilize machine learning to deliver a crystal clear and quiet room experience. The TalkTo microphone processing algorithms instantly picks up wake-words and any given voice command even in the most noise-saturated environments, cancelling up to 30dB of unreferenced noise. The audio-processing engine AWE Core features a library of over 400 audio building blocks and support for hyper-efficient IoT devices to ultra-premium automotive systems, allowing for easier management and integration of embedded audio features, saving more than 90% in development time.

Audio Weaver Designer is a low-code/no-code graphical development platform that can facilitate optimized embedded signal processing in semiconductor wafers. This allows users to quickly manufacture, integrate, and deploy advanced audio functions.

As a native from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, DSP Concepts CEO and co-founder Chin Beckmann says: “Everything that’s smart begins by obtaining different data and in the current environment, sound is the key element for all smart products. DSP Concept’s innovative Audio Weaver is an open platform that will facilitate and accelerate the smart development of audio products.”

DSP Concepts demos their smart audio and noise cancelling solutions at TIE

IMEC: Smart Healthcare in the Post-Pandemic Era

The research institute IMEC, headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, saw Taiwan’s key role in the electronics supply chain and established IMEC Taiwan in 2008. In addition to proximity to the advanced manufacturing and development of semiconductor giant Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC), they have also begun to pay attention to the endless stream of innovation from rapidly emerging startups in Asia.

Steven Chao, Business Development Manager of IMEC says: “IMEC is highly interested in startup partners who have the ability to propose creative or new applications that are not seen in the market. These companies may be unfamiliar with related technology and electronic design, but this gives IMEC the prime opportunity to combine product design and technology.” Aside from focusing on forward-looking R&D of semiconductor manufacturing processes, IMEC seeks to work with European and Asian startups to develop technologies, chips, complete systems grade products, and assist with accelerating the development and launch of innovative products.

One of the strengths at IMEC is their expertise in advanced medical sensing technology. With support from ASVDP, IMEC demonstrated the results of their development in innovative smart healthcare at this year’s TIE. IMEC focuses on current medical sensing technology to provide wearable, implantable, ingestible, and non-contact solutions that provide real-time monitoring of physiological information in combination with algorithms for accurate medical recommendations. Ingestible sensing technology such as microelectronic pills integrated with wireless transfer, video, and sensing technology is expected to become a reality within 5-10 years. In the future, patients can simply swallow this plastic pill to clearly view their body’s internal condition without having undergo a painful gastroscopy or colonoscopy.

As the global pandemic continues, IMEC has been praised for developments in contact-less technologies such as the millimeter wave radar. Steven Chao mentions that the contact-less technology is integrated with a patented radar design and smart AI algorithm developed by IMEC to detect a patient’s physiological condition without the need for close contact. The technology can sense heartrate, breathing, and other micro vibrations for doctors to interpret symptoms and diagnose diseases.

IMEC demonstrates the results of their latest smart healthcare sensing technologies

NextDrive: Successful Entrance into Japan’s Energy Market

NextDrive is Taiwan’s first supplier to successfully enter Japan’s energy market. Based on the introduction given by the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Martita Yi, NextDrive was founded in 2013 for the production of their micro IoT wireless expandable hard drive Plug. The product was originally designed to work as an IoT hardware platform but fortunately, they received the attention of an energy systems integration company from Japan at an exhibition and began providing home energy management systems (HEMS) for Japanese households 4 years ago.

Using the simple method of a gateway and app, the system was gradually developed to become a comprehensive IoE (Internet of Energy) solution – this provided a comprehensive energy management platform from the end-user to the power company, allowing them to understand end-users’ energy consumption habits. The data collected and analyzed through this platform can be used to improve network application services.

NextDrive exhibited their smart energy gateway Cube at TIE. The product includes built-in communication interfaces such as Wi-SUN, Wi-Fi, and BLE, allowing it to connect wirelessly to smart electric meters and gather detailed electricity data through a dedicated app. Cube can also be paired with home electrical appliances using ECHONET Lite to regulate their electricity consumption. In addition to energy applications, the Cube gateway’s portable design allows it to be broadly integrated in multiple scenarios using IoT applications such as home security, access monitoring and control, and elderly care.

Their other product, Atto, is a smart gateway with both data collection and computing functions. Atto can collect data from smart electric meters through Wi-SUN and uses RS-485 and two USB ports to connect with solar panels, batteries, and other energy devices. The built-in nano SIM card uploads data to the cloud, thereby enhancing the reliability and stability of data transmission. By simply installing Atto in the home, one can easily and automatically collect data for electricity generation and usage as well as provide stable data transfer services.

Compared to competitor solutions, the strengths of NextDrive are in software/hardware integration and cloud services. Martita Yi states “while we produce gateways, we’re better defined as a software company. This is because our IoE system integrates hardware technology, internet connectivity, and services.” Additionally, she emphasizes that NextDrive has been working with professional enterprises in the field of energy since the beginning; not only have they received support to successfully enter into energy markets, this will also be beneficial in creating new paths in the future.

Cube smart energy gateway (above) and Atto data gateway (below) by NextDrive

AIWin: AI Integration with Image Recognition for Smart Factories

AIWin Technology is focused on utilizing AI and image recognition technology in quality inspection solutions for smart factories. The company’s General Manager, Aaron Lin Ph.D., introduced the company by mentioning that prior to being founded in 2016, the startup had already accumulated a significant amount of development experience in AI and deep learning and gradually developed creative industry solutions based on AI and image recognition.

Here, AIWin Technology discovered that “quality inspection” is especially critical for realizing AI and image recognition applications. For instance, clients are most focused on product quality control during the shipping process in smart factories; however, many products are still inspected manually. This is not only time consuming, but the accuracy of inspections may be impacted due to personal emotions or fatigue.

The feature of AIWin Technology’s product is helping clients create a “positive cycle” based on AI. Aaron Lin explains that “AI is like a child that requires humans to establish data, clean, and confirm the data before teaching (training) the AI, confirming if what they learned is correct (verification), and allow the AI to continue positive growth by pairing it with on-site staff. Finally, the AI will be developed enough to be deployed in various scenarios and complete missions (inferred).”

For instance, AI can be applied to quality inspection systems in the textiles industry. Previously, flaws in textile fabrics required manual labor to inspect each item. AIWin Technology combines AI technology with cameras so that AI learning systems can “learn” information about flaws and their classification, greatly reducing the burden on manual inspection.

Aaron Lin states that AIWin’s exclusive AI recognition technology has an accuracy of up to 95%. It can accurately recognize more than 6 types of flaws and defects with a speed of up to 25 m/min and optical accuracy of 0.14mm/pixel as well as quickly establish a sample data system. With machine support, smart factories can complete their tasks with more accuracy and efficiency, saving labor time by 30-50%.

AIWin Fabric AI-AOI can achieve up to 95% accuracy

TMYTEK: mmWave Startup Enters the 5G Fray

TMYTEK is a rare startup in the field of 5G mmWave. With the high technology thresholds of mmWave as well as massive competitors such as Qualcomm, how does a tiny startup find an entry point?

“What are the problems requiring solutions of mmWave in mobile communications? What is the industry lacking?” The company’s President, Su-Wei Chang, states that their passion allowed them to identify the demand for 5G development tools and production line testing, resulting in the development of 3 mmWave solutions.

Su-Wei Chang introduced the BBox (Beamforming Box) as the world’s first and only mmWave antenna system development kit; XBeam is an over-the-air (OTA) testing solution that replaces traditional mechanical scanning with digital scanning that performs at test speeds more than 20 times faster than current instruments and can test or analyze mmWave properties. Additionally, UD Box has broader applications, allowing operators to convert the up-down converters from 3G/4G era into high frequency mmWave from research and development to the end of the production line to greatly reduce the implementation costs of equipment for painless 5G upgrades.

TMYTEK provides in-house developed solutions from R&D and design to testing; manufacturing is handled by their domestic partners. Su-Wei Chang mentions that TMYTEK was planned to be fabless from the start, “Taiwan doesn’t lack manufacturers, but companies such as TMY with expertise in design and integration are rare. That’s why we hope to work closely with Taiwan’s 5G ecosystem to create synergy that exceeds 1+1>2.”

They completed their latest round of fundraising in September and TMYTEK expects to reach 400 million in capital. They have successfully attracted investments from many partners and successfully integrated their ecosystem; their next step is to enter the network structure supply chains of telecom companies and look to expand into international markets.

TMYTEK aims to release the 5G RU AiP module in 2021 to complete the last piece of their product lineup.

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