BTE: Who do you foresee being your primary competitors in the long term as more cell phone manufacturers begin installing NFC technology into their phones?
John Peeters: We patented early and at the moment on the sensor side we don’t see any real competitors. Anyone interested in NFC should (beyond Apple) be watching Google, Microsoft and Samsung because they are all integrating NFC. It can be expected that these companies will be competing aggressively for this market, as evidenced already by the acquisition of Motorola by Google. Gentag co-owns with Motorola several NFC patents.
BTE: But you don’t see those four companies becoming direct competitors to you guys, you see your platform as a complement to the platforms they develop, correct?
John Peeters: That is correct. We don’t make the chip that goes inside the cell phones, we make the complementary chips that go on the patient’s body or in the smart bandage worn by the patient. We are working with NXP, who makes the NFC chips for the cell phones to ensure worldwide compatibility.
BTE: So you mentioned having a few existing licensees, how did you engage these partners and how was the technology customized for them? Did you conduct clinical trials of the product for them or did they get involved very early in the process?
John Peeters: Companies come to us and ask if we can build a custom sensor for a particular vertical market. We then design and test the product for the licensee, fill in any Intellectual Property gaps for that sub-market, then the final stage is to make the product. The companies we are working with conduct their own clinical trials with patients and then take the product to market. We believe this model is the most efficient for us.
BTE: It sounds to me like you have a similar vision to Proteus Biomedical when it comes to medication sensors, is that a fair assessment?
John Peeters: In some ways we are similar to Proteus, but we are also quite different. Gentag’s main focus is non-invasive, passive wireless solutions.
BTE: So I was reading about the geofencing technology you have developed and it looks like it’s very different from the NFC stuff you have done. What are the potential applications for this technology?
John Peeters: The original technology called Radar Responsive (RR) tags was developed for the US government. It is a long range indoor geolocation technology. The technology led to E911 (emergency geolocation of calls made by cell phones). Still today if you make a call to an emergency response center from inside a building people will not know precisely where you are, but with the RR technology you can pinpoint the location. Little is published about the technology also known as “Blue Force” tracking. One potential application would be locating firefighters inside a burning building.
BTE: Wow, that is very cool stuff. So really it allows you to narrow down a very general location to a very specific location?
John Peeters: Yes, it is like super RFID but using a different frequency and technology. The cool thing about this technology is that you could use RR tags as “stickers” that can be put on cell phones to geolocate them. In the long term this technology could be embedded in cell phones, – like NFC.
BTE: So do you guys develop apps to complement the sensors or are you guys strictly working on the sensor-side?
John Peeters: Each sensor has its own unique ID, which allows a consumer or patient to connect a given sensor with a custom application via the “cloud”. We currently have partners developing apps since we cannot do everything. This technology is quite similar to what is being used today for credit card payments. With your credit card you connect your personal bank information with a unique ID and can pay anywhere worldwide. We believe this technology will work the same way for diagnostics.
BTE: So I work with a company here in Chicago developing a real-time seizure monitoring technology which utilizes smartphones to track patient’s EEG data in real time and trigger alerts for clinical neurologists when a seizure is detected. Do you foresee NFC being useful for this type of monitoring or do you think this is more appropriate for Bluetooth exclusively?
John Peeters: Bluetooth allows for the transfer of much more data than NFC over much greater distances. NFC is short range and is conducive for passive disposable wireless sensors. The two are complementary and both will work with the same handset. Let’s take the example of a patient leaving the hospital who is given an NFC sensor patch to wear. The hospital can then set times to automatically ping the patient’s cell phone at home. The patient can then swipe their NFC handset over the area where the sensor is placed and the data is sent back to the hospital. You can think of NFC as essentially a stripped down sensor that leverages the power of the cell phone and the networks and is disposable. Bluetooth is not disposable and needs a battery.
BTE: How much do you foresee these types of sensors costing consumers ultimately?
John Peeters: It all depends on volume. For high volume consumer markets we expect the sensors to cost less than $1 each. Certain diagnostic sensors, such as pressure sensors, need to be hand calibrated and will cost more. We believe that NFC will allow significant cost savings across all medical areas. There is no question it is cheaper to supply a patient with a disposable sensor package kit complete with low cost cell phone than it would be to keep that same patient in the hospital. This technology essentially allows the phone to become the nurse in the patient’s home. The technology is incredibly simple to use. Our belief is that NFC sensors will revolutionize medicine as we know it today.