March 2, 2017 | Written by: Karen Lewis and Ryan Boyles
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After yesterday’s Enabling IoT Platforms session at MWC 2017, we had a chance to interview Bragi’s Founder and CEO, Nikolaj Hviid, and Darko Dragicevic, Executive Vice President Partners and Solutions.
Bragi, a hot new startup focused on the future of cognitive and hearables, is living proof of how to take a beautiful idea and make it reality. Bragi believe design and functionality go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other. Creating something different (like a whole new category) doesn’t come without challenges, but when you realize the full impact good design can have on a user experience, it makes it all worthwhile.
Read the full interview to learn how Bragi are successfully navigating their way to The Fourth Platform.
What is Bragi? Tell us about the company and how you became interested in IoT.
Nikolaj Hviid (Bragi Founder and CEO): Bragi are makers of the World’s First Hearable with two products – The Dash, launched in early 2016 after a $3.3 million (USD) Kickstarter, and The Headphone, which hit the market in December. For us, IoT offers Hearables the opportunity to think beyond standard offerings of music and fitness tracking, a strategy many of our competitors have taken to market. We understand that the merging of Hearables and IoT will ultimately change how people interact, communicate and collaborate with each other.
What is a hearable and how are your hearables different from other connected devices?
Hviid: We’ve always seen The Dash as a small computer that just happens to rest in one’s ear. Technically it would qualify as a wearable, but Hearables naturally tap into our ability to communicate. We see the future where people look up, not down at a secondary device, to communicate more effectively. This ability to connect to the Fourth Platform is what sets us apart.
Figure 1: The Fourth Platform
What’s your vision for making wearables more industrial and ubiquitous?
Hviid: Streamlining connectivity from the wrist to the head/ears where it is more natural will create greater efficiencies in many professions. Take for instance, firefighters who use walkie-talkies to communicate with each other in the field. Equipping them with a hearable will allow them to speak with one another while having their hands free for other, more important uses.
The ability to look up, not down, opens up opportunities to do things better, quicker, more effectively than before.
What do you see as the biggest challenges you have to face as an IoT designer and manufacturer?
Hviid: The imagination is limitless, but creating new technologies that have never existed before is hard.
It took two years of development to bring The Dash to market after our Kickstarter. This includes a 12-month period from showing a prototype at CES 2015, to retail in early 2016. It’s not easy to build a device that incorporates many different components, including Bluetooth, sensors, microphones and internal storage, especially one the size of your fingernail.
Figure 2: The first years
There was an entirely different challenge once we hit the market last year. Was the product we produced of practical use to the consumer? For us, Bluetooth was an important part of The Dash, but we didn’t realize how important it was until hearing from our backers, reviewers and other Bragi fans. Then we took that advice and incorporated improvements into Bragi OS 2.0 and 2.1 software, not to mention The Headphone.
How has the partnership with IBM and the use of Watson IoT Platform helped you to move the needle forward for your business?
Darko Dragicevic (Bragi’s EVP of Partners and Solutions): Credibility and exposure. IBM has been, and will continue to be one of the world’s most innovative brands. Aligning Bragi’s vision with Watson IoT created a great deal of excitement for backers and supporters, many of whom bought into our vision way back in 2014. The partnership also symbolizes differentiation between Bragi and the rest of the market. It lends credibility to the idea that we’re not here to just make headphones, but a device that changes the way humans interact with technology. For our team, there was also great reward in knowing a company as prestigious as IBM had come to appreciate what we’ve built. That may be the greatest perk of the relationship.
Figure 3: Bragi and Watson IoT
How will cognitive set your hearables apart in the market place?
Hviid: Cognitive is one of the big reasons why many experts believe hearables could be a $20 billion industry by 2020. The opportunity for cognitive to expand hearables from a consumer product focused on music and streaming audio, to B2B, industrial and med-tech use cases will help drive that market growth.
Can you elaborate on your view of IoT and how you are realizing that vision through Bragi’s design technology?
Dragicevic: It goes back to the idea of a Fourth Platform. We’re looking at the cloud (Third Platform) merging with a new era of ambient and cognitive computing. For a device like The Dash, which rests on the ear instead of a smartphone, this opens up a dynamic array of contextual services, shared perception and learning, not to mention time augmentation.
Can you describe one or two of the industrial use cases you feel match your Bragi hearable solutions?
Dragicevic: We’re talking about any and all operations that would benefit from hands-free and eyes-free operation. Think about complex production and maintenance tasks where instructions could be transferred audibly instead of visually.
We’ve also seen a lot of potential in med-tech, especially if we can get The Dash to a point where its sensors could determine things like temperature and blood cell counts. This type of data could be critical in determining potential diagnosis for doctors, or helping an athlete maximize their abilities on the field of play.
If you were a mentor for other organizations wanting to be entrepreneurs or startups, what advice would you share?
Hviid: Give yourself plenty of cushion when it comes to deadlines. Sort through operations and logistics well in advance. Learn to say no, but gracefully. And, as a Kickstarter-backed company, always over-communicate with your backers.
What mistakes did you learn from?
Hviid: If you create a new category, like we did, there are bound to be mistakes along the way. You have to learn to accept them as part of the process. What makes a company stronger is how they respond from those mistakes and prevent them going forward.
You made it this far, what’s your next step?
Hviid: We’ve got a few big news items to share over the next 6-12 months that will continue to define Bragi’s place as a market-leader and innovator. Stay tuned.
What advice do you have for combining stunning design with functionality to help realize the potential of IoT?
Dragicevic: You can’t have one without the other. The best products leverage practical, if not stunning design with functionality. Those who miss one step will fail to realize the true potential of their product.
Figure 4: The Dash