ANDERS GUSTAFSSON, ZEBRA TECHNOLOGIES
ANDERS GUSTAFSSON CEO, ZEBRA TECHNOLOGIES
Zebra has recently been in the limelight lately for buying up a division of Motorola for US$3.45 billion. Who exactly is Zebra and what do you do?
If you’ve ever rented a car, or purchased anything at a retail store, most likely you’d haven gotten a receipt from one of our printers. Your driver’s license, ID card could have come from Zebra. There’s a whole raft of places where you may have come across technology powered by Zebra. Most people know us as a bar code company, but what we really do for our customers is increasing visibility of their operations. We do this by giving their assets a virtual voice.
What do you mean by a virtual voice?
This voice can be an active or passive bar code tag, RFID tag or other types of sensor technologies. This tag will be able to communicate something about an asset or a person—how it is, what it is, where it is—and send this data to various apps (for processing). This gives you realtime visibility to what’s happening in the physical world and connects the physical into the digital world so we can move faster and make better decisions.
How does the Motorola acquisition synergize with Zebra’s operations?
Well, we’ve worked together side by side for many years. We’re leaders in our respective fields; Zebra being bar code printing, while Motorola excels in data capture devices and mobile. What Zebra acquired from Motorola are scanning, mobile computers, wireless LAN and services. And strategically, this makes a lot of sense because we’re two sides of the same coin. We’re like cookies and milk, we just go together. By coming together, we’re able to offer a broader and more complete solution to our customers.
The Internet of Things comes up a lot these days, what is it really?
There are a few themes this addresses. First is mobility. In an enterprise environment, companies want their employees to be untethered to their desks and offices. They should be able to be productive in their jobs wherever they go. IoT goes back to what I mentioned about connecting the physical world to the digital world. The term was coined around 1998-1999 at MIT, and at the time, it was regarding RFID technology. Now, Zebra is a leader in RFID, but IoT has become much broader than that.
Today, people think of IoT as consumer devices and wearables. We approach it from an enterprise perspective (on how things are connected in the first place), which will impact upon end users.
From a company’s perspective, it’s about becoming as efficient as possible. If you can better understand the workflow in a supply chain or how merchandise moves through a retail shot, you can take advantage of that and drive up service levels and efficiency.
How does it affect the average consumer?
Let me give you an example of how IoT can be part of our world. We (Zebra) have a contract with the NFL (National Football League) in the U.S. to put active RFID on the players. So now, we can track the movement of all the players on the field, from how fast they run and how far they run, to smaller details like stamina and health, whether they favor their left or right leg more. All this data help provide things like real-time video overlays of playback and statistics. If you play games like fantasy football, this data can also be used to help improve realism in in consumer products.
Another example would be in retail through RFID. Take something simple like blue jeans, for example. They might look the same, but inventory-wise, you’ve got different sizes, lengths, cuts. You’ve got different shades of blue, pre-wash, stone-wash, etc. Imagine if you were a customer and you wanted something, but the store spends a long time searching and still cannot be sure if they have it in stock, you’d probably walk our frustrated. With RFID, the store can give every single pair of jeans a voice to say “I’m here”.
How do you see IoT evolving in the personal space?
I can see great applications for it, really. For example, Zebra has this software solution called Zatar. It’s kind of like Facebook for devices. You can create and avatar for your TV or printer or car in the cloud, allowing you to know all kinds of things about those devices in real time. We showcased this smart wine rack at the Cisco World Wide Internet of Things Forum, where you can keep track of what you have in each slot. Say you’re on a business trip and the most expensive bottle of wine is removed from the tray. You can call home and tell your 15-year old son to put it back.