Iterview: Peter McKee, Frogblue
Mr/Ms …, tell us something about yourself, your educational and professional background and experience?
I was born and educated in Scotland. I have been living and working in sales and marketing in Germany since 1985. In 2000 I joined Dr Ralf Hinkel at MOBOTIX to build a Global Partner Network and I have been in the IT/Security/Intelligent Solutions industry ever since.
How did everything started with frogblue? At first, it was technology company Abionix, founded in 2014, which later transitioned into the Frogblue Technology GmbH. When and how did you come up with the idea to start this company, how was that transition like, what were the most important milestones, how many employees do you have now and where do you sell your products?
The company was founded in 2014 by Rene Hinkel and his father Dr Ralf Hinkel. Rene had studied dimming electronics as the topic of his bachelors degree and at Abionix he started to develop a robust, reliable and affordable dimming solution. He quickly realized that this solution had much more potential than just dimming lights and the vision of frogblue was born. After looking at the existing market Rene and Dr Hinkel were convinced that there were no other manufacturers focusing on a high quality, easy to install, easy to expand, easily affordable and secure solution. One of the main elements of this solution had to be a reliable and globally accepted communication method between the devices so Rene and Dr Hinkel chose a Bluetooth LE solution enhanced by frogblue to give it quicker response time. Because the solution is environmentally friendly (green) and the messages and commands “hop” from one device to another the name frogblue seemed an obvious choice. We currently have around 60 employees split between hardware and software development, sales and marketing and our technical / sales support team who are also available to assist our partners in project planning. Frogblue are currently active throughout Europe and also as far away as Australia and Japan.
With frogblue everything is smart: from lighting and access control to living and sleeping. Tell us more about your system: what is it based on, how does it uses the frogs to combine all aspects of smart buildings into one solution, what are its major features?
Frogblue is based on a concept and a vision that reaches far into the future, we have a comprehensive and robust roadmap which is already entering the next phase with new products and powerful new software management Apps.
This future proof concept is made possible through a combination of robust reliable hardware and intelligent powerful software. Every frog has the built-in intelligence and logic to receive, analyze and forward messages and command to every other frogblue device in the system.
For example, the frogs that are controlling the internal and external lighting can communicate with the frogs that are controlling the garage and front door lock so when a person activates the garage door using his frogblueApp or frogKey(intelligent transponder) the lights leading to the house and inside the hallway will automatically go on and the door will unlock either immediately or on a time delay. All of this can be configured to only happen under set parameters – only at night, when its dark, after a certain time. If a window is open the heating system will be alerted, if a door is open an alarm will be sent, if the humidity goes up the ventilation will be turned on – the interaction possibilities are endless.
You market frogblue as “easy to install”. What do you imply by that? Do you need any additional IT maintenance?
Because we use an intelligent Bluetooth LE mesh network as each frog is added to the system they automatically – without any configuration- join the mesh network. As long as you have 100V-230V power the system is up and running. The Bluetooth LE Mesh network does not require, for example, the hardware installation and software configuration that a wireless based network would require. The frogs do not require a central unit or an internet connection in order to be configured or to operate. There is no need for complicated IT installation or maintenance. There is no cabling required (green, environmentally friendly). The frogs do not take up valuable space in the sub-distribution cabinet of the building. Once the frogs are installed they immediately start working in default mode – on/off and dimming functions are instantly available.
Is frogblue expandable? Can a company, for instance, install frogblue modules and accessories into one building and expand it later to another one in close proximity?
Scalability is an integral part of frogblue philosophy. In fact because of the intelligence in each frog you can introduce the “smart” concept into any home or building with just one frog. For example a frogDim2-2 with two outputs and two inputs is capable of providing an intelligent dimming solution for two 300W light circuits . This could be an open plan dinning room set up or a combined bedroom bathroom solution – with just one frog. This is also important from an affordability aspect. the user is not forced into a higher investment by having to buy an additional central unit to make the system work. If for example an office building decided they wanted to install an intelligent control system for their window shutters frogblue would be the solution, if they then wanted to enhance the effectiveness of that solution by integrating the lighting solution with the shutter system frogblue could be easily installed. They could then gradually integrate the door entry system, the heating, the alarms, the ventilation and have everything managed intelligently via time settings, temperature, humidity, motion, open door and window notifications, Astro function, and many more sensor based inputs. The system can be extended to buildings close by and far away via the frogDisplay which acts as a gateway as well as, among other things, a central control panel for setting preconfigured scenes and scenarios, controlling heating, viewing security cameras.
The robust quality of the frogblue hardware is only half the story. Frogblue also provides management software. How does it get the most out of these high-quality hardware products?
We have the software to make our hardware smart. Our dedication to intelligent software development is what differentiates us from the competition and allows us to plan for the future. Our frogs already have embedded functionalities that will be improved and increased with subsequent – free of charge- software releases. The logic module inside each frog gives us “if this then that” based capabilities. If this happens then the frogs should do that, if that happens then then the frogs should do this but only if that happens under certain conditions and only at certain times of the day/week/year/ at other times only selected frogs should react in another way – logic based software.
The frogs connect wirelessly via frogblue Bluetooth mesh network. How do you create a virtual cable between these devices?
By giving an output and an input the same name – kitchen light, back door, bathroom ventilator, security light etc- you immediately create a virtual cable between devices with no need for drilling, laying cables, re-plastering and painting. Each frog input and output is capable of receiving and sending multiple commands so without any physical cabling one frog in the system can be giving and receiving commands from multiple frogs within the system. For example in panic mode one frog can tell all other frogs in the building to turn on and off, if someone comes home to an empty house in the dark one click will turn on all lights in the house.
The major concern with the smart building is the level of security from data breach and cyber attacks aimed at taking control over the system. What did you do to make your system as secure as possible?
Security was a major factor in deciding to go with Bluetooth. Bluetooth has its own embedded encryption to which we added the frogblue 128bit encryption. We also have an embedded time stamp in every communication that is sent by the frogs. This time stamp is accurate to a split second and once the message has been sent it cannot be used again and every frog in the system will recognize this.
Your company is VDE-certified. What does it represent?
VDE stands for Verband der Elektrotechnik, Elektronik und Informationstechnik. It represents the highest standard of electrical and fire testing available in Germany. Each product is given over 100 safety tests and frogblue passed every one. The VDE certification represents safety and this is very important for both user and installer. The products are tested and inspected for electrical, mechanical, thermal, toxic, radiological and other hazards and have been proven to be completely safe.
Co-founder of frogblue, Dr. Ralf Hinkel, has also founded MOBOTIX AG, a developer of IP cameras and software with about 400 employees and other High tech business . One can assume that frogblue product is well integrated with the offerings of MOBOTIX. What are the benefits of such interaction of three companies for the end user.
There are really limitless benefits to the experience gained from starting and growing MOBOTIX from a start-up company with under 20 employees to a company with an annual revenue of over €80 million and 400 hundred employees. Many of the people responsible for the hardware and software development at frogblue were involved with developing the innovative software that put MOBOTIX in a class of its own. There are certain synergies to be drawn between the two companies – Decentralised concept, every device is a system within itself, distributed intelligence, no central point of failure, powerful software enabling high quality robust hardware. We have naturally integrated a lot of the intelligent functionality of the MOBOTIX cameras into the frogblue solution so that it is now possible to wirelessly connect both systems and use the multiple sensor and notification capabilities of each to further expand the overall effectiveness of the system. For example the a MOBOTIX camera can now interact with security lights or gates based on motion detection without any cabling necessary or a MOBOTIX thermal camera could also control the ventilation system in an industrial setting – again the possibilities are almost endless.
So although frogblue are still a young dynamic forward looking company we have many years of experience in innovative solutions development and supporting a global network of partners.
Are your products applicable to any type of buildings? Who are your major customers? Could you present or enlist a couple of case studies (give us an info on specific projects, how many and what kind of devices you used, what were customer expectations and results)?
Frogblue solutions can be used in any type of building whether it is a private residence or a commercial building. Because of the ease of installation frogblue is also ideal for retrofits and renovations in old buildings where a smart solution is desired but the cost and disruption of a new installation is prohibitive. To date we have installed frogblue solutions in private homes, holiday homes, hotels, commercial properties, renovated and new apartment buildings, industrial premises. Some examples that I can give you are a renovated villa in France with 130 frogs, industrial food processing plant in Ireland with about 40 frogs giving them a safe secure and switchless lighting and safety control solution, renovated apartment building in Belgium with over 180 frogs and 40 frogDisplay and frogAccess devices controlling every aspect of the building. Last year we also got involved with an installation in a winery that started with an intended 40 frogs for guest chalets and ended up with over 400 frogs covering not only the comfort in the accommodation but also the commercial and retail applications of the winery. This year we are starting another winery installation with over 1000 frogs planned. Another successful project was the upgrading of the lighting system in a major bank in Eastern Europe. The frogblue solution is very flexible and has something to offer in every type of building and installation.
The koronavirus pandemic has affected the smart building and security markets. Was your company affected as well and how did you adapt to this situation? In your opinion, when can we expect the market to recover?
Sadly the Corona pandemic has effected almost everybody and every industry however we have to be thankful that frogblue has continued to grow at a high rate and we will always keep looking forward. At frogblue we have been using this time to get our new products to market and work with our partners on educating them in the frogblue solutions. Generally preparing for a bright, optimistic and successful future. We already see markets recovering in many areas. I expect that construction and renovation projects will be among the first to bounce back. There is also a much higher awareness of not only what constitutes a safe and comfortable office environment but also the need to adapt to the changes brought about by having less people in the office and using resources in the most intelligent and economical way.
You are strongly positioning yourself in Adriatic region. Who are your major partners in the area, are you pleased with the sales results and growth? Where do you see possible improvements?
Together with our partner TEND we are setting up a frogblue Competence Center to provide local technical ,sales and marketing support. TEND have been a partner of ours since the very early days of MOBOTIX, almost 20 years.From this base we will train and support our new partners that come on board.
Frogblue are at the start of a very promising future in the Adriatic region and we are looking for the right partners to accompany us on the journey. If any of your readers are interested then they should contact Ales Polajnko at email@example.com