If things go its way, you may soon be hearing more about Bionym, if not using its product. The spin-off from the University of Toronto has been developing a wristband that distinguishes wearers by their heartbeat. The big idea: there’s no reason to use keys and pass codes and credit cards when we can be identified instead through our unique electrocardiography.
A lot of pieces have to fall into place for the wristband, called the Nymi, to work out. But because the potential also seems substantial, I asked company president Andrew D’Souza to walk me through what’s happening as the company prepares to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a Series A round that it’s closing.
I know the company’s founders studied biometrics and cryptography at the University of Toronto. What’s the core technology here?
It’s a set of algorithms that helps identify you based on your unique ECG. This was a tech licensing company initially, but we realized the way this functionality should be put out in the world is through a wearable wristband.
Which still hasn’t been produced yet, is that right?
We’ll start the production efforts over the summer and expect to ship the first 10,000 [units] next fall.
How confident are you of that?
It’s a fair question. [The successful production of the Nymi] was the biggest risk for me in joining the company [last year]. But we bought in James Elson, who led the complete product development cycle for the AirHog, the best-selling radio-controlled helicopter in the world. He has shipped about 8 million units, spent a third of his career in China, and has all kinds of relationships and knows what to ask.
How is the Nymi designed, loosely?
It’s basically a polymer wrapped around a hard plastic puck that houses the electronics, like a Fitbit, which also has an enclosed puck. Jawbone’s UP band and Nike’s FueldBand use flex circuits, which introduce more manufacturing risk.
Something like 2.7 million people have already purchased wearable bands, most of them fitness trackers – and most of them Fitbits. Is there any concern over asking people to put another piece of hardware around their wrist?
No, we think the wearable market is where mobile was in the ’90s. Most of the devices sold so far have a single use case – like tracking steps, or notifying me when I get texts. Going forward, we’ll see platforms emerge. When Apple announces its iWatch, [it’s likely to be] a health-focused platform. Android Wear, [Google’s software platform for wearables] will [center] on context-aware, location-based services. We think there’s also an opportunity for an [identity-centric] personalized platform, and that there’s a market of people who will prefer it.
What about all the peripherals you’ll need for Nymi to work?
We’ve had phenomenal interest from Fortune 100 companies about building applications integrations into some of their products. We have an open SDK, so in the same way that people build apps on iPhones, we’re giving early access to key partners [to create related apps]. Essentially, we want to allow people to bypass whatever credential they use and use Bionym as a proxy for it, from laptops and smart phones to payment companies to home security.
More than 7,000 developers have signed up for the SDK – from college students to major corporations. That’s what we’re most excited about.
You’re accepting pre-orders at your site. Will you sell exclusively through the site or will people be able to order the Nymi through major retailers?
Amazon is essentially ready to start selling and other major retailers have reached out about listing us. But we’ve been hesitant to go to physical or digital retail until we know exactly why people are ordering our devices and who they are.
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