A vision for sustainable innovation

A short while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Derek Mak, who founded the company, 99Bridges in 2019.  He had a clear and ambitious mission: to use technology to power the transition to a circular economy. Derek’s long-term vision calls for innovation in recycling, reusing, refilling, repurposing, reducing and renewing – all with an eye toward changing long-ingrained consumer habits that are highly detrimental to the environment.

“The goal is to create tools that help people change the way we live…It’s not about doing one thing differently. As consumers, we need to change many habits in order to restore and protect the environment.”

As a starting point, 99Bridges is focusing on innovation that encourages uptake of and greater consumer engagement around reusable shopping bags.

“Plastic bags are convenient, but they’re used for an average of 12 minutes. Reusable shopping bags have been around for years, but too often they’re forgotten in the car,” Derek notes. “A growing number of retailers and consumers are recognizing the need for a better approach.”

The Mosaic solution, now being piloted by the Consortium of Retailers, including Walmart, Target, and CVS Health, uses “smart bags” in a different way. When consumers reach the checkout, the retail cashier asks if they would like to buy a bag or borrow one for a refundable fee. If they hold on to the bag and continue to reuse it, they can download a mobile app and get rewards points every time they use it. The Mosaic solution is bag agnostic, meaning it can power any smart bags embedded with a standard QR code and/or RFID chip.

Architecting for sustainability

When it was time to choose a technology infrastructure, Derek chose a solution that uses RFID chips in the re-usable bags. Sensors and scanners at store checkouts detect when a bag is borrowed, returned, or re-used. The data from the scanners and sensors is sent to IoT controllers at each checkout.

To make this work, 99Bridges needed a router that could provide connectivity to the IoT controllers with a form factor that was sufficiently compact for use in retail stores. The selected router needed to be rugged, able to stand up to the dust and dirt in this environment, and not require delicate handling by retail employees. Just as important was the ability to capture, process, and both send and store data at the network edge. At the same time, Derek needed to ensure that the service would be reliable and wouldn’t need constant manual checking of the IoT controllers. This meant that he needed a way to check the status of the controllers and maintain them remotely. And he needed visibility of the connectivity to the edge devices and controllers. Also, as he plans to roll out the service further, he needed a solution that would scale easily.

“I was familiar with Cisco’s products and knew that the Cisco Catalyst IR1100 Rugged Series Routers would meet our requirements,” he says.

“We store a few days’ worth of data on every IR1101, using the on-board compute,” he explains. “That way we have a local fallback if the network goes down for any reason, and don’t need additional storage hardware.”

Single dashboard for monitoring and maintaining the network and devices

99Bridges is using Cisco IoT Operations Dashboard and its new feature Secure Equipment Access for monitoring and maintenance activities. IoT Operations Dashboard is used to provision and monitor the Cisco routers and provides visibility of connectivity right through to the connected IoT controllers. And Derek tells me “We use Secure Equipment Access to connect to all IoT controllers at the store. We can remotely check the status of the controllers as well as reboot them if necessary. We use it to manage the in-store infrastructure. I receive an alert right to my Apple Watch in the event the system is down”.

“As we start to collect large sets of data about consumers’ recycling and shopping habits, there will be tremendous value in understanding and fine-tuning engagement,” he explains. “For retailers, we want to create a ‘single pane of glass’ where they can monitor their equipment, and view statistics about how the smart bags have moved between their own and other retailers’ locations.” Those kinds of insights can help not only in reinforcing sustainable habits but also in creating personalized promotions.

Looking to the future, Derek has plans to evolve the 99Bridges innovations further. In the meantime, he continues to focus on advancing the 99Bridges mission – one bottle, one bag, or one reusable at a time. He calls Mosaic the Reusable-OS for the sustainable generation.

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Angela Murphy

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Cisco IoT