Cosmo Iacavazzi

Rivit’s Technology

Corrections or additions?

Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 22, 2000. All rights reserved.

For Rivit, Calling All Cars

Gadget collectors and technophiles will not be surprised

but in less than two years, your car could be wired to the Web. Auto

manufacturers already agree on it — as of 2002, new cars will

be outfitted with something called an Intelligent Data Bus (IDB),

a standard networking port that will connect a car to a full range

of consumer electronics devices, such as navigation and anti-theft

systems, personal digital assistants, pagers, and of course, the Internet.

The IDB, in all likelihood, will be a small, plug-in under the dashboard

that acts like a portal to the car’s nervous system. Mechanics would

rely on it for diagnostic purposes. However, it could also perform

some neat tricks for car owners. Say your oil needs changing, for

example — you get an E-mail telling you it’s time to visit the

mechanic. If you have a navigation system, the IDB would enhance its

accuracy by noting information from the odometer and the differentials

in the wheels to get an accurate fix on the vehicle’s location.

The IDB may be lost on the average driver — just as VCR timers

are lost on the average home video watcher. But for companies with

hundreds of cars and trucks as a primary asset the IDB will be the

key to business in the 21st century — the automotive equivalent

of the Universal Bar Code.

Car rental agencies are already talking about how the IDB would streamline

their operations, cut down on vehicle wear and tear, and eliminate

the middleman. Currently rental companies track their vehicles manually,

but with the right wireless technology, each time a vehicle pulls

on or off the lot, the vital statistics of the car — identification,

fuel level, mileage — could be gathered and sent directly to a

computer.

Anticipating the IDB revolution, National Car Rental, one of the three

largest car rental companies, approached Sarnoff Corporation about

developing the technology to fulfill this vision. Could Sarnoff develop

a simple wireless communications device that plugs into cars, reads

information, and sends it back to the Web?, they asked.

The answer: Rivit, a Sarnoff spin-off that is developing a device

that plugs into cars and does just that. The four-person firm recently

completed and demonstrated a prototype that plugs into GM vehicles

made after 1996 (which have something similar to an IDB port located

under the steering column) and uses radio frequency identification

technology (RFID) to send messages back to a remote device. The end

goal is to develop a standard wireless tracking device that plugs

into the IDB, but in the meantime, Rivit is also developing a device

that can be hardwired into cars that pre-date that IDB — the majority

of the cars on the road.

Heading up the company is Cosmo Iacavazzi, an entrepreneur and member

of Princeton’s Class of 1965 and an All-American football player.

Like his even more famous classmate, Bill Bradley, Iacavazzi was more

than just a jock. Even as he pursued a brief professional football

career immediately after graduation, he was also earning a master’s

in aeronautical engineering from Princeton. But it was his entrepreneurial

spirit, rather than engineering expertise, that got him the Rivit

job, he says. "Sarnoff had a prototype," says Iacavazzi. "It

was a matter of solidifying the business relationships with potential

customers. My job is to start to bring in people and further to develop

the business plan."

Car rental agencies and any company with a fleet transportation

unit are Iacavazzi’s most obvious clients, but beyond its applications

as an asset management tool, Iacavazzi foresees Rivit’s technology

being used in various other ways — to solve traffic flow problems

on the highway, simplify the fleet fueling process, or even, if applied

to people, used as a data collection tool for marketing. "In the

end, we’ve got interesting technology," he says, "but it’s

really the application that counts."

Radio frequency identification technology of the sort behind Rivit

has already produced a broad range of products on the market —

shoplifting tags to trip alarms, identification cards that lift gates

and open doors. Rivit, therefore, is hardly alone in this market,

but its technology does have some unique attributes, says Jonathan

Schepps, technical group leader of Radio Frequency Data Systems at

Sarnoff, the department from which Rivit was spun-off. "There

are lots of RFID devices on the market," he says, "but what

makes Rivit unique is that it’s probably the lowest cost solution

for a tag that can acquire external data from a vehicle and transmit

that relatively long distances."

Long distance, in this case, means a range of roughly 100 feet. EZ

pass and shoplifting tags, by comparison, have a range of only a few

feet. Rivit currently holds three patents on its device, which includes

a transponder, or tag, that plugs into the vehicle (or is hard-wired

in older cars), and a receiver, located outside the vehicle. In the

case of the car rental industry, the receiver would be located on

the lot, well within the 100 feet parameter.

"Our approach to the design of the tags is to keep it as simple

as possible," says Iacavazzi. "It’s relatively low cost and

it can literally plug into the vehicle and read mileage, fuel, as

well as location and identification — we’re the only tag manufacturer

that can do that. The tag plus installation could be installed for

roughly $50. Our goal is to get it to about half that price."

Top Of Page
Cosmo Iacavazzi

The second of five children of a trucking company owner, Iacavazzi

grew up in football country, Scranton, Pennsylvania, the only one

of his siblings to attend an Ivy League college. At Princeton Iacavazzi

captained the last undefeated football team and was an All American

fullback and linebacker. He went on to play one year with the New

York Jets, but then went into "financial engineering" with

Smith Barney.

Iacavazzi spent 12 years as an investment banker, including a stint

with William Sword in Princeton. Then cable television launched Iacavazzi’s

entrepreneurial career in the late 1970s and early `80s. He competed

for and won a franchise of a cable television company, Com Video Systems,

which went on to win an award from the New Jersey Cable TV Association

for technical excellence — it used fiber optics and was one of

the first systems to offer 50 channels. "I tend to try to look

ahead to see what’s happening technically," he says.

In the 1980s, Iacavazzi sold the cable business to form a real estate

development company, Marjen Management, which built such projects

as the Seasons (a housing development in Hillsborough), Your Doctors

Care (a medical facility), the Courtyard (seven office buildings in

Hillsborough), and Bedminster Medical Plaza. The real estate recession

caught up with him, however, and he went through a bankruptcy in 1992.

About that time he joined REEP, founded by his former Princeton football

teammate Lynn Sutcliffe in 1981, a service contractor to eight utility

companies that installed insulation to reduce energy use and also

tested the air for radon and the water for pollutants. When Iacavazzi

came on board, Sutcliffe moved over to focus on the South Plainfield-based

firm, Sycom. Iacavazzi planned to expand Energy Retrofit Systems,

first regionally, then nationally. "Once I left the finance world,

my career has pretty much been company building, seeing an idea and

a technology, focusing more on the application of it rather than the

technology," says Iacavazzi, who now lives in Princeton with his

wife, a nurse at the Princeton Medical Center. They have four grown

children.

Earlier last year Iacavazzi joined Sarnoff as a consultant. "I

know the quality of the Sarnoff technology — that’s really exciting,"

he says. "The real trick is to bridge the gap between the potential

and the actual. Can we really create value?"

Top Of Page
Rivit’s Technology

The practicality of Rivit’s technology hinges on its compatibility

with various vehicle makes and models, and until the Intelligent Data

Bus becomes the universal standard in all cars, the onus is on companies

like Rivit to close the gap between incompatible technologies. For

example, GM cars created after 1996 all have a plug-in port that Iacavazzi

calls a "Model T of the Intelligent Data Bus," but the computer

language operative in each model varies. "The engineers each came

up with their own standards, their own flavor," says Iacavazzi.

The first challenge for Rivit is to develop a single plug-in device

that speaks all of those languages. The second challenge is to create

an "analog" tag that can be used by the majority of vehicles

that have no digital plug-and-play port at all. This would involve

hardwiring a device directly into the electronic system of a car.

"We’d wire into the mileage for example, get an impulse, and read

the mileage," says Iacavazzi. With the "analog" tag, car

rental agencies could retrofit older vehicles with the same kind of

device that the IDB accommodates more readily.

Finally, Rivit is working to develop a tag that will be compatible

with the IDB device that will be in cars manufactured in 2002. To

that end, Iacavazzi has been working closely with the IDB Forum (www.idbforum.org,

724-942-3636), the Pittsburgh-based organization of 63 companies creating

a standard for the IDB by 2002.

Once the Intelligent Data Bus becomes a fixture in most vehicles,

it paves the way for new applications of Rivit’s technology, not just

on the car lot, but also on the highway. "We’re not going to double

the amount of highways, but we’re going to double the amount of traffic,

so we need to move cars better," says Iacavazzi, who predicts

that RFID technology will be used to alert drivers to bottlenecks,

prevent tailgating, and change signals when necessary. Rivit just

received a $250,000 grant from the New Jersey Commission on Science

and Technology to continue developing the technology for transportation

purposes.

Iacavazzi sees Rivit’s technology expediting the fleet fueling process.

"Now a driver pulls up to the company pump, inputs some information

such as car ID, and then the pump authenticates that information and

releases gas," he says. "With our tag, the moment the vehicle

drives up to the pump that information is transmitted."

Since Rivit’s technology works so well at tracking cars, theoretically,

is should be able to track other things just as well. People, for

example. "We could very simply put a battery in it, and you could

attach it to your person and it would be like a pager," says Iacavazzi.

"We’ve had preliminary talks with Disney and Carnival Cruises.

For customer service reasons, they want to know where their employees

are. From a marketing point of view, if Disney sees that you’re always

stopping at this certain group of stores, they’d like to know that."

It’s still some time before people-tracking gets serious, though.

"You’re talking about getting the tags down to $1," says Iacavazzi,

"but that’s three or four generations from now." Football

fans might think of it as second down and short, with the handoff

to Iacavazzi up the middle.

by Melinda Sherwood

Rivit Systems, 201 Washington Road, Sarnoff Corporation,

Princeton 08540. Cosmo Iacavazzi, president and CEO. 609-734-3207;

fax, 609-734-2992.


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