Max Ruffo is the founder and CEO of Terabee. Prior to Terabee, Max was a pioneer of the 3D printing industry and headed a Boeing R&D centre department for advanced manufacturing. With a PhD in innovation and new technology introduction, Max is always at the forefront of disruptive new technologies and high-growth businesses.
How did you become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
Our primary expertise is in Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor technology, also called Lidar. With this, we build intelligent 3D sensors that capture people's presence and their movements. After exploring the smart building sector we saw an opportunity to enter the people counting market with innovative people counting solutions at disruptive prices.
What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
Terabee is excited to play its part in the green revolution and modernisation of how people interact with the built environment. Some of our early customers have used our people counting solutions to optimise the efficiency of their HVAC systems, to reduce their carbon footprint and to reduce energy expenditure. And even more gains can be made by using real estate more smartly, including its facility management. With changes in the way people use office spaces and more flexible working environments, people counting solutions can increase building usage efficiency and personal productivity.
Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of?
3D Time-of-Flight (ToF) is quite new in smart buildings, and it brings a number of advantages over CCTV and Stereo vision cameras, typically used for people counting. ToF has a price advantage over stereo vision and for countries where GDPR compliance is mandated, ToF has the added advantage of being privacy friendly (GDPR-compliant) by virtue of physics. Because ToF cameras build a simulated image based only on distance data the devices simply cannot construct an image capable of understanding a personal identity. With ToF technology we can supply multiple solutions at different price points, from €129 to €659 depending on the Field of View and complexity of on-board software. In this way we can enable people counting for applications that previously would have been cost-prohibitive.
What services does your organisation offer?
We supply hardware for smart building systems integrators, supported by device management subscriptions. We can also provide a simple IoT portal for product testing or for clients with less complex data analysis and visualisation needs.
Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
Everyone seems to be knowledgeable on privacy compliance, and claims it is of paramount importance (especially in Europe). However, we have unfortunately experienced some cases where words and facts do not match - a clear example was the advent of thermal scanners in the form of “Chinese tablets” which were clearly taking the picture of the person who’s temperature was being measured. At Terabee, we care about the law and especially the respect for people, thus every single product we make follows rules and respects the morale of our society.
What are the benefits of a smart building?
We see smart building benefits in terms of better utilisation of the built environment, better user experiences, increased energy efficiency and cost savings. But understanding how your building is really used, the people traffic within it, peaks and troughs and so on, means that cost and energy savings can be made. You can also manage your staffing levels according to actual building usage metrics.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
Maybe Prof. Phill Dickens from my times at Loughborough University. He made me realize how important people are, and that cutting the right, undisturbed time for people is of paramount importance even with a fully busy schedule.
What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
Honestly, the question I get asked most often is about the name Terabee and where that came from! I came up with Terabee on the basis that sensors generate lots of data and bees are intelligent, hard working animals that fly. At that time we were mostly building sensors for the fledgling drone industry, but our remit has since expanded.
What are the best/worst things about your job?
The best part is building a team, investing in people, seeing them grow and seeing their impact on the business. I also love the process of new technology innovation, and it is no accident that I lead a high-technology company, having previously worked with Boeing at a UK research centre. The worst part is probably the burden of dealing with legal and statutory compliance. It’s fine, but it’s not as exciting as developing class-leading products and bringing them to new and exciting markets.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Entrepreneurship is hard, and it always leads to a very long mountain uphill path where very quickly you’ll find yourself alone (yes, alone, independently of the Company setup). Before enrolling in such a journey, make sure you have clear what your personal drivers are, and that you have the energy to walk far. Clearly, there are many painful but also beautiful features and experiences on that path, so the journey is always fulfilling and worth it, independently of where it leads.
What living person do you admire and why?
Probably, Elon Musk. I admire his willingness to take on enormous challenges and to think big, yet remain pragmatic and practical. He managed to advance everyone around him, without ever stopping, even in front of the strongest critics.
Where would you most like to live?
We’ve based Terabee just outside of Geneva. It’s a superb area with good access to transport, lakes, mountains and a good climate. I think I’m already in the ideal place.
What is your favourite book?
A whole new mind, by Daniel Pink - a modern view on a socio-economic changing era, very well argumented.
How do you relax?
I used to be a skydiving instructor, paraglider and a rock-climber/mountaineer. I’m more calm now, but I still like to get into the mountains, ski, mountain bike and hike. I teach off-piste skiing in winter for a couple of ski clubs in the Geneva area.
What sports team do you support?
As an Italian, football is my passion, and my favorite team is Juventus. My colleagues that have travelled the world with me will know that if Juventus is playing, I’ll try pretty hard to find somewhere we can watch the game over dinner. And force all of them to appreciate it!
What is your desert island disk?
I’d probably go for some Blues Brothers classics - it always keeps me happy and energetic!
What is your ideal holiday?
Since starting Terabee, real, long holidays have been very scarce. I take some time to visit my parents and I try to ski when snow conditions are good.