Technology startup U Grok It celebrates new milestones in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — U Grok It has come a long way since its founders first used a computer and an antenna to find their daughter’s missing gloves at Howelsen Hill Lodge a few years ago.
Today, Carrie and Tony Requist’s idea to use technology to locate and keep track of things has turned into a growing business in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The business now has six employees and is shipping its first product that anyone can attach to their smartphones to find and inventory items ranging from clothing to car keys to tools.
There are other big milestones, too.
U Grok It recently became the first company in Steamboat to get a new electronic device approved by the Federal Communication Commission.
The company also was selected as the winner of the 2014 GROW conference Startup Smackdown in Whistler, British Columbia.
Their product is called the Grokker, a black handheld device that plugs into the audio port of Apple and Android smartphones.
The device finds items using radio frequency identification technology, or RFID.
The reader is used to track anything that carries an inexpensive RFID tag.
In the past, RFID reading technology required clunky, expensive devices — think of the handheld scanners Target and Walmart employees use — that weren’t really practical for small- and medium-sized businesses, Carrie Requist said.
“This changes the game with lightweight, easy-to-use RFID that is accessible,” Requist said Thursday about the device in the company’s new office downtown.
In front of her was a stack of flash cards containing letters of the alphabet and a corresponding animal or item.
Fire up the application on a smartphone, and you can tell the Grokker to find the “C” card containing a picture of a cat.
The device immediately starts beeping, and the closer you get the Grokker to the card, the faster the beeping gets.
A Grokker has an effective range of about 6 to 10 feet, but the company said it has found it can help find items that are tagged at even greater distances.
There are a number of uses for this smartphone-driven technology that extend far beyond a box of cards.
Small and medium businesses can use the Grokker to more easily keep track of and manage their inventory.
And in the medical field, RFID technology is being utilized more.
For example, it’s very important that surgeons can account for all of their tools following a surgery to ensure nothing got left inside the patient.
RFID tags, which don’t use batteries and can be as small as a Tic Tac, can be applied to the tools for tracking.
At the end of a surgery, RFID technology can be utilized to ensure all of the tools have been returned to the tray.
RFID technology also is currently in use on Vail Mountain, where the tags reside inside season passes.
And then there are legal offices.
Requist said she’s talked to someone in the legal field who is interested in using her company’s RFID technology to keep track of physical legal files that often go missing around the office where files constantly are passed around.
Using the Grokker, someone could easily check other people’s offices to locate a file, for example.
For all of the uses though, U Grok It plans to mainly market its technology to small and medium businesses.
“This is a full-time device, and we make it drop dead simple, Requist said. “Being able to make RFID approachable suddenly gives so many more people the ability to use it.”
The device costs $500, far less than some of the RFID readers that can cost more than $3,000 and currently are being used by large companies like Target and Walmart.
The first Grokker unit shipped to a customer Aug. 16, and the company as recently as this week was sending a demo to three parties including one in Europe.
“It’s been kind of a fun journey,” U Grok It Sales and Marketing Vice President Laura Sankey said.
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