Interview with Kevin Miyashiro from MicroTau

  • Kevin Miyashiro - CEO, MicroTau Inc.

everything RF Interviewed Kevin Miyashiro, the CEO and co-founder of MicroTau, a startup dedicated to helping companies shrink their time-to-market by accelerating pre-production tests. Prior to founding MicroTau, Kevin started TeraSys Technologies in 2007, building custom RF subsystems for military and large defense contractors. He received his MSEE from UCLA and BSEE from the University of Hawaii. He also served as the local arrangements chair for the 2007 International Microwave Symposium and the general co-chair for the 2017 International Microwave Symposium.

Q. Can you give us a brief history about MicroTau? When was the company founded, and what was the motivation behind the formation of MicroTau?

I’ve had the privilege to work in a variety of companies and industries from large defense contractors to small venture-backed startups. I’ve built tunable filters, mixed-signal integrated circuits, and imaging radar systems. Through it all, I’ve learned there’s one unchanging trend: every year, we need to make our time-to-market faster than last year’s. If we don’t, our competitors surely will.

On every project I’ve been on, the stress was always highest on the test bench because it doesn’t get any more real than what the network analyzer says. And since testing is the last step before a product gets released to production, it becomes the point of highest stress when the schedule is delayed.

Our team has spent thousands of hours on the bench in our never-ending battle to meet launch schedules. To combat this, we’ve been experimenting with techniques to improve testing through collaboration and looking for ways to eliminate recurring, repetitive testing tasks in qualification and validation testing.

We launched MicroTau earlier this year as the manifestation of the most successful experiments we’ve done. We’re codifying our insights and techniques and building them into cloud applications to help others successfully balance doing a job good with pre-production tests while meeting the insatiable schedule demands of their customers.

Q. What is the Product MicroTau has Developed?

The name MicroTau means “small” and “time.” Our mission is to shrink the time it takes to do testing right while meeting shorter test schedules. CloudGate and CloudPortal are the products that make this possible.

Here’s a short explainer video to show how MicroTau works:


CloudGate is a computer the size of a deck of cards. CloudGate’s primary function is to connect test equipment to the cloud, but it’s also the hub for other peripherals we offer such as webcams and thermocouples.

With CloudGate, our customers can extend any of their existing test equipment into the cloud without needing to upgrade to the latest model. We’re finding this has a strong appeal to lab managers that have tight equipment budgets so they are choosing to extend the value of existing gear rather than upgrading.


CloudPortal is the web-based access point our customers use to access features. Through CloudPortal, you can run remote tests, do collaborative testing, manage test data, and run test automations. 

Since CloudPortal is a web application, there is no software to install on the local machine. This eliminates the headaches associated with software such as incompatibility with operating systems and the need to have the correct drivers. You can access CloudPortal 24/7 from any device that has a web browser, such as desktop computers, tablets, and even mobile phones. 

Q. What is the Set-up process for using this solution? Is it plug and play or do you need to configure the device once it is connected to a test box?

We designed CloudGate and CloudPortal to be an easy 3-step “plug-and-test,” so you can be up and testing in the cloud in under five minutes. We do this because we found one of the common barriers to adoption for existing remote testing solutions is the time and effort it takes to download the software, install, configure, and learn how to use it. Design cycles are so compressed these days that engineers simply can’t afford to spend an hour to set up a remote session.

Q. What are some use cases of this cloud based testing solution offered by MicroTau?

We’re solving two of the most stressful points in a product’s journey to get to full production. The first is when the product is first being tested so this means a lot of manual testing. The second is the need for easy-to-use software that can shorten qualification and validation testing through automation.

Use case #1: Testing 24/7

MicroTau’s service can accelerate prototype testing when the team is distributed across time zones.

Consider a scenario where the company has multiple design centers. One location could be in the US and another in Asia. When the design team is testing highly complex parts such as an integrated circuit it can take weeks just to fully characterize the product. Typically, most of this testing is manual because designers are constantly adjusting the tests based on what they discover during the previous test.

The test setup is often comprised of multiple test source and sinks such as signal generators, oscilloscopes, and multimeters. All of these can be controlled and monitored remotely with MicroTau. Some of the probe station manufacturers offer the ability to remotely control the micromanipulators and thermal chucks. If the microscope has a digital camera, it is also possible to remotely see what pins the probe card is connected to on the integrated circuit. 

When the US team is in the office, the Asia team is sleeping, and vice versa. This gives the overall team the ability to operate tests 24/7, essentially cutting the test time in half. 

The ability to reduce prototype testing in half is a game changer. Since the design team doesn’t know what’s working and not working until it’s tested, it’s very hard to “meet the schedule” which is why prototype test schedules can grow quickly. This forces the team to make some tough tradeoffs between testing less, or working longer hours, or often, both. With MicroTau, distributed design teams can make the most of every hour of the day.

Use case #2: Qualification and validation test automation

Once the product has been successfully integrated and debugged, it’s “working.” But that doesn’t mean it’s ready to be released to production. Ideally, the product undergoes a full battery of qualification and validation tests. In reality, tests are descoped or removed because the release date is coming up fast and all the schedule margin is gone.

Unfortunately, if a latent defect goes undetected the costs in production are phenomenal. Just look at the recent Samsung Galaxy 7’s battery problems and the resulting $5B losses it racked up. Samsung’s story is a sobering reminder of the critical need to qualify and validate a product properly before going to production.

Why do teams take these shortcuts? It’s usually because the time it takes to do validation and qualification testing is perceived to be too long

This is the second use case MicroTau exists to solve. We give teams the tools to automate and monitor repetitive tests commonly done prior to full production. We’re building a lightweight test automation drag-and-drop capability into CloudPortal. It doesn’t have all of the power that Labview or VEE has but as a result it’s easier to use. The user interface is inspired by common CAD tools so it is immediately intuitive for design engineers, making it faster to learn.

CloudPortal can also send alerts through text message or email. How many times has a product failed a temperature test halfway through but no one knew about it? This is a monumental waste of time. Instead, you can receive alerts to inform you of testing problems such as high VSWR, over-temperature conditions, or an over-current condition.

By using CloudPortal’s automation and alerting capabilities, teams no longer have to make tradeoffs between meeting schedule and doing thorough qualification and validation testing; they can do both.

Q. Which Vendors is CloudGate Compatible with? Is it compatible with all products from a vendor or specific products from a vendor?

Most OEM’s support a common set of communication standards called VISA and SCPI.  CloudGate uses these protocols to communicate with the test equipment which is how we can support such a wide array of OEM’s and equipment families.

We support equipment from the major OEM’s such as Keysight Technologies, Keithley/Tektronix, Anritsu, Rohde & Schwarz. We also interface to some of the environmental test OEM’s such as Thermotron and Espec. I can’t say for certain, but I’d estimate we’re compatible with 98% of the products built within the last 15 years or so from the major OEM’s.

Q. Do you see T&M Vendors integrating a similar solution in their test products in the future? If so, how will your product be different from theirs?

Definitely. There are so many compelling reasons to move testing into the cloud it seems inevitable. Anritsu recently launched a tool called “Skybridge” that moves in-field antenna testing into the cloud, making it easier to collect thousands of tests at scale and distribute reports instantly. It’s just one early example of things that have always been done “offline” that need to be moved into the cloud for increased efficiency and scalability.

Our first key differentiator is our OEM-agnostic solution. Even if the OEM’s came out with an identical solution to ours, I think they’d be hard-pressed to support a competitor’s equipment with their cloud solution. Every engineering lab I’ve been in has multiple vendors, so it wouldn’t be cost effective to have different cloud solutions for each OEM. Instead, we’re compatible with all OEM’s to prevent customers from being locked into a proprietary solution.

Our second key differentiator is that we are focused. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone. We believe the greatest gains in meeting the time-to-market schedule are achieved during the tests that happen prior to a product being released to production. So we only offer solutions for these tests.

Software like Labview and VEE are great powerful tools for test automation. But there’s a reason why National Instruments offers paid certification courses for their software: it’s really complicated. Just as design engineers spend their careers mastering CAD tools, test engineers spend their careers mastering Labview and VEE to support full production requirements.

More often than not, the needs of prototype testing change constantly which necessitates redoing the automation software. Since designers are usually the ones working with technicians to run these tests, the design engineers need automation software optimized for their needs, not those of a full production system.

Q. Security is a big concern for cloud applications. How are you addressing this, what measures have been taken in regards to security?

This is one of the conundrums of a cloud-based startup focused on business applications.  Startups want to “be lean” and “move fast” which means deferring “enterprise things” like security until later. But for MicroTau, security needed to be baked in from day one because test data is valuable intellectual property that has to be protected.

Thankfully, there are standards and organizations that specifically push the state-of-the-practice for IT security and the cloud in particular. Just like many electronic manufacturers strive to become ISO-9001 registered, many cloud service providers are moving towards becoming ISO-27001 registered. ISO-27001 is a set of standards for information security management and is the recognized standard for robust security implementations for cloud service providers.

Currently, MicroTau is a self-assessed compliant ISO-27001 organization which means we’ve performed an internal audit of our security policies and procedures and have determined that we are compliant with ISO-27001 requirements. This covers a variety of areas including the physical security of servers, controlling personnel access to information, audit trail logging, and of course data encryption.

Q. How has the response for the product been soo far? Who are your target customers?

We’re still early in the game, but we’ve received a lot of positive feedback so far. We took a leap of faith and launched at the recent 2017 International Microwave Symposium. Many of our earliest leads came from that IMS, and we’re actively working with early visionary companies that want to be the first to have this type of capability.

Our target customers are those that face time-to-market pressures and build complicated, integrated products where there is a constant research and development phase for new product introductions. Companies that are in this situation live and breathe the never-ending schedule pressure we’ve been talking about, and we want to help them however we can.

Q. Will you be releasing any new products in the near future?  Where would you like to see MicroTau five years from now?

Just like with most software products, we’re actually never “done,” we just keep evolving the application. So yes, we will always be releasing feature enhancements and new applications.  Most will revolve around the themes of remote collaboration and prototype test automation.

Looking to the future, we’re keeping a close eye on the 5G market. 5G has the potential to be one of the biggest game changers the wireless industry has seen in a while. We’re excited that multiple OEM’s launched their first 5G test offerings this year. For us, 5G, the internet of things, and the cloud all go hand-in-hand. Our long-term roadmap is moving us towards “testing the internet-of-things at-scale, in the cloud.” Over the years, CloudGate and CloudPortal will evolve to meet the testing needs of 5G and IOT suppliers. Stay tuned!

Q. Have you raised any funding? Is this something you are looking at doing?

We have been self-funded up to this point but the plan was always to seek external funding once we got the basics of the business going.

We’ve already secured an agreement with a lead investor for our first seed round and are in discussions with other investors to fully fund this round. We anticipate closing the round in the first quarter of 2018 which will enable us to hire more employees and grow our sales efforts.

We’ve forecasted needing a few rounds of funding to accelerate our growth trajectory for the next few years.

Click here to learn more about MicroTau.

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