Global Warming: The IoT Can Help Fill Some of the Gap Due to Government Inaction

I won’t dwell on politics here, but  97% of scientists agree that global warming is real, and, according to the latest United National report this month, it is worse than ever (according to the NYTimes,

“The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.”). (my emphasis)

Thus, it should be noted that the chances of significant government action to curb global warming during the next two years have vanished now that Senator James Inhofe will chair the the Senate Environmental Committee (I won’t repeat any of the clap-trap he has said to deny global warming: look it up…).

While probably not enough to combat such a serious challenge, the Internet of Things will help fill the gap, by helping bring about an era of unprecedented precision in use of energy and materials.

Most important, the IoT is a critical component in “smart grid” electrical strategies, which are critical to reducing CO2 emissions.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Because a smart grid can adjust demand to match intermittent wind and solar supplies, it will enable the United States to rely far more heavily on clean, renewable, home-grown energy: cutting foreign oil imports, mitigating the environmental damage done by domestic oil drilling and coal mining, and reducing harmful air pollution. A smart grid will also facilitate the switch to clean electric vehicles, making it possible to “smart charge” them at night when wind power is abundant and cheap, cutting another huge source of damaging air pollution.”

And then there’s generating electricity from conventional resources: GE, as part of its “industrial internet” IoT strategy, says that it will be able to increase its gas turbines’ operating efficiency (which it says generate 25% of the world’s electricity) by at least 1%.

Equally important, as I’ve written before, “precision manufacturing” through the IoT will also reduce not only use of materials, but also energy consumption in manufacturing.

In other important areas, the IoT can also help reduce global warming:

  • Agriculture: conventional farming is also a major contributor to global warming. “Climate-smart” agriculture, by contrast, reduces the inputs, including energy, needed while maximizing yield (Freight Farms, which converts old intermodal shipping containers into self-contained “Leafy Green Machine” urban farming systems, is a great example!).
  • IoT-based schemes to cut traffic congestion.  As The Motley Fool (BTW, they’re big IoT fans of the IoT as a smart investment opportunity) documents, “1.9 billion gallons of fuel is consumed every year from drivers sitting in traffic. That’s 186 million tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions each year just in the U.S. “

The Motley Fool concludes that, combined, a wide range of IoT initiatives can reduce carbon emissions significantly while increasing the economy’s efficiency:

“A recent report by the Carbon War Room estimates that the incorporation of machine-to-machine communication in the energy, transportation, built environment (its fancy term for buildings), and agriculture sectors could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent annually. That’s 18.2 trillion pounds, or equivalent to eliminating all of the United States’ and India’s total greenhouse gas emissions combined, and more than triple the reductions we can expect with an extremely ambitious alternative energy conversion program.

“Increased communication between everything — engines, appliances, generators, automobiles — allows for instant feedback for more efficient travel routes, optimized fertilizer and water consumption to reduce deforestation, real-time monitoring of electricity consumption and instant feedback to generators, and fully integrated heating, cooling, and lighting systems that can adjust for human occupancy.”

It always amuses me that self-styled political conservatives are frequently the ones who are least concerned with conserving resources. Perhaps the IoT, by making businesses more efficient, and therefore more profitable, may be able to bring political conservatives into the energy efficiency fold!

Egburt: key tool to make IoT pay off NOW

Posted on 31st October 2014 in data, energy, Internet of Things, maintenance, management, retail

As I’ve remarked before, writing the Managing the Internet of Things Revolution e-guide to IoT strategy for SAP was an eye-opener for me, shifting my attention from the eye-popping opportunities for radical reinvention through the IoT (products as services, user-customizable products, seamless smart phone-car integration, etc.) to very practical ways the IoT could begin optimizing companies’ current operations TODAY (BTW: much-deserved shout-out to SAP’s Mahira Kalim: it was dialogue with her that led to this insight!).

Egburt

In that vein, I was blown away at this week’s IoT Global Summit by the roll-out of Egburt by Camgian.

Egburt stresses two crucial, inter-related obstacles to widespread IoT solution deployment by mainstream businesses:

  • low cost-of-ownership sensing (by using very little energy, thereby extending battery life)
  • reducing potentially huge cloud-computing costs (because of the sheer volume of 24/7 sensor data) by allowing “fog computing,” where the processing would be done right at the collection process, with only the small amount of really relevant data being passed on to a central location.

The highlight of the product launch was a live demo of Egburt in real-time use at a chain of dollar stores in the south, monitoring a wide range of factors, from floor traffic to freezer operation (Camgian pointed out the system paid for itself in the first month of operation when it recorded failure of a freezer when the store was unoccupied, in time for immediate repairs to avoid loss of frozen foods).

Think about it: the very volume of Big Data possible with constant monitoring by a whole range of sensors can also be the IoT’s undoing. Since all that’s of interest in many cases is data that deviates from the norm, doesn’t it make sense to process that data at the collection point, then only pass on the deviations?

The company has targeted three IoT segments:

  • retail to reduce heating and lighting, and maximize sales through tracking foot traffic patterns to optimize product placement.
  • infrastructure: with sensors at key points such as bridges that will detect flooding and stress.
  • smart cities: optimizing emergency response.

In a sponsored white paper by ABI Research, “Evolution of the Internet of Things: from connected to intelligent devices,” they documented the benefits of going beyond first-generation, “connected,” IoT devices that were just sensors collecting and passing on data, to a second generation of “intelligent ones” such as Egburt the combine sensors and processing and offer not only lower operating costs but also — critically — more data security:

  • “Communication Latency: Handling more processing at the network’s edge reduces latency from the device’s actions. Use cases that are highly time-sensitive and require immediate analysis of, or response to, the collected sensor data are, in general, unfeasible under cloud- centric IoT architectures, especially if the data are sent over long distances.
  • “Data Security: By and large, sensitive and business-critical operational data are safer when encrypted adequately on the endpoint level. Unintelligent devices transmitting frequent and badly secured payloads to the cloud are generally more vulnerable to hacking and interception by unauthorized parties. Additionally, many enterprises may need to secure and control their machine data on the edge level for compliance reasons.
  • “Total Cost of Ownership: Perhaps most significantly, the paradigm shift can reduce the IoT systems’ total cost of ownership, or TCO. Intelligent devices are usually more expensive than less sophisticated alternatives, but their TCO over a long service life can be substantially lower.”

IMHO, for the IoT to be widely deployed, especially in SMEs, devices such as Egburt that reduce the cost of collecting and processing data are a critical component.


(PROMINENT DISCLAIMER: I actually won a FitBit in Camgian’s drawing at the conference. That has no impact on this review. Had I won the iPhone 6 that they also gave away, I would have totally been in the bag, LOL…)

Smart Washing Machine: another example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

When I buy the much-hyped smart refrigerator, you’ll know I’ve officially gone around the bend, and have officially surrendered to IoT hype: it makes sense for those who buy a ton of processed foods with bar codes on them, but I just can’t see the value to those of us who buy a lot of label-less veggies from farmers markets, for example.

In a close second place on my personal list of those IoT devices that violate one of my Essential Truths of the IoT: “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” would be a smart washing machine.

As the Washington Post wrote about Whirlpool’s $1,699 “smart” washer,

“Few expected ‘smart’ machines would fly off the shelves. They’re expensive, and Americans don’t typically replace their washers and dryers all that often. But analysts say the problem is bigger than that. Today’s smartest washer and dryer set won’t fold your clothes, erase wrinkles or stop you from mixing reds and whites. It won’t even move a load from one machine to the other. So what’s the point?”

I know there are going to be some false starts in creating IoT-enabled products that really do provide value, and good for Whirlpool for experimenting, but I do wonder whether something we used to call “common sense” is sorely lacking in some companies’ IoT decision-making.

IMHO, it would really be helpful if my washer and dryer could go on late at night to take advantage of utilities’ off-peak pricing as part of their smart grid initiatives (to their credit, as you’ll see from the photo of the companion smart dryer, a smart grid link is part of these appliances)

smart grid button on Whirlpool dryer

. However, I suspect that would be easily possible if the utilities just published APIs so some smart IFTTT user could create a “recipe” that would turn on an utterly-conventional washer that was plugged into a WeMo smart plug (hmm: did a search for that, and found a recipe that would automatically turn off a washer plugged into a WeMo if a Nest alarm detected a fire: nice, but rather low on my list of what I’d want to have done in case of a fire….).

So, yea, smart appliances, but let’s also make sure that one of the questions companies ask before committing to a really expensive initiative is: “do we really need it?”

Thermostats: yet another example why open standards win with #IoT

Despite my passion for all things Apple and the incredible functionality that comes from Tim Cook’s passion for integrating all parts of the ecosystem seamlessly (and, as I’ve noted in prior disclaimers, my part-time work at the Apple Store ..), I don’t think there’s any doubt when it comes to the Internet of Things that open standards win out.

That’s because they meet the test of my favorite Essential Truth, “who else can use this data?”

It goes back to my Data Dynamite book and my work with Vivek Kundra when he was opening up data in the District of Columbia before becoming the US CIO: when you share data, you empower end users and can go beyond your own developers’ talents and interests, to harvest others’ interests and developments.

opower_sHere’s a great example. Opower’s OpenStat API enables the electric  industry’s only open thermostat management platform. It allows any smart thermostat provider to participate in existing Opower-managed utility thermostat programs. It combines energy usage, billing, parcel and weather data to engage customers, drive measurable energy efficiency, and deliver reliable demand response.  It already has 95 partner utilities, 50 million (really? that sounds high to me…) homes in 35 states sharing data.

By contrast, Nest (which of course was created by Apple alums) had to create a specific API to allow sharing its data. 

This API is Nest’s answer to the Learning Thermostat’s lack of Z-Wave or ZigBee wireless communication. Nest came under fire from the CEDIA crowd when the Learning Thermostat launched since it wouldn’t work within even $100k home automation systems. The thermostat wasn’t friendly with others. It wouldn’t talk to other home automation products using the legacy home automation protocols. This API could change everything.

The jury’s still out — and it will really be interesting to see how many other companies decide to integrate with Apple’s new Health and Home apps. On one hand, a proliferation of standards just retards more creative API mashups, a la IFTTT (my heros!!). On the other, seamless integration and ease-of-use, the Apple hallmarks, could go a long way to ingraining the IoT into consumers’ daily lives.

What do you think?

 

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Another compelling reason for “precision manufacturing”: saving planet

In the space of an hour today I heard a horrifying show on On Point about how the planet is going to hell in a handbasket, then had a very inspiring lunch with Michael Woody of American Dragon, which shows businesses how to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US through a formula of Fewer, Faster, Finer. My takeaway was that the vision I’ve expressed before of creating an “era of precision manufacturing” through the Internet of Things could be the vehicle to both bring back manufacturing jobs to the US (and localities elsewhere across the globe) and to save the planet, making it even more compelling. As I’ve written before, IoT-enabled manufacturing has a wide variety of benefits for manufacturers:

  • unprecedented integration of the factory and both supply chain and distribution network.
  • optimizing production through real-time monitoring and adjustment of assembly line.
  • the potential to speed product introduction and revision through rapid feedback from the field about how the products are actually used.
  • improving decision-making through shared real-time data.

add to those a number of other energy and environmental benefits and you’ve got a really compelling case for “precision manufacturing”:

  • reduced energy consumption through smart grid technologies that allow the plant to have two-way communication with the energy supplier, so energy is supplied in the precise amount needed and precisely when and where it is needed.
  • vastly reduced transportation costs: instead of a supplier in China, you are supplied exactly when you need additional supplies by a local company that shares real-time data on your production output. Similarly, you distribution network knows exactly when and where to distribute the product.
  • lower waste and smaller material needs: a key component of “precision manufacturing” is additive production via 3-D printing, which builds up a product precisely, rather than traditional reductive manufacturing, which trims away excess material from a blank.

“Precision manufacturing” through the IoT: not just better for your bottom line, but also a great way to reduce our growing environmental hazards!

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Human energy for the Internet of Things

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a cheap Scot (living in waste-not, want-not New England, to boot!), so I hate to waste anything.

That’s why I was so excited to read about this Columbia U research project on harvesting human energy (MIT, among other institutions, has also been researching this subject for years), especially as a way to power wearable devices.

This could really be a win-win for my pet project, using wearables and the Quantified Self approach to help seniors become empowered partners in their health care: get them moving, providing power for the devices reporting on their health indicators! Sweet!

The EnHANTs (Energy Harvesting Active Networked Tags) study, the first extensive one of human-generated energy, attached flexible tags – so called EnHANTs – across a range of everyday objects and participants, allowed the researchers to actually document how much energy various human activities produce. 40 people participated over 9 days, including activities such as walking, running and cycling.

Toss these out during your next trivia night:

  • people generate enough energy to continuously transmit data at a rate of 1 kilobit per second
  • walking “generates the same quantity of power – about 150 microwatts – as indoor lighting”
  • “Periodic motion – such as writing with a pencil – produces more harvestable energy (10-30 microwatts) than the acceleration involved in a 3-hour flight (5 microwatts)”
  • “Taller people generate around 20% more power than shorter people” (um, have you seen the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia in action? I’d question that one…)
  • “Walking downstairs – as it involves higher acceleration – generates more energy than going upstairs. 95% of the total harvestable energy you produce is generated in less than 7% of the day.”

The ENHANTS project aims to not only document human energy production, but to harvest it:

“EnHANTs are small, flexible, and energetically self-reliant devices that can be attached to objects that are traditionally not networked (e.g., books, furniture, walls, doors, toys, keys, clothing, and produce), thereby providing the infrastructure for various novel tracking applications. Examples of these applications include locating misplaced items, continuous monitoring of objects (items in a store, boxes in transit), and determining locations of disaster survivors.

Recent advances in ultra-low-power wireless communications, ultra-wideband (UWB) circuit design, and organic electronic harvesting techniques will enable the realization of EnHANTs in the near future. In order for EnHANTs to rely on harvested energy, they have to spend significantly less energy than Bluetooth, Zigbee, and IEEE 802.15.4a devices. Moreover, the harvesting components and the ultra-low-power physical layer have special characteristics whose implications on the higher layers have yet to be studied (e.g., when using ultra-low-power circuits, the energy required to receive a bit is significantly higher than the energy required to transmit a bit).

The objective of the project is to design hardware, algorithms, and software to enable the realization of EnHANTs.”

Coupled with some of the research I’ve cited earlier about batteries the size of a grain of sand or harvesting energy from “ambient backscatter” makes me confident that, in the near future we’ll be able to have effective wearable devices for reporting health conditions that will require little or no external energy sources.

Internet of Things critical to attack global warming

I haven’t understood for a long time why there isn’t universal support for serious — and creative — measures to reduce global warming.

I first did a speech on the subject in 1996, and suspect it’s because — wrongly — people confuse energy efficiency with sacrifice, when in fact it’s just using creativity and technology to reduce waste and inefficiency. Who, especially those who style themselves as “conservatives,” could be opposed to that (although recent polls show those Tea Party types just won’t look at the facts..)?

At any rate, as far as I’m concerned, debate on this issue and toleration of “deniers” is no longer an option — we must act, and act NOW — because of the reports by two esteemed scientific panels this week that even if we DO act, catastrophic melting of part of the Antarctic may already be irreversible, ultimately raising ocean levels by 10′ — or more:

“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.”

(Aside to Senator Rubio: perhaps scuba expeditions around the former Miami may be a big tourist draw after the apocalypse …).

The Internet of Things can and must play a critical role in such a strategy.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s smart grid initiative, especially its demonstration program in Austin, TX, shows the promise for integrated, large scale programs to turn the electricity system into a truly integrated one where customers will be full partners in demand-side management AND in generation, through small-scale, distributed production from sources such as solar and wind.

Smart AC modlet

But each of us can and must act individually to reduce our carbon footprints, which brings me to a neat device from Thinkeco, the SmartA/C “modlet.” It plugs into the wall socket where you plug in your window-mounted A/C unit, then the A/C plugs into the modelet.

You create a schedule to automatically turn your A/C on and off to save energy. The thermostat also senses the room temp and turns your A/C on and off to maintain a temperature around your set point.  And, rather than keep the A/C on all day when you’re at work just so the apartment will be cool when you get home, you can regulate the temperature from the smartphone app, turning it down before you leave the office.

Several utilities, including Con Ed in NYC, now provide the units to their customers, and they can really make a difference: in New York City alone, there are 6.5 million room air conditioners, which account for up to 2,500 megawatts of demand, or 20 percent of peak demand in the city.  What could be better: an apartment that’s cool when you need it, lower utility bills, and a reduction in greenhouse gases?

Or, there’s Automatic, which plugs into your car’s diagnostic port, and, through Bluetooth, sends you “subtle audio clues” (evidently “SLOW DOWN, IDIOT” doesn’t modify behavior) when it senses you’re accelerating or braking too rapidly or speeding. It also compiles a weekly overall score for your driving — the higher the score, the more economically you’re driving. Hopefully, you’ll modify your driving behavior, save gas money, and reduce emissions (Automatic also has some nice additional features, such as automatically notifying emergency officials if you crash).

I’m a grandfather, and I’m sick about the world that we’re leaving our grandchildren. Let’s all resolve, whether through IoT technology or personal habit change, to tread lightly on the earth and reduce our carbon footprint. It’s no longer a choice.

Follow-up: Winners in Postscapes’ annual best-of-the-IoT contest

Following up on my recent post on my favorite nominees for the 2013 Postscapes best-of-the-IoT contest, here are the actual winners.  What do you think??

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Get your vote in for best IoT products of 2013!

Posted on 28th January 2014 in energy, environmental, health, home automation

(sorry: WordPress and I didn’t agree on the formatting for this entry, and WordPress wins!)

Postscapes‘ annual Best of the IoT contest wraps up on the 30th, so don’t miss your chance to vote for last year’s best IoT products!  You owe it to yourself to check out all the nominees: it will give a good overview of how the state-of-the-IoT has evolved, especially when you go back and compare the winners from the past two years.

Here are my personal choices in the various categories, and my reasons for choosing them — the primary criterion being my friend Eric Bonabeau‘s perennial question of new technology, “what can you do now that you couldn’t do before?”

  • Connected Home: I vote for the Mother smart home hub (probably because she looks like something from a Wallace & Gromit short..), cute, efficient, and open source (the leading vote-getter in this category is the iAquaLink pool control system: pardon my doubts, but there ain’t no way any automation system could control my pool: it’s basically a law unto itself!)
  • Connected Body:  Libelium Open Source e-Health Sensor Platform     Libelium does such great work in general, and this one is, to my knowledge, the most all-encompassing Quantified Self monitoring system, monitoring, with 10 different sensors: pulse, oxygen in blood (SPO2), airflow (breathing), body temperature, electrocardiogram (ECG), glucometer, galvanic skin response (GSR-sweating), blood pressure (sphygmomanometer) and patient position (accelerometer). I think it was Dave Evans who said that 30% of all docs will retire in the next decade, while the number of senior/Boomers will increase exponentially. The only way we’ll be able to cope is by making it easy for doctors to know what’s happening with us — in real time!
  • Smart City: On the day we mark environmental activist Pete Seeger’s death, what better than the open-source, crowd-funded Smart Citizen Kit, which empowers citizen activists to monitor environmental conditions! Power to the people, right on!
  • Enterprise: The HyGreen Hand Hygiene Monitoring System.  As I remarked before about a competing system, this is personal, because my cousin acquired a terrible Hospital Acquired Infection. Hand-washing is an absolutely critical hospital procedure, but until now we lacked a fool-proof method to make sure it was done!
  • Technical Enabler: Thingworx expanded their offerings this year with the Thingworx Marketplace, providing developers ..”with the necessary building blocks to rapidly build innovative applications that integrate those connected devices with business systems, social and cloud services, and external systems, enabling them to drive value in the connected world.”
  • Social Impact: OK, I’ll admit a soft spot for any reformer, so I count all these as “winners.” But the one that really caught my I was the Natalia Project, a wristband that alerts people if human rights workers are endangered.  Here’s the story:”In 2009, human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and later found murdered in Chechnya. In part of honoring her and the incident the Swedish organization Civil Rights Defenders is launching the Natalia Project. At the heart of the idea lies a GPS and GSM equipped wristband that when triggered or is forcibly removed will send out an alert and location information to warn that its wearer could be in danger.”
  • Networked Art: as the page says “Artists are often the first to see the potential in new technologies, even before those technologies are mature enough to be used to the consumer” (hmm, don’t think that’s what he meant to say, but you get the drift..) — and don’t forget the Arduino board came from a design school! My choice — hey, why not? — is Alex Kiesling’s “Long-Distance Art” — but the other ones look kewl too!
  • Design Fiction:  I’m going to pass on this one! I must be a little too literally minded!
  • DIY Project: oooh: this harkens back to my “Data Dynamite” book, on liberating data!  Here’s the description of my winner, the Data Sensing Lab:

    “Hardware hacking for data scientists”. By deploying custom wireless hardware at tech conferences like Strata and Google I/O the team is looking to advance what real-time sensor network data collection, analysis, and visualizations will look like in the near future.“We will soon begin to move in a sea of data, our movements monitored and our environments measured and adjusted to our preferences, without need for direct intervention. What will this look like? How can we create and shape it? How can we introduce the relevant hardware to people who already possess data analytics skills?”

  • Open Source: in many ways, the most important category of all, since without open standards the IoT just ain’t gonna go anywhere.  I’m embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of it, but my choice in this category is Alljoyn. As the description says, “AllJoyn is an open source project that provides a software framework and set of Services that enable interoperability among connected products and software applications, across manufacturers, to create dynamic proximal networks.  By integrating the AllJoyn framework codebase, manufactures can offer interoperable products and services that will engage and delight users in new, exciting and useful ways.” Yep.
  • Startup of the Year: I see Evrythng as a critical IoT marketing tool.
  • Must-Follow Company: I’d go with Libelium: they’re so ubiquitous and partner so well with so many.

So those are my choices — some are rather arbitrary because there are no so many promising IoT companies. Who are you voting for, and why??

Best quick intro to the IoT that I’ve seen!

Following up on my last post, I’ve found what I think is the best quick intro to the Internet of Things!

Internet of Things,” released today by the Center for Data Innovation (hadn’t heard of them! BTW, they also get points in my book for covering XBRL, the magic potion for data…) is a quick read: it has short intros to most of the major consumer-oriented areas affected by the IoT, from healthcare to home automation, combined with two examples for each of those topics. I hadn’t heard of some of the examples (thanks, authors Daniel Castro and Jordan Misra!), although most are frequently cited ones ranging from the Nest thermostat to the Vitality GlowCap.  All in all, they’ll show almost any skeptic that the IoT is already a reality and that it will change their life!

The report concludes with brief policy recommendations for government and business alike:

  • (for government agencies) lead by example, i.e., include funding for sensors in bridge projects, etc. Yea (you listening, Obama Administration?).
  • reduce barriers to data sharing (this harkens back to my Data Dynamite book: data gains value by being shared!).
  • give consumers access to their data (again, something I wrote about in Data Dynamite).
  • avoid inundating consumers with notices (a fine line, since they need to be informed, in plain English, about how their data will be used).
  • regulate the use of data, not the collection (in line with Mercatus Center’s advice)

All in all, a nice intro to the IoT!

BTW: Thanx to ol’ friend Pete O’Dell for turning me on to this report!