Libelium: flexibility a key strategy for IoT startups

I’ve been fixated recently on venerable manufacturing firms such as 169-yr. old Siemens making the IoT switch.  Time to switch focus, and look at one of my fav pure-play IoT firms, Libelium.  I think Libelium proves that smart IoT firms must, above all, remain nimble and flexible,  by three interdependent strategies:

  • avoiding picking winners among communications protocols and other standards.
  • avoiding over-specialization.
  • partnering instead of going it alone.
Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

If you aren’t familiar with Libelium, it’s a Spanish company that recently turned 10 (my, how time flies!) in a category littered with failures that had interesting concepts but didn’t survive. Bright, young, CEO Alicia Asin, one of my favorite IoT thought leaders (and do-ers!) was recently named best manager of the year in the Aragón region in Spain.  I sat down with her for a wide-ranging discussion when she recently visited the Hub of the Universe.

I’ve loved the company since its inception, particularly because it is active in so many sectors of the IoT, including logistics, industrial control, smart meters, home automation and a couple of my most favorite, agriculture (I have a weak spot for anything that combines “IoT” AND “precision”!) and smart cities.  I asked Asin why the company hadn’t picked one of those verticals as its sole focus: “it was too risky to choose one market. That’s still the same: the IoT is still so fragmented in various verticals.”

The best illustration of the company’s strategy in action is its Waspmote sensor platform, which it calls the “most complete Internet of Things platform in the market with worldwide certifications.” It can monitor up to 120 sensors to cover hundreds of IoT applications in the wide range of markets Libelium serves with this diversified strategy, ranging from the environment to “smart” parking.  The new versions of their sensors include actuators, to not simply report data, but also allow M2M control of devices such as irrigation valves, thermostats, illumination systems, motors and PLC’s. Equally important, because of the potentially high cost of having to replace the sensors, the new ones use extremely little power, so they can last        .

Equally important as the company’s refusal to limit itself to a single vertical market is its commitment to open systems and multiple communications protocols, including LoRaWAN, SIGFOX, ZigBee and 4G — a total of 16 radio technologies. It also provides both open source SDK and APIs.

Why?  As Asin told me:

 

“There is not going to be a standard. This (competiting standards and technology) is the new normal.

“I talk to some cities that want to become involved in smart cities, and they say we want to start working on this but we want to use the protocol that will be the winner.

“No one knows what will be the winner.

“We use things that are resilient. We install all the agents — if you aren’t happy with one, you just open the interface and change it. You don’t have to uninstall anything. What if one of these companies increases their prices to heaven, or you are not happy with the coverage, or the company disappears? We allow you to have all your options open.

“The problem is that this (not picking a standard) is a new message, and people don’t like to listen.  This is how we interpret the future.”

Libelium makes 110 different plug and play sensors (or as they call them, “Plug and Sense,” to detect a wide range of data from sources including gases, events, parking, energy use, agriculture, and water.  They claim the lowest power consumption in the industry, leading to longer life and lower maintenance and operating costs.

Finally, the company doesn’t try to do everything itself: Libelium has a large and growing partner network (or ecosystem, as it calls it — music to the ears of someone who believes in looking to nature for profitable business inspiration). Carrying the collaboration theme even farther, they’ve created an “IoT Marketplace,” where pre-assembled device combinations from Libelium and partners can be purchased to meet the specific needs of niches such as e-health,  vineyards, water quality, smart factories, and smart parking.  As the company says, “the lack of integrated solutions from hardware to application level is a barrier for fast adoption,” and the kits take away that barrier.

I can’t stress it enough: for IoT startups that aren’t totally focused on a single niche (a high-stakes strategy), Libelium offers a great model because of its flexibility, agnostic view of standards, diversification among a variety of niches, and eagerness to collaborate with other vendors.


BTW: Asin is particularly proud of the company’s newest offering, My Signals,which debuted in October and has already won several awards.  She told me that they hope the device will allow delivering Tier 1 medical care to billions of underserved people worldwide who live in rural areas with little access to hospitals.  It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, oxygen in

It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. The data is encrypted and sent to the Libelium Cloud in real-time to be visualized on the user’s private account.

It fits in a small suitcase and costs less than 1/100th the amount of a traditional Emergency Observation Unit.

The kit was created to make it possible for m-health developers to create prototypes cheaply and quickly.

When Philips’s Hue Bulbs Are Attacked, IoT Security Becomes Even Bigger Issue

OK, what will it take to make security (and privacy) job #1 for the IoT industry?

The recent Mirai DDoS attack should have been enough to get IoT device companies to increase their security and privacy efforts.

Now we hear that the Hue bulbs from Philips, a global electronics and IoT leader that DOES emphasize security and doesn’t cut corners, have been the focus of a potentially devastating attack (um, just wonderin’: how does triggering mass epileptic seizures through your light bulbs grab you?).

Since it’s abundantly clear that the US president-elect would rather cut regulations than add needed ones (just announcing that, for every new regulation, two must be cut), the burden of improving IoT security will lie squarely on the shoulders of the industry itself. BTW:kudos in parting to outgoing FTC Chair Edith Ramirez, who has made intelligent, workable IoT regulations in collaboration with self-help efforts by the industry a priority. Will we be up to the security challenge, or, as I’ve warned before, will security and privacy lapses totally undermine the IoT in its adolescence by losing the public and corporate confidence and trust that is so crucial in this particular industry?

Count me among the dubious.

Here’s what happened in this truly scary episode, which, for the first time, presages making the focus of an IoT hack an entire city, by exploiting what might otherwise be a smart city/smart grid virtue: a large installed base of smart bulbs, all within communication distance of each other. The weapons? An off-the-shelf drone and an USB stick (the same team found that a car will also do nicely as an attack vector). Fortunately, the perpetrators in this case were a group of white-hat hackers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Dalhousie University in Canada, who reported it to Philips so they could implement additional protections, which the company did.

Here’s what they wrote about their plan of attack:

“In this paper we describe a new type of threat in which adjacent IoT devices will infect each other with a worm that will spread explosively over large areas in a kind of nuclear chain reaction (my emphasis), provided that the density of compatible IoT devices exceeds a certain critical mass. In particular, we developed and verified such an infection using the popular Philips Hue smart lamps as a platform.

“The worm spreads by jumping directly from one lamp to its neighbors, using only their built-in ZigBee wireless connectivity and their physical proximity. The attack can start by plugging in a single infected bulb anywhere in the city, and then catastrophically spread everywhere within minutes, enabling the attacker to turn all the city lights on or off, permanently brick them, or exploit them in a massive DDOS attack (my emphasis). To demonstrate the risks involved, we use results from percolation theory to estimate the critical mass of installed devices for a typical city such as Paris whose area is about 105 square kilometers: The chain reaction will fizzle if there are fewer than about 15,000 randomly located smart lights in the whole city, but will spread everywhere when the number exceeds this critical mass (which had almost certainly been surpassed already (my emphasis).

“To make such an attack possible, we had to find a way to remotely yank already installed lamps from their current networks, and to perform over-the-air firmware updates. We overcame the first problem by discovering and exploiting a major bug in the implementation of the Touchlink part of the ZigBee Light Link protocol, which is supposed to stop such attempts with a proximity test. To solve the second problem, we developed a new version of a side channel attack to extract the global AES-CCM key that Philips uses to encrypt and authenticate new firmware. We used only readily available equipment costing a few hundred dollars, and managed to find this key without seeing any actual updates. This demonstrates once again how difficult it is to get security right even for a large company that uses standard cryptographic techniques to protect a major product.”

Again, this wasn’t one of those fly-by-night Chinese manufacturers of low-end IoT devices, but Philips, a major, respected, and vigilant corporation.

As for the possible results? It could:

  •  jam WiFi connections
  • disturb the electric grid
  • brick devices making entire critical systems inoperable
  • and, as I mentioned before, cause mass epileptic seizures.

As for the specifics, according to TechHive, the researchers installed Hue bulbs in several offices in an office building in the Israeli city of Beer Sheva. In a nice flair for the ironic, the building housed several computer security firms and the Israeli Computer Emergency Response Team.  They attached the attack kit on the USB stick to a drone, and flew it toward the building from 350 meters away. When they got to the building they took over the bulbs and made them flash the SOS signal in Morse Code.

The researchers”were able to bypass any prohibitions against remote access of the networked light bulbs, and then install malicious firmware. At that point the researchers were able to block further wireless updates, which apparently made the infection irreversible. ‘There is no other method of reprogramming these [infected] devices without full disassemble (which is not feasible). Any old stock would also need to be recalled, as any devices with vulnerable firmware can be infected as soon as power is applied.’”

Worst of all, the attack was against Zigbee, one of the most robust and widely-used IoT protocols, an IoT favorite because Zigbee networks tend to be cheaper and simpler than WiFi or BlueTooth.

The attack points up one of the critical ambiguities about the IoT. On one hand, the fact that it allows networking of devices leads to “network effects,” where each device becomes more valuable because of the synergies with other IoT devices. On the other hand, that same networking and use of open standards means that penetrating one device can mean ultimately penetrating millions and compounding the damage.


I’m hoping against hope that when Trump’s team tries to implement cyber-warfare protections they’ll extend the scope to include the IoT because of this specific threat. If they do, they’ll realize that you can’t just say yes cyber-security and no, regulations. In the messy world of actually governing, rather than issuing categorical dictums, you sometimes have to embrace the messy world of ambiguity.  

What do you think?

 

Smart Disposables: Could This Be Birth of Internet of Everything?

Could EVERYTHING be “smart?” It may be happening sooner we thought, and with implications that are hard to fathom today.

That’s the potential with new technology pioneered by Shyam Gollakota, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.  For the first time, it would let battery- and cordless-less devices harvest signals from Wi-Fi, radio, or TV to communicate and power themselves.

Astounding!

For a long time, the most “out there” idea about IoT sensors has been Prof. Kris Pister’s “smart dust” concept, which aimed at a complete sensor/communication system in a package only one cubic millimeter in size. Pister argued that such devices would be so small and cheap that they could be installed — or perhaps even scattered — almost everywhere. The benefits could be varied and inconceivable in the past. According to Pister, possible applications could include:

  • “Defense-related sensor networks
    • battlefield surveillance, treaty monitoring, transportation monitoring, scud hunting, …
  • Virtual keyboard
    • Glue a dust mote on each of your fingernails.  Accelerometers will sense the orientation and motion of each of your fingertips, and talk to the computer in your watch.  QWERTY is the first step to proving the concept, but you can imagine much more useful and creative ways to interface to your computer if it knows where your fingers are: sculpt 3D shapes in virtual clay, play  the piano, gesture in sign language and have to computer translate, …
    • Combined with a MEMS augmented-reality heads-up display, your entire computer I/O would be invisible to the people around you.  Couple that with wireless access and you need never be bored in a meeting again!  Surf the web while the boss rambles on and on.
  • Inventory Control
    • The carton talks to the box, the box talks to the palette, the palette talks to the truck, and the truck talks to the warehouse, and the truck and the warehouse talk to the internet.  Know where your products are and what shape they’re in any time, anywhere.  Sort of like FedEx tracking on steroids for all products in your production stream from raw materials to delivered goods.
  • Product quality monitoring
    • temperature, humidity monitoring of meat, produce, dairy products
      • Mom, don’t buy those Frosted Sugar Bombs, they sat in 80% humidity for two days, they won’t be crunchy!
    • impact, vibration, temp monitoring of consumer electronics
      • failure analysis and diagnostic information, e.g. monitoring vibration of bearings for frequency signatures indicating imminent failure (back up that hard drive now!)
  • Smart office spaces
    • The Center for the Built Environment has fabulous plans for the office of the future in which environmental conditions are tailored to the desires of every individual.  Maybe soon we’ll all be wearing temperature, humidity, and environmental comfort sensors sewn into our clothes, continuously talking to our workspaces which will deliver conditions tailored to our needs.  No more fighting with your office mates over the thermostat.
  • Interfaces for the Disabled (courtesy of Bryndis Tobin)
    • Bryndis sent me email with the following idea: put motes “on a quadriplegic’s face, to monitor blinking & facial twitches – and send them as commands to a wheelchair/computer/other device.”  This could be generalized to a whole family of interfaces for the disabled.  Thanks Bryndis!”

Now imagine that a critical component of such a tiny, ubiquitous device was removed. Because it didn’t need a battery it could be even smaller and cheaper (because of cheaper and simpler radio hardware circuitry).

The goal is having billions of disposable devices start communicating,” Gollakota said (my emphasis).

You may remember that I’ve written before about my metaphor of a pre-IoT era of “Collective Blindness,” the universal inability to peer (literally or figuratively) inside things in the past, which forced us to create all sorts of work-arounds to cope with that lack of real-time data. Imagine how precise our knowledge about just about everything will be if Gollakota’s technology becomes commonplace.

.As Technology Review reported, the critical challenge is making it possible for a device lacking a traditional power source to communicate: “Transferring power wirelessly is not a new trick. But getting a device without a conventional power source to communicate is harder, because generating radio signals is very power-intensive and the airwaves harvested from radio, TV, and other telecommunication technologies hold little energy.”

The principle making the innovation possible is “backscattering,” reflecting waves, particles or signals back in the direction they came from, which creates a new signal.

The early results are encouraging. Gollakata has made a contact lens that can connect with a smartphone. Think I’ll pass on that one, but other devices he and his team have created include brain implants and “a flexible skin patch that can sense temperature and respiration, a design that could be used to monitor hospital patients.”  Marketers will love this one: a concert poster broadcasting a bit of the featured band’s music over FM radio!

Jeeva Wireless, Gollakata’s commercial spinoff, is using a variety of the technology, “passive Wi-Fi.” Devices using it can data up to 100 feet and connect through walls.

Tiny passive devices using backscatter could be manufactured for as little as a dollar. “In tomorrow’s smart home, security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms should never need to have their batteries changed.”

Gollakata sums up the potential impact: “We can get communication for free” (my emphasis).

That’s incredible, but in light of the continuing series of major DDoS attacks made possible by weak or non-existent IoT security measures, I must remind everyone that speed, power, and ubiquity aren’t everything: we also need IoT security, so I hope the low cost and ability to function without a dedicated energy source won’t obscure that need as well.


 

BTW: a MIT profile on Gollakata mentions one of his other, related, inventions, which I think would mesh beautifully with my SmartAging vision to help seniors age in place in better health.

It’s called  WiSee, which uses wireless signals such as Wi-Fi to “enable whole-home sensing and recognition of human gestures. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, WiSee can enable whole-home gesture recognition using few wireless sources (e.g., a Wi-Fi router and a few mobile devices in the living room).”

I love the concept for seniors, because (like Echo, which I’m finally getting!!) it doesn’t require technical expertise, which many seniors lack and/or find intimidating, to launch and direct automated devices. In this case, the activation is through sensing and recognition of human gestures. According to Gollakata,“’Gestures enable a whole new set of interaction techniques for always-available computing embedded in the environment. As an example, he suggests that a hand swiping motion in the air could enable a user to control the radio volume while showering – or change the song playing on the stereo in the living room while you are cooking in the kitchen.”

He goes on to explain:

“…. that the approaches offered today to enable gesture recognition – by either installing cameras throughout a home/office or outfitting the human body with sensing devices – are in most cases either too expensive or unfeasible. So he and his group members are skirting these issues by taking advantage of the slight changes in ambient wireless signals that are created by motion. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, he and his group have achieved the first gesture recognition system that works in those situations. ‘We showed that this approach can extract accurate information about a rich set of gestures from multiple concurrent users.”

Combine that with speaking to Alexa, and even the most frail seniors could probably control most of the functions in a smart home. Gollakota says that the approaches offered today to enable gesture recognition – by either installing cameras throughout a home/office or outfitting the human body with sensing devices – are in most cases either too expensive or unfeasible. So he and his group members are skirting these issues by taking advantage of the slight changes in ambient wireless signals that are created by motion. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, he and his group have achieved the first gesture recognition system that works in those situations. “We showed that this approach can extract accurate information about a rich set of gestures from multiple concurrent users, “he says.

Incredible work, professor!

Smart Infrastructure Logical Top Priority for IoT

The only issue Clinton and Trump can agree on is the need for massive improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges. But, please, let’s make it more than concrete and steel.

Let’s make it smart, and let’s make it the top priority for the IoT because of the trickle-down effects it will have on everything else in our economy.

Global economist Jeffrey Sachs stated the case eloquently in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, “Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age,” in which he argued that the infrastructure (including not only highways and bridges but also water systems, waste treatment, and the electric grid) shaped by the automotive age has run its course, and must be replaced by one “in line with new needs, especially climate safety, and new opportunities, especially ubiquitous online information and smart machines.”

I’m currently reading Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel’s The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, and the Future of Urban Life, which makes the same argument: “The answer to urban expansion and diffusion — and the host of social consequences that they bring — may be to optimize, rather than increase, transportation infrastructure.”

The IoT is perfectly suited to the needs of a new information-based infrastructure, especially one which must balance promoting the economy and mobility with drastic reductions in greenhouse gasses (transportation produces approximately a third of the U.S.’s  emissions). It can both improve maintenance (especially for bridges) through built-in sensors that constantly monitor conditions and can give advance warning in time to do less-costly and less-disruptive predictive maintenance, and reduce congestion by providing real-time information on current congestion so that real-time alterations to signals, etc., can be made rather than depending on outmoded fixed-interval stoplights, etc.

Sachs points out that infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen since the Reagan years, and that it will require much more spending to bring it up to date.

A good place to look for a model is China.  The country already sports the largest concentration of M2M connections in the world: “74 million connections at the end of 2014, representing almost a third of the global base,” much of that in the form of smart bridges, smart rails, and smart grid, and critical because of the country’s rapid economic growth (Ratti cites a Beijing traffic jam that immobilized cars for an astounding 12 days!). Similarly, the government aims to have 95% of homes equipt with smart meters by next year.The country has used its investment in smart infrastructure to build its overall IoT industry’s ability to compete globally.

Sachs argues for a long-term smart infrastructure initiative:

“I propose that we envision the kind of built environment we want for the next 60 years. With a shared vision of America’s infrastructure goals, actually designing and building the new transport, energy, communications, and water systems will surely require at least a generation, just as the Interstate Highway System did a half-century ago.”

He says we need a plan based on three priorities to cope with our current national and global challenges:

“We should seek an infrastructure that abides by the triple bottom line of sustainable development. That is, the networks of roads, power, water, and communications should support economic prosperity, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. The triple bottom line will in turn push us to adopt three guiding principles.

First, the infrastructure should be “smart,” deploying state-of-the-art information and communications technologies and new nanotechnologies to achieve a high efficiency of resource use.

Second, the infrastructure should be shared and accessible to all, whether as shared vehicles, open-access broadband in public areas, or shared green spaces in cities.

Third, transport infrastructure should promote public health and environmental safety. The new transport systems should not only shift to electrical vehicles and other zero-emission vehicles, but should also promote much more walking, bicycling, and public transport use. Power generation should shift decisively to zero-carbon primary energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear power. The built environment should be resilient to rising ocean levels, higher temperatures, more intense heat waves, and more extreme storms.”

The IoT, particularly because of its ability to let us share real-time data that in turn can regulate the infrastructure, is ideally suited to this challenge. It’s time for Congress to not only spend on infrastructure but to do so wisely.

The result will be not only the infrastructure we need, but also a more robust IoT industry in general.

 

Cautionary Note: Takes More Than #IoT to Make a City Smart

Posted on 8th September 2016 in cities, government, Internet of Things, smart cities, US government

“….I yield to no one in my love of smart city technologies, but I’ve been mixing it up in government for far longer, so I was appropriately chastised by this Boston Globe op-ed arguing that technology alone does not a city make smart…

Julian Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts, and Duncan McLaren,  an independent researcher, coauthored “Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities.”

They argue that one of my favorite examples of public-private IoT-based collaboration, how WAZE data is shared instantly with Boston’s Traffice Management Center, resulting in things like rapid removal of double-parked cars, and real-time signaling based on current traffic flow,”

“….. merely represents a Band Aid slapped over a problem that still requires brave new political thinking and much-needed infrastructure investment. Rather than using the latest app to help manage traffic flow within an overburdened system, Boston — perhaps more than any other US city — needs a wider, well-resourced, truly integrated package of measures designed to actually decrease the volume of cars in the city. Failing to do this will ultimately undermine quality of life and regional character.”

True, and I stand corrected.

While also citing initiatives such as CCTV-enabled congestion pricing in London, the authors argue that a range of improvements to make traffic flow better and other civic improvements “… will not come about through ‘smart’ city partnerships but through political will. There’s no app that substitutes for public engagement and responsive leadership.”

Technology is not a panacea for urban issues, health care, or aging, but, I do believe that it can become one of the tools that could and should be debated by policy makers and the public.

 

I’ll be on live Thursday morning talking the IoT and Smart Cities

Cities are the future of global civilization and the economy, and smart cities are the only way they’ll survive and prosper!

Join me and two SAP experts on the subject, Dina Dayal (global vice president for Digital Enterprise Platform Group) and Saj Kumar (vice president of Digital Transformation and Internet of Things) as we guest on Bonnie D. Graham’s always-enjoyable Coffee Break With Game Changers, 11 AM EDT, 8 AM PDT (it will be archived at the site if you can’t listen live.

Bonnie likes us to start with a provocative (and relevant) quote, and mine will be from Jane Jacobs’ great Death and Life of American Cities:

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because,
and only when, they are created by everybody.”

… with the emphasis on everybody: I’ll explain that there really is an important role in smart cities for city government, the private sector, and — often ignored — grassroots innovators.

A critical key is the global Things Network, created by Wienke Gieseman and his Gang of Ten in Amsterdam,  who created a free LoRaWAN city-wide data network for $12,000 and in less than a month, and then went on to create a global network and a crowdsourced campaign to bring the cost of LoRaWAN hubs down to $200.

I like to think I was there at the beginning, working with Vivek Kundra, then the DC’s CTO (before his accomplishments there led Obama to name him the first US CIO). Vivek and Mayor Fenty took the bold move of releasing more than 40 major city data bases on a real-time basis, then held a contest to get smart developers to create new-fangled “apps” (remember, this was 2008!) to capitalize on them. Because the apps were open-source, they’ve been constantly copied and improved in the years since then.

And that’s only the beginning:

  • creative startups such as Alicia Asin’s Libelium, working with an enlightened city government, have made Barcelona a massive testlab for the Iot, and arguably THE smart city of the day
  • Columbus OH won the Obama Administration’s Smart City competition for its all-inclusive transportation scheme (and I do mean all-inclusive: who ever thought a better transportation network could be used to cut infant mortality???)
  • Smart Cities organizations have been formed in cities worldwide to share ideas — we’re all in this together!

And, of course, I’m going to bring the discussion down to earth by really getting down and dirty — yessiree, we’re gonna talk trash cans.

Be there or be square!

 

Brexit and the IoT: Let’s Capitalize on the Opportunity, Not Wallow in Despair

Wow: as the old Dinah Washington ditty went, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Since last Thursday, I doubt even the most diehard IoT zealots have thought about anything but Brexit and its implications.  Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect and digest exactly how dire the possible problems are, I’d like to suggest we look at the bright side, and think the IoT could play a major role in improving everyone’s life in the future — not just the economic elites.

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

I used to be a corporate crisis manager, called in when major corporations had done amazingly stupid things and their reputations and sometimes even their survival was in question. For those occasions, I kept a battered greeting card in my briefcase with the calligraphy for wei ji, the Chinese ideogram for crisis. I’d point out that it c0mbined danger — that was obvious! — with the less-obvious one for opportunity. I still believe that, even in the global confusion and concern resulting from Brexit, and I think there’s a role for the IoT in the new world order.

Above all, this should be a wake-up call for the global economic and political elites that, going forth, change must benefit everyone, not just them.

When it comes to the IoT, that means that it can’t be yet another excuse for automating jobs out of existence, but must instead be a way of empowering workers and creating new opportunities:

  • One that occurred to me is near & dear to my heart, because I thought of a primitive version 25 years ago: creating 30″ high 4′ x 8′ garden “boxes” planted using Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” methods, that would allow people worldwide to grow their own veggies in very small spaces.  Add in IoT water sensors so that the beds could be watered precisely when and in the amount needed, and people everywhere could become self-sufficient (e-mail me if you’re interested in commercializing the approach)!  It would be the cheapie’s variation on the neat, but costly, Grove Labs home ag solution.
  • smart asthma inhaler

    smart asthma inhaler

    Increasingly, global populations will be centered in cities, so the whole smart cities approach will improve everyone’s quality of living by cutting down traffic, reducing municipal operating costs, and improving public health. Even fat cats get upset when their limos are stuck in traffic, so this is a win-win.
    One of my favorite examples of the smart city approach is the asthma inhaler cum GPS that automatically alerts public health authorities when a user — most frequently, sadly, a low-come minority person — uses the inhaler, allowing them to identify dirty air “hot spots” where cleanup efforts need to be focused.

  • I’ve always been impressed about the outside-the-box mobile device apps coming out of Africa that make their lack of conventional infrastructure into an advantage. One of the coolest examples of that when it comes to the IoT is the example INEX’s Chris Rezendes told me about: how Grundfos, the world’s leading pump company, releases the data from senors on its pumps for village water supplies in Africa and some smart guys have come up with an app that allows the village women to check in advance whether the village well is working before they trudge miles to get the watch (which, BTW, I hope they’re carrying back in these way-cool appropriate technology rolling water carriers, the “Hippo”).

  • Also, the IoT could empower assembly-line workers and others if smart managers realize that they too should be among those sharing real-time IoT data: yes, a lot of IoT data can be used on a M2M basis so one machine’s status will regulate another’s, but there’s also a potential role for workers, with their years of experience and horse-sense, using that data to fine-tune processes themselves to optimize efficiency. Artificial Intelligence is great, but I still think there’s a role for enlightened humans, even if they don’t have a lot of education and prestige within the corporation.

Those are just a few ideas on how the IoT might be used to improve everyone’s lot in the coming years and undermine the current status quo that benefits only a few.  Let me know if you have ideas on how to foster this revolution and make Brexit the catalyst for positive change.

 

 

My IoT Day Interview With Sudha Jamthe

Oops: I’ve been preoccupied with all sorts of dreck since returning from my SAP event, so I haven’t been able to post.

Did want to call your attention to a long IoT Day interview I did with the estimable Sudha Jamthe, author of The Internet of Things Business Primer.  We covered a range of topics, including the state of the IoT in Boston (and my enthusiasm about GE’s move here, because of their track record of working with IoT startups and even individuals), how I got involved in my IoT-based “SmartAging” crusade, and how the IoT may make possible “circular enterprises” orbiting around real-time IoT data.  Enjoy!

Internet of Things Can Pay Off for Small & Medium Businesses Too

Think again, if you’re a small and medium-sized business (SMB) that is holding back on Internet of Things projects until the price of software and components such as sensors came down and the technology is more robust!

INEX Advisors’ IoT Impact LABS, an accelerator program in New Bedford, MA brings together IoT startups, top technology and industrial suppliers such as Analog Devices, Dell, and PTC/ ThingWORX, plus legal and policy experts to use the IoT help innovative, sustainable small and medium-sized businesses in the region in fields such as “smart cities,” food and agriculture, water and maritime, and energy and transportation.

One is particularly noteworthy because it is bringing fishing into the 21st century.

Island Creek Oysters of Duxbury MA, was plagued by the need to do a five-step, paper-based food safety inspection reporting on variables such as water temperature and pH, that had to be recorded precisely during the two-hour window after low tide when it had to harvest the oysters.  It’s difficult to do both.

The Mass. Department of Fisheries Management brought together INEX and Island Creek to develop a real-time digital program to both monitor the oysters and do the data collection. Chris Rezendes, partner at Inex Advisors, said the department contacted IoT Impact Labs to figure out a digital traceability program for shellfish farmers in Massachusetts, which includes Island Creek’s farm in Duxbury Mass., just a half-hour south of Boston.

IoT Impact Labs put together a solution to enable monitoring of conditions in real time, wirelessly.

“There are just dozens of instrumentation opportunities. That means dozens of opportunities for sensors, and firmware, and connectivity, and analytics vendors,” Rezendes told CRN.

The project included replacing time-consuming human monitoring of more than 60 water pumps with wireless sensors.

The LABS will release more information about the other projects in coming months, and will host one of our Boston/New England IoT Meetups on February 29 in New Bedford (6 PM, 1213 Purchase Street), with speakers including:

  • Dave Wiley, PhD. NOAA, Research Director, Stellwagon National Marine Sanctuary. He has led the development and deployment of sensor buoys and marine mammal tracking, including supporting a recreational marine application based on his team’s work.
  • Dave Duquette, Founder and CEO, Littoral Power Systems which recently closed its Seed Round, including a prestigious ARPA-E grant. Their kinetic energy harvesting systems are breaking ground in tidal energy capture.
  • Brian Coffey, environmental sensing and instrumentation lead at Analog Devices.

 

3 Steps to Make Your City a World Leader in the IoT

I don’t know about you, but, in the face of grim news globally, I’m determined to make this an incredible year of change and growth.

Happy New Year!

I took a longer than normal time off, to pick up our youngest in Hong Kong after a semester abroad in Thailand, then vacation in Bali.

Hong Kong Internet of Things Association

I started the trip with a speech to the Hong Kong Internet of Things Association, in which I laid out my vision of radical change in corporate management and organization made possible by the IoT, away from the increasingly-obsolete hierarchical and linear forms that made perfect sense in an early 20th-century setting when data was hard to gather and share, but doesn’t when the IoT can allow instant sharing of real-time data by all who need it.

But the most interesting issue came up in the following q & a, when someone asked whether Hong Kong could become a global leader in the IoT.

I told them yes, and followed up with an op-ed in today’s South China Morning Post laying out the steps.

I believe the same steps can help your city become an IoT leader, and that this is a case of the-more-the-merrier: the more cities become IoT leaders the quicker widespread innovation and IoT adoption will become, and the more liveable and efficient our cities — the necessary focus of global growth in this century, especially to meet the challenge of global warming — will become.  So here goes!

  1. Create an IoT community.The one in Boston that I founded is now three years old, and numbers almost 2,000 members. My reason for doing it was that I’d run into many people working in the IoT here (Boston is listed as having the 4th largest concentration of IoT headquarters) but they were largely working in isolation, without a forum to bring them together.

    Forming an IoT network is a crucial step, because the IoT is inherently collaborative: as I’ve written many times before, “network effects” make each individual IoT device or service more valuable if they can be combined with others (for example, Apple’s HomeKit now allows someone to simply say “Siri, it’s time for bed,” and that voice command can trigger collaborative action by a variety of devices from different manufacturers, such as turning down the thermostat, locking the front door, and turning off the lights, which makes each of these IoT devices more valuable than they would be in isolation). Equally important, face-to-face contact may spark ideas that even the most talented IoT practitioner wouldn’t have thought of, huddled alone in his or her garret (or kewl cow0rking space…).

    An association that brings together all of your IoT practitioners will create synergistic benefits for all of them.

  2. Embrace the “smart city” vision. 

    This has the biggest potential payoff for your city, whether or not it becomes a big IoT commercial hub.Traditionally, cities have been laggards in technology adoption, but that’s no longer the case, starting in 2008, when I had the extreme privilege of being a consultant to DC CTO Vivek Kundra (who later became the first US CIO, specifically because of his achievements in DC) when he launched the DC Open Data initiative and the Apps [remember, this was 2008: what the heck are these “apps”???] for America contest to design apps to capitalize on this real-time data.  Hundreds of cities worldwide have embraced the concept, and because it stresses that the solutions be open source, cities that are late to the game can quickly benefit by adopting and adapting creative solutions that others have pioneered.

    When the IoT came along, many of these cities and their entrepreneurial residents were quick to realize their real-time data could lead to IoT apps and services that would deal with many of the prime concerns of cities: traffic control, mass transit, electricity, public health, environmental quality, and water and sewage (Credit where credit is due: IBM’s pioneering Smarter Planet service started working with many of the early adopters even before the smart city movement had a name).

    Cities that have launched comprehensive smart city programs, especially Barcelona’s, which includes projects ranging from free wi-fi to health monitoring for seniors to an app to find parking spaces, have realized tangible benefits while cutting operating costs and that will be the case for newcomers as well.

    Sometimes these initiatives tap the collaborative nature of the IoT to produce a public benefit that would be hideously expensive if they were carried out by municipal workers. For example, in Boston the “Street Bump” smartphone app uses the phone’s sensors to detect if the user’s car hits a pothole, then instantly reports the exact location to the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW). In essence, every driver becomes a de facto DPW employee!

  3. Finally,  join in the worldwide “Things Network” movement.As I’ve written before, this will create citywide, free networks for IoT data exchange, in essence turning an entire city into an IoT laboratory for experimentation and mutual benefit.

    This campaign, which was crowdsourced by only 10 technology enthusiasts in Amsterdam last August, successfully created a citywide data network there in less than a month, using 10 $1200 (USD) “LoRaWan gateways.”  LoRanWan is particularly suited to the IoT because it demands little power, has long range (up to 11 km) and low bandwidth. It wouldn’t require passwords, mobile subscription and zero setup costs.

    There are already 27 cities pursuing Things Networks, and the parent organization is making the concept even easier to deploy through a successful Kickstarter campaign last Fall to raise money to build a new LoRaWan gateway that would only cost $200.

    Unlike the full involvement of city government in initiatives such as opening city data bases, a Things Network is best done by volunteers, so that it will not be co-opted by official government agencies or powerful commercial interests: it is most powerful if it’s open to absolutely anyone who wants to try out a smart Internet of Things idea, while also potentially saving the city the cost of administering an expensive program that could instead be run by volunteers at little cost.

So there you have it: 3 practical steps to make your city a world leader in the Internet of Things that will improve urban life and make the city more efficient even if you don’t make the top 10.  Let’s get cracking!