LOL: The Boston Olympics that Will Not Be: How the IoT MIGHT Have Pulled It Off!

Well, there go the billions my wife and I were going to make from renting our house through Airbnb for the Boston 2024 Olympics….   The US Olympic Committee pulled their support for the bid several hours ago based on the lack of public support for the proposal, which comes as NO surprise to those of us who know and (sometimes) love the local sport of choice in Boston: not the modern pentathalon, but debating any issue ad nauseum and eating our own.

Oh well!  I’d been planning a special meeting of our Boston IoT MeetUp for September about how the IoT really might make it possible that we could both build the Olympic infrastructure on time and on budget through creative use of the IoT AND also build a positive legacy that would endure after the games were over.

I’d also just written an op-ed on the subject. Since the chances of getting one of the local rags to publish that now are also zero, I thought I’d post it here, in hopes that it may inspire the other cities still bidding for the Games to adopt this approach, and that Boston and Massachusetts will also make the IoT a critical part of any major construction projects and smart city strategies.


 

What if a single approach could meet both of Boston 2024’s main challenges: building the venues on-time and under budget, AND assuring a positive legacy for the city, region and state?

There is: the Internet of Things (IoT), the concept of linking not just people, but also devices, via the Internet so they can be coordinated and activated automatically and in real time.  The IoT is already a reality, as demonstrated by examples ranging from “smart” thermostats you can adjust from your smartphone to fitness devices that let you track your vital signs.

While most are still unaware of the IoT, Boston was recently ranked as the world’s fourth-leading city in terms of numbers of IoT companies, and the Boston IoT MeetUp that I co-chair has grown to 1400 members in less than two years.

Every Olympics faces serious questions because of the history of cost overruns and construction delays, but our bid faces the extra burden of the botched Big Dig.

Construction sites are inherently chaotic because of so much equipment and so many subcontractors, resulting in an astounding 70-80% idle time, but the IoT changes that.  My client, SAP, and SK Solutions have collaborated in Dubai (which is on a construction binge dwarfing anything the Olympics might bring), putting sensors on all of the construction equipment, trucks, etc., so that the managers can visualize, in real-time, who is where, and make sure the right ones are in place and ready to go exactly when needed. Everyone who needs it, from operators to maintenance, shares the same data at the same time, building collaboration and efficiency.

The IoT can also make the games run smoothly and efficiently. After last Winter, we know how poorly the MBTA operates currently. The IoT can dramatically improve operations because sensors will report real-time data about the condition of every piece of rolling stock, so issues can be dealt with quickly and cheaply ( “predictive maintenance”) before they become critical. Ports and airports, such as Logan, are also inherently chaotic, but the Port of Hamburg has increased its operating efficiency through IoT coordination of every vehicle.  Clever IoT transportation projects already underway by the Mayor’s Office of the New Urban Mechanics can also help the games operate efficiently.

Believe it or not, even the most prosaic parts of our urban landscape can and must be reinvented to make the games run smoothly.  You’ve already seen the ultra-modern Big Belly Solar trash compactors (from Needham) that now dot downtown, which compact trash and collect recycling to make our streets cleaner. But did you know that each of them also houses a wireless system that creates a free “mesh network” that gives us free wi-fi access on the streets as well (and, in a post-Olympics disaster, could provide real-time response information)? Why not deploy them region-wide? Or, why have conventional streetlights when there are ones that not only cut electric use with LED bulbs, but also have banner-like LED panels that could have constantly-changing panels about that day’s events and would switch instantly to showing real-time detours because of data about traffic jams just ahead?

The Olympics will also stress our electricity infrastructure, and the IoT can help there as well. Two-way real-time data flow will allow a electric “smart grid” to dispatch power exactly when, where, and in the amount needed. What if we also had the world’s best network of neighborhood electric car chargers, and if Zip Car, one of our home-bred IoT innovations, became the preferred way of getting around not just downtown, but also the whole region?

A smart grid and efficient, reliable mass transit wouldn’t be the only positive legacy from the IoT.  If the Olympic Village to house the athletes was made up of “smart buildings” with built-in sensors, after the Olympics they would become economical, user-friendly and affordable apartments.

You may not have heard much about the Internet of Things so far, but the technology is already here, and the cost is plummeting.  Major orders for sensors, operating software and other components for the Olympics would create more jobs in our local IoT industry and further drive down the IoT’s cost.

Experts agree that the IoT will bring about as radical a transformation in our lives and economy as the Internet did, and making it the centerpiece of Boston’s Olympics construction, operations and legacy planning could make us again the Hub of the (Internet of Things) Universe.


 

Oh well!

McKinsey IoT Report Nails It: Interoperability is Key!

I’ll be posting on various aspects of McKinsey’s new “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype” report for quite some time.

First of all, it’s big: 148 pages in the online edition, making it the longest IoT analysis I’ve seen! Second, it’s exhaustive and insightful. Third, as with several other IoT landmarks, such as Google’s purchase of Nest and GE’s divestiture of its non-industrial internet division, the fact that a leading consulting firm would put such an emphasis on the IoT has tremendous symbolic importance.

McKinsey report — The IoT: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype

My favorite finding:

“Interoperability is critical to maximizing the value of the Internet of Things. On average, 40 percent of the total value that can be unlocked requires different IoT systems to work together. Without these benefits, the maximum value of the applications we size would be only about $7 trillion per year in 2025, rather than $11.1 trillion.” (my emphasis)

This goes along with my most basic IoT Essential Truth, “share data.”  I’ve been preaching this mantra since my 2011 book, Data Dynamite (which, if I may toot my own horn, I believe remains the only book to focus on the sweeping benefits of a paradigm shift from hoarding data to sharing it).

I was excited to see that the specific example they zeroed in on was offshore oil rigs, which I focused on in my op-ed on “real-time regulations,” because sharing the data from the rig’s sensors could both boost operating efficiency and reduce the chance of catastrophic failure. The paper points out that there can be 30,000 sensors on an rig, but most of them function in isolation, to monitor a single machine or system:

“Interoperability would significantly improve performance by combining sensor data from different machines and systems to provide decision makers with an integrated view of performance across an entire factory or oil rig. Our research shows that more than half of the potential issues that can be identified by predictive analysis in such environments require data from multiple IoT systems. Oil and gas experts interviewed for this research estimate that interoperability could improve the effectiveness of equipment maintenance in their industry by 100 to 200 percent.”

Yet, the researchers found that only about 1% of the rig data was being used, because it rarely was shared off the rig with other in the company and its ecosystem!

The section on interoperability goes on to talk about the benefits — and challenges — of linking sensor systems in examples such as urban traffic regulation, that could link not only data from stationary sensors and cameras, but also thousands of real-time feeds from individual cars and trucks, parking meters — and even non-traffic data that could have a huge impact on performance, such as weather forecasts.  

While more work needs to be done on the technical side to increase the ease of interoperability, either through the growing number of interface standards or middleware, it seems to me that a shift in management mindset is as critical as sensor and analysis technology to take advantage of this huge increase in data:

“A critical challenge is to use the flood of big data generated by IoT devices for prediction and optimization. Where IoT data are being used, they are often used only for anomaly detection or real-time control, rather than for optimization or prediction, which we know from our study of big data is where much additional value can be derived. For example, in manufacturing, an increasing number of machines are ‘wired,’ but this instrumentation is used primarily to control the tools or to send alarms when it detects something out of tolerance. The data from these tools are often not analyzed (or even collected in a place where they could be analyzed), even though the data could be used to optimize processes and head off disruptions.”

I urge you to download the whole report. I’ll blog more about it in coming weeks.

Every IoT office needs this graphic on privacy and security

Long-time readers know that I frequently rant that privacy and security are Job 1 when it comes to the IoT.  

No apologies: it’s because I spent many years in corporate crisis management, and I learned the hard way that public trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and, once lost, difficult or impossible to regain.

That’s why I was so glad to see this really informative, attractive, and scary infographic from Zora Lopez at Computer Science Zone, because it lays everything out so vividly.  Among the key points:

  1. (seen this before, but it still astounds me) In 2011, 20 typical households generated as much data as the entire Internet did as recently as 2008.
  2. the number of really-large (on scale of e-Bay, Target, etc.) data thefts grow annually.
  3. the bad guys particularly go after extremely sensitive data such as health, identity and financial.

It concludes with a particularly sobering reminder (you may remember my comment on the enthusiastic guys who presented at Wearables + Things and cheerfully commented that they would eventually get around to privacy and security — NOT!):

The barrier to entry in tech has never been lower, leaving many new organizations to later grapple with unsatisfactory security.” (my emphasis)

So: print a copy of the following for every employee and new hire, and put it on the cube’s wall immediately (here’s the original URL: http://www.computersciencezone.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Security-and-the-Internet-of-Things.jpg#sthash.c6u2POMr.dpuf)

IoT Privacy and Security, from Computer Science Zone

Exploiting full potential of iBeacons for Internet of Things

One of the most exciting aspects of the Internet of Things is seeing how, when more people are exposed to one of its technologies, they find uses for it that the inventors might not have visualized.  I give you … the iBeacon.

The Apple protocol (again, my obligatory disclaimer that I work part-time at an Apple Store, but have no inside information or any obligation to hype their tech) is used in Bluetooth low-energy transmitters (“beacons”) that broadcast their location to nearby devices so they can perform actions such as social-media check-ins or push notifications while near the beacon.  They’re most frequently used in marketing to offer targeted bargains, and primarily have been used by the biggest retailers and sites such as major-league ballparks, but, as you’ll see, not always.

At the Re-Work Internet of Things Summit I met two young entrepreneurs, Justin Mann and Ben Smith  of Beacons in Space, a Boston startup that would allow new apps to leverage existing installed iBeacons — typically installed by large retailers and closed to others —  instead of having to add more beacons in a given space. This would be done through a subscription model with a simple API on top of a beacon rental marketplace. It would allow smaller developers can scale their developments and projects without having to invest in a redundant iBeacon array.

But I was particularly interested in how some clever developers are applying iBeacons outside retail settings.

One is at the Zoom Torino Biopark in Cumiana, Italy. iBeacons around the zoo trigger an app including an interactive map that helps visitors move around the park by giving their exact location and showing where other attractions are located.

“As visitors discover the six different habitat environments of the park, they will be able to unlock specific details, facts and suggestions throughout their journey thanks to hidden Bluetooth transmitting beacons, which trigger relevant content on a visitor’s smartphone based on their location.

“Users will also benefit from alerts on their mobile device informing them of special events during their visit, like meeting animals or presentations. By engaging with the app, visiting certain locations within the park and answering quiz questions, visitors can also earn promotional items and discount coupons for use within the park.”

installing iBeacon on Bucharest trolley to guide visually-impaired

Best of all,  Romania is using them in a very clever system, The Smart Public Transport (SPT) solution, to give visually-impaired riders audio clues through their smartphone about Bucharest’s bus system, a joint project of the Smart Public Transport project and Romania’s RATB trolley buses. Onyx Beacon, a Romanian company, is installing 500 Beacons on the city’s most heavily used public transportation vehicles (the project, incidentally, was funded by Vodafone under its “Mobile for Good” program, encouraging use of technology for social programs and to solve specific problems of those with special personal needs).

All of these projects show the utility — provided there are privacy and security provisions built in, and the systems are opt-in, of iBeacons for giving hyper-localized information and offers. If the Beacons in Space concept takes off, to eliminate the need to deploy more iBeacons for every new app, the concept might really become an important part of the IoT, whether for retail or civic uses.

Incredible example of rethinking “things” with Internet of Things

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the epitome of the IoT-enabled product: the trash can!

My reader statistics do not indicate this blog has a heavy readership among trash cans, but let me apologize in advance to them for what I’m about to write: it’s not personal, just factual.

I’m sorry, but you municipal trash cans are pathetic!

Dented. Chipping paint. Trash overflowing. Smelly. Pests (ever seen any of those prize city rats? Big!!!) Sometime even knocked over. And, worst of all, you are so…. DUMB. You just sit there and don’t do anything.

BigBelly trash compactor and recycling center

But that was then, and this is now.

I have seen the future of trash cans, and, equally important, perhaps the best example I’ve seen of how smart designers and company strategists can –and must — totally rethink products’ design and how they are used because of the Internet of Things! 

At last week’s Re-Work Internet of Things Summit there were many exciting new IoT examples (I’ll blog others in coming weeks) but perhaps the one that got more people talking was the BigBelly trash compactor & recycling system, high-tech successor to the lowly trash can.

The company’s motto is that they are “transforming waste management practices and contributing to the Smart Cities of tomorrow.” Indeed!

I was first attracted to the BigBelly systems because of my alternative energy and environmental passions: they featured PV-powered trash compactors, which can quintuple the amount a trash container can hold, eliminating overflowing containers and the need to send trucks to empty them as frequently. Because the containers are closed, there’s no more ugly banana peels and McDonald’s wrappers assaulting your delicate eyes — or noses! Equally important, each is paired with a recycling container, which are almost never seen on city streets, dramatically reducing the amount of recyclables that go into regular trash simply because no recycling containers are accessible downtown.  These features alone would be a noteworthy advance compared to conventional trash cans.

But BigBelly wasn’t content to just improve the efficiency of trash and recyclable collection: they decided to make the containers smart.

The company worked with Digi to add wireless communications to the bins. This is a critical part of BigBelly’s broader significance: when the IoT first started to creep into corporate consciousness, of course designers thought about smart versions of high-value products such as cars, but lowly trash cans? That deserves real praise, because they fundamentally re-examined not only the product as it existed, but also realized that an IoT-based version that could also communicate real-time data would become much more versatile and much more valuable.

Here’s what has resulted so far (and I suspect that as the BigBellys are more widely deployed and both city administrators and others become aware of their increased functionality, other features will be added: I see them as “Smart City Hubs!”):

  • heatmap of trash generation in Lower Manhattan using real-time data from BigBellys and CLEAN dashboard

    instead of traditional pickup routes and schedules that were probably based on sheer proximity (or, as BigBelly puts it a little more colorfully, “muscle memory and gut instincts”), they now offer a real-time way to monitor actual waste generation, through the “CLEAN Management Console,” which allows DPW personnel to monitor and evaluate bins’ fullness, trends and historical analysis, for perspective. Collections can now be dynamic and driven by current needs, not historical patterns.

  • For those cities that opt for it, the company offers a Managed Services option where it does the analysis and management of the devices — not unlike the way jet turbine manufacturers now offer their customers value-added data that allows them to optimize performance — and generates new revenue streams for the manufacturers.
  • You may remember that I blogged a while ago about the “Collective Blindness” analogy: that, until the IoT, we humans simply couldn’t visualize much about the inner workings of the material world, so we were forced to do klugy work-arounds.  That’s not, strictly speaking, the case here, since trash in a conventional can is obviously visible, but the actual volume of trash was certainly invisible to those at headquarters. Now they can see — and really manage it.
  •  They can dramatically increase recycling programs’ participation rate and efficiency. As BigBelly says, the system provides “intelligent infrastructure to support ongoing operations and free up staffing and resources to support new and expanded recycling programs. Monitoring each separate stream volumes, days to fullness, and other activities in CLEAN enables you to make changes where needed to create a more effective public recycling program. Leverage the stations’ valuable sidewalk real estate to add messaging of encouraging words to change your users’ recycling behaviors.”Philadelphia is perhaps the best example of how effective the system can be. The city bought 210 of the recycling containers in 2009. On average, each collected 225 pounds of recyclables monthly, resulting in 23.5 tons of material diverted from landfills. Philly gets $50 per ton from the recycling — and avoiding $63 in landfill tipping fees, with a total benefit to the city of $113 per ton, or $2599 per month.

Here’s where it really gets neat, in my estimation.

Because the BigBellys are connected in real time, the devices can serve a number of real-time communication functions as well (enabled by an open API and an emphasis by BigBelly on finding collaborative uses). That includes making them hubs for a “mesh network” municipal wi-fi system (which, by the way, means that your local trash container/communications hub could actually save your life in a disaster or terror attack, when stationary networks may be disrupted, as I explained years ago in this YouTube video).

The list of benefits goes on (BigBelly lists all of them, right down to “Happy Cities,” on its web site). Trust me: if my premise is right that we can’t predict all of the benefits of the IoT at this point because we simply aren’t accustomed to thinking expansively about all the ways connected devices can be used, there will be more!

So here’s my take-away from the BigBelly:

If something as humble and ubiquitous as a municipal trashcan can  be transformed into a waste-reduction, recycling collection, municipal communication hub, then to fully exploit the Internet of Things’ full potential, we need to take a new, creative look at every material thing we interact with, no longer making assumptions about its limited role, and instead looking at it creatively as part of an interconnected network whose utility grows the more things (and people!) it’s connected with!

Let me know your ideas on how to capitalize on this new world of possibilities!

Virtual Sensor Networks: a key #IoT tool?

I was once again honored to be a guest on Coffee Break With Game Changers Radio today with David Jonker and Ira Berk of SAP — it’s always a delight to have a dialogue on the Internet of Things with these two brainy guys (and hats off as well to moderator/host Bonnie Graham!).

Toward the end of the show, Ira brought up a concept that was new to me: virtual sensor networks.

I’ve got sensors on the brain right now, because I’m frankly worried that sensors that don’t have adequate baked-in security and privacy protections and which can’t be ungraded as new opportunities and threats present themselves may be a threat to the IoT because they typically remain in use for so many years. Ah, but that’s a topic for another post.

According to Wikipedia, Virtual sensor networks are an:

“… emerging form of collaborative wireless sensor networks. In contrast to early wireless sensor networks that were dedicated to a specific application (e.g., target tracking), VSNs enable multi-purpose, collaborative, and resource efficient WSNs. The key idea difference of VSNs is the collaboration and resource sharing….
“… A VSN can be formed by providing logical connectivity among collaborative sensors. Nodes can be grouped into different VSNs based on the phenomenon they track (e.g., rock slides vs. animal crossing) or the task they perform. VSNs are expected to provide the protocol support for formation, usage, adaptation, and maintenance of subset of sensors collaborating on a specific task(s). Even the nodes that do not sense the particular event/phenomenon could be part of a VSN as far as they are willing to allow sensing nodes to communicate through them. Thus, VSNs make use of intermediate nodes, networks, or other VSNs to efficiently deliver messages across members of a VSN.”

Makes sense to me: collaboration is a critical basic component of the human aspect of the IoT (one of my IoT “Essential Truths), so why shouldn’t that extend to the mechanics as well?). If you have a variety of sensors already deployed in a given area, why should you have to deploy a whole new set of single-purpose ones to monitor a different condition if data could be synthesized from the existing sensors to effectively yield the same needed information?

2008 article on the concept said the virtual sensor networks are particularly relevant to three categories where data is* needed:

“Firstly, VSNs are useful in geographically overlapped applications, e.g., monitoring rockslides and animal crossing within a mountainous terrain. Different types of devices that detect these phenomena can relay each other for data transfer without having to deploy separate networks (Fig. 1). Secondly, VSNs are useful in logically separating multipurpose sensor networks, e.g., smart neighborhood systems with multifunctional sensor nodes. Thirdly, VSNs can be used to enhance efficiency of systems that track dynamic phenomena such as subsurface chemical plumes that migrate, split, or merge. Such networks may involve dynamically varying subsets of sensors.”

That article went on to propose a flexible, self-organizing “cluster-tree” approach to create the VSN, using tracking of a pollution plume as an example:

“…  a subset of nodes organizes themselves to form a VSN to track a specific plume. Whenever a node detects a relevant event for the first time it sends a message towards the root of the cluster tree indicating that it is aware of the phenomenon and wants to collaborate with similar nodes. The node may join an existing VSN or makes it possible for other nodes that wish to form a VSN, to find it. Use of a cluster tree or a similar structure guarantees that two or more nodes observing the same phenomenon will discover each other. Simulation based results show that our approach is more efficient and reliable than Rumor Routing and is able to combine all the nodes that collaborate on a specific task into a VSN.”

I suspect the virtual sensor network concept will become particularly widespread as part of “smart city” deployments: cash-strapped municipalities will want to get as much bang for the buck possible from already-deployed sensors, without having to install new ones. Bet my friends in Spain at Libellium will be in the forefront of this movement!

Thanks, Ira!


*BTW: if any members of the Grammar Police are lurking out there (I’m a retired lt. colonel of the Mass. State Grammar Police myself), you may take umbrage at “data is.”  Strictly speaking, the proper usage in the past has been “data are,” but the alternative is becoming so widespread that it’s becoming acceptable usage. So sue me…