Siemens’s Mobility Services: Trains Become IoT Labs on Wheels

George Stephenson's Killingworth locomotive Source: Project Gutenberg

George Stephenson’s Killingworth locomotive
Source: Project Gutenberg

As those of you who know rail history understand, with Stephenson as your last name, you’re bound to have a strong interest in railroads! Add in the fact that I was associate producer of an award-winning documentary on the subject back in the early 70’s, and it’s no wonder I was hooked when I got a chance to meet with some of Siemens’s top rail executives on my trip to Barcelona last week (Disclaimer: Siemens paid my expenses, but didn’t dictate what I covered, nor did they have editorial review of this piece).

What really excites me about railroads and the IoT is that they neatly encapsulate the dramatic transformation from the traditional industrial economy to the IoT: on one hand, the railroad was perhaps THE most critical invention making possible 19th century industry, and yet it still exists, in recognizable but radically-evolved form, in 2016. As you’ll see below, trains have essentially become laboratories on wheels!

I dwelt on the example of the Union Pacific in my e-book introduction to the IoT, SmartStuff, because to CIO Lynden Tennison was an early adopter, with his efforts focused largely on reducing the number of costly and dangerous derailments, through measures such as putting infrared sensors every twenty miles along the rail bed to spot “hotboxes,” overheating bearings. That allowed an early version of what we now know as predictive maintenance, pulling cars off at the next convenient yard so the bearings could be replaced before a serious problem. Even though the technology even five years ago was primitive compared to today, the UP cut bearing-related derailments by 75%.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Siemens’s application of the IoT to trains through its Mobility Services is yielding amazing benefits: increasing reliability, cutting costs, and even leading to possible new business models. They’ve taken over maintenance for more than 50 rail and transit programs.

While I love IoT startups with a radical new vision and no history to encumber them, Siemens is a beacon to those companies firmly rooted in manufacturing which may wonder whether to incorporate the IoT in their services and strategy. I suspect that its software products are inherently more valuable than competitors from pure-play software firms at commercial launch because the company eats its own dogfood and applies the new technology first to the products it manufactures and maintains — closing the loop.

Several of its executives emphasized that one of the advantages Siemens feels they enjoy is that their software engineers in Munich work in a corner of an old locomotive factory that Siemens still operates, so they can interact with those actually building and maintaining the engines on a daily basis. When it comes to security issues, their experience as a manufacturer means they understand the role of each component of the signaling system. Dr. Sebastian Schoning, ceo of Siemens client Gehring Technologies, which manufactures precision honing tools, told me that it was easier to sell these digital services to its own client base because so much of their current products include Siemens devices, giving them confidence in the new offerings. GE enjoys the same advantages of combining manufacturing and digital services with its Evolution Series locomotives.

The key to Siemens’s Mobility Services is Sinalytics, its platform architecture for data analysis not just for rail, but also for industries ranging from medical equipment to wind farms. More than 300,000 devices currently feed real-time data to the platform,   Consistent with my IoT-centric “Circular Company” vision, Sinalytics capitalizes on the data for multiple uses, including connectivity, data integration, analytics, and the all-important cyber security — they call the result not Big Data, but Smart Data. As with data services from jet turbine manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and GE, the platform also allows merging the data with data from sources such as weather forecasts which, in combination, can let clients optimize operating efficiency on a real-time M2M basis.  

With the new approach, trains become IoT laboratories on wheels, combining all of the key elements of an IoT system:

  • Sensing: there are sensors on the engines and gearboxes, plus vibration sensors on  microphones measure noises from bearings in commuter trains. They can even measure how engine oil is aging, so it can be changed when really needed, rather than on an arbitrary schedule.
  • Algorithms to make sense of the data and act on it. They read out patterns, record deviations & compare them with train control systems or vehicles of the same type.
  • Predictive maintenance replaces scheduled maintenance, dramatically reducing down-time and catastrophic failure.For example: “There’s a warning in one of the windows (of the control center display): engine temperature unusual. ‘We need to analyze the situation in greater depth to know what to do next  — we call it  ‘root cause analysis,” (say) Vice-President for Customer Support Herbert Padinger. ‘We look at its history and draw on comparative data from the fleet as a whole.’ Clicking on the message opens a chart showing changes in temperature during the past three months. The increased heat is gradually traced to a signal assembly. The Siemens experts talk with the customer to establish how urgent the need for action is, and then takes the most appropriate steps.”  He says that temperature and vibration analyses from the critical gearboxes gives Siemens at least three days advance notice of a breakdown — plenty of time for maintenance or replacement.  Predictive maintenance is now the norm for 70-80% of Siemens’s repairs.
  • Security (especially important given all of the miles of track and large crowds on station platforms): it includes video-based train-dispatch and platform surveillance using its SITRAIL D system, as well as cameras in the trains. The protections have to run the gamut from physical attacks to cyber attacks.  For security, the data is shared by digital radio, not networks also shared by consumers.

When operations are digitized, it allows seamlessly integrating emerging digital technologies into the services. Siemens Digital Services also included augmented reality (so repair personnel can see manuals on heads-up displays), social collaboration platforms, and — perhaps most important — 3-D printing-based additive manufacturing, so that replacement parts can be delivered with unprecedented speed. 3-D printing also allows dramatic reduction in parts inventories and allows replacement of obsolete parts that may no longer be available through conventional parts depots or even — get this — to improve on the original part’s function and/or durability, based on practical experience gained from observing the parts in use.  Siemens has used 3-D printing for the past last 3 years, and it lets them assure that they will have replacements for the locomotive’s entire lifespan, which can exceed 30 years.

The results of the new approach are dramatic.

  • None of the Velaro trains that Siemens maintains for several operators have broken down since Sinalytics was implemented. Among those in Spain only 1 has left more than 15 min. behind time in 2,300 trips: .0004%!
  • Reliability for London’s West Coast Mainline is 99.7%

  • Perhaps most impressive, because of the extreme cold conditions it must endure, the reliability rate for the Velaro service in Russia is 99.9%!

Their ultimate goal is a little higher: what Siemens calls (pardon the pun) 100% Railability (TM).

And, consistent with what other companies find when they fully implement not only IoT technology, but also what I like to call “IoT Thinking,” when it does reach those previously inconceivable quality benchmarks, the company predicts that, as the software and sensors evolve, the next stage will be new business models in which billing will be determined by guaranteeing customers availability and performance.

PS: I’ll be posting more about my interviews with Siemens officials and the Gartner event in coming days.

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.

 

Give It Up, People: Government Regulation of IoT Is Vital

Could this be the incident that finally gets everyone in the IoT industry to — as I’ve said repeatedly in the past — make privacy and security Job 1 — and to drop the lobbying groups’ argument that government regulation isn’t needed? 

I hope so, because the IoT’s future is at stake, and, frankly, not enough companies get it.

I’m referring to the Chrysler recall last week of 1.4 million Jeeps for a security patch after WIRED reported on an experiment in which two white-hat hackers remotely disabled a Jeep on an Interstate from miles away, exploiting a vulnerable link between its entertainment and control systems.  Put yourself in the place of reporter Andy Greenberg, then tell me with a straight face that you wouldn’t be out of your mind if this happened to you:

“As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

At that point, the interstate began to slope upward, so the Jeep lost more momentum and barely crept forward. Cars lined up behind my bumper before passing me, honking. I could see an 18-wheeler approaching in my rearview mirror. I hoped its driver saw me, too, and could tell I was paralyzed on the highway.

“You’re doomed!” Valasek [one of the hackers] shouted, but I couldn’t make out his heckling over the blast of the radio, now pumping Kanye West. The semi loomed in the mirror, bearing down on my immobilized Jeep.”

OK: calm down, get a cool drink, and, when your Apple Watch says your heart beat has returned to normal, read on….

But, dear reader, our industry’s leaders, assumedly knowing the well-publicized specifics of the Chrysler attack, had the hubris to still speak at a hearing of the Internet Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week and claim (according to CIO) that that government regulation of the IoT industry wasn’t needed.

CEA CEO Gary Shapiro said in calling for government “restraint”:

“It’s up to manufacturers and service providers to make good decisions about privacy and security, or they will fail in the marketplace….. Industry-driven solutions are best to promote innovation while protecting consumers.”

Sorry, Gary: if someone dies because their Jeep got spoofed, the survivors’ attorneys won’t be content with the company’s failure in the marketplace.

There are some important collaborative efforts to create privacy and security standards for the IoT, such as the AllSeen Alliance. However, as I’ve written before, there are also too many startups who defer building in privacy and security protections until they’ve solved their technology needs, and others, most famously TRENDnet, who don’t do anything at all, resulting in a big FTC fine.  There are simply too many examples of hackers using the Shodan site to hack into devices, not to mention academics and others who’ve showed security flaws that might even kill you if exploited.

One local IoT leader, Paddy Srinivasan of LoMein, gets it, as reported today by the Boston Globe‘s Hiawatha Bray:

“‘I think it is a seminal moment…. These new devices need a fresh approach and a new way of thinking about security, and that is the missing piece.'”

But it’s too late to just talk about self-policing.

Massachusetts’ own Ed Markey and his Connecticut counterpart, Richard Blumenthal, have called the associations’ bluff, and filed legislation, The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act (AKA SPY Car, LOL)  that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to secure cars and protect drivers’ privacy. It would also create a rating system — or “cyber dashboard”— telling drivers about how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy beyond those minimum standards. This comes in the wake of the Markey study I reported on last Winter documenting car companies’ failure to build in adequate cyber-hacking protections.

Guess what, folks?  This is only the beginning.  Probably the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Dick Cheney on (ok, we agree it’s cool to have been born in Wyoming and that Lynne Cheney is a great writer), is that it wouldn’t be cool for the Veep to have his pacemaker hacked, so you can bet there will be legislation and regulations soon governing privacy and security for wearables as well.

As I’ve said before, I come at this issue differently from a lot of engineers, having earned my keep for many years doing crisis management for Fortune 100 companies that bet the farm by doing dumb things that could destroy public trust in them overnight. Once lost, that trust is difficult, if not impossible, to regain.  Even worse, in this case, cavalier attitudes by even one IoT company, if the shock value of the results is great enough, could make everyone in the industry suffer.

So, if you’re arguing for no regulation of the IoT industry, I have just one suggestion: shut up,clean up your act and take a positive role in shaping regulations that would be performance-based, not prescriptive: the horse has already left the barn.

Now I have to check my Apple Watch to see when my heart rate will get back to normal.

 

Can Internet of Things help solve the Malaysia 370 mystery?

Posted on 13th March 2014 in Internet of Things, M2M, transportation

It appears from a Wall St. Journal article  that Malaysia Air 370’s Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines may have had built-in sensors

Rolls-Royce Trent 800 jet engine

that allowed the engines to send real-time operating data to Rolls-Royce for analysis. According to the WSJ, the data may indicate that the plane flew for an additional four hours after its last radio transmissions.

Whether or not this proves to be true, it does give a preview of what life will be like when the IoT is fully functional: real-time data will become a critical tool in transportation management and safety. In this case the data might help locate the wreckage. In others, the fact that it will allow traffic controllers, whether on the ground or in the air, to react to danger in real time, will save lives. 

Nice long NPR piece on Stantander

Posted on 4th June 2013 in cities, government, Internet of Things, transportation

One of my sons turned me on to this long NPR piece this morning about Santander. Thought it did a good job of covering the mix of top-down (the city’s installations of sensors) and bottoms-up (the active involvement of citizens through apps to report potholes, etc.) that a make up a robust IoT program.

Want to help plan how Internet of Things will transform government? Join my new GovLoop group!

Have no doubt about it: the Internet of Things will transform government, affecting public security, defense, environmental protection, transport, and health.  If you’d like to be part of the community planning how to help government capitalize on the IoT, please join my new GovLoop community on the topic!

O’Reilly free e-book gives overview of “industrial internet”

Posted on 18th April 2013 in energy, Internet of Things, manufacturing, transportation

O’Reilly has published a free e-book,  “Industrial Internet,” (underwritten by GE, which, not so coincidentally, uses the industrial internet as the advertising slogan for its own involvement in the field…) about the “coming together to software and big machines.” It’s a great introduction to this crucial portion of the Internet of Things.

The message of the book? “With a network connection and an open interface that masks its underlying complexity, a machine becomes a Web service, ready to be coupled to software intelligence that can ingest broad context and optimize entire systems of machines.

“The industrial internet is this union of software and big machines… It promises to bring the key characteristics of the Web — modularity, abstraction, software above the level of a single device — to demanding physical settings, letting innovators break down big problems, solve them in small pieces, and then stitch together their solutions.”

Author Jon Bruner emphasizes that industrial internet devices don’t necessarily have to be connected to the public Internet: “…rather, it refers to machines becoming nodes on pervasive networks that use open protocols.”

Machines are reconceptualized as services, “…accessible to any authorized application that’s on the network. Those applications make it possible to simplify optimization of the physical devices without requiring as much knowledge. Most importantly, “…the industrial internet makes the physical world accessible to anyone who can recast its problems in terms that software can handle: learning, analysis, system-wide optimization. (my emphasis)”

Bruner points out that the bigger the network (think the entire US air traffic control system) the more optimized it can become. As Big Data takes over software intelligence “will become smarter and more granular.”

Hallmarks of the industrial internet will include:

  • fewer, smarter machines
  • less labor required to operate them
  • “Any machine that registers state data can become a valuable sensor when it’s connected to a network.”

One point that really struck me was that physical products will be able to be improved on the fly, rather than just when a new model is introduced — think of what that means, in particular, for cars, which can often last up to 15 years: it will become possible to change engine settings simply by a software upgrade transmitter via a smartphone app!

“A software update might include a better algorithm for setting fuel-air mixtures that would improve fuel economy. Initiatives like OpenXC8, a Ford program that gives Android developers access to drivetrain data, portend the coming of ‘plug and play intelligence,’ in which a driver not only stocks his car with music and maps through his phone, but also provides his own software and computational power for the car’s drivetrain, updated as often as his phone. One driver might run software that adjusts the car’s driving characteristics for better fuel economy, another for sportier performance. That sort of customization might bring about a wide consumer market in machine controls.

“This could lead to the separation of markets in machines and in controls: buy a car from General Motors and buy the intelligent software to optimize it from Google. Manufacturers and software developers will need to think in terms of broad platforms to maximize the value of both their offerings.”

WOW!

The e-book includes a chapter on the crucial issue of security, arguing that, paradoxically, it may be easier to provide security on an Internet-based network — on the premise that the Internet is constantly challenged by hackers and constantly adapts — than on a more limited network. It mentions Shodan (I’ve been seeing a lot about that one recently!) and Basecamp2 as magnets that attract those who might want to hack the Internet of Things.

There’s also a chapter full of helpful case studies from pioneering industrial internet companies in fields including utilities, HVAC/building controls, automotive (I found that one particularly interesting), aviation, railroads (paradoxically, one of our oldest industries is among the most advanced in its use of sensors and other industrial internet technology, as I’ve reported previously), health care, and manufacturing. Any smart manager should get ideas for his or her company by reading them!

“Industrial Internet” is a must read! Download it today.