Intelligence in the edge

September 10, 2015

ai-cropped-640x353After the Billions-of-devices-hype came even bigger numbers on the Big Data opportunity. It’s obviously so that being able to gather and analyse huge amount of data from different sources gives interesting opportunities for both good and bad guys. And the big number game always works: if airlines save 1% cost it’s a huge amount of money. Or if rescue shows up at car accidents a minute earlier on average we save many lives and loads of pain and money. If people on the planet save a minute a day on their way to work we would create mountains of time to be used for something fantastic. We have left the Billions and talk Trillions now.

Let’s come back to the view that enormous shared data power in the cloud is the only way forward. We’ve heard it before. It all started with IBM’s mighty mainframes in the core and 3270 terminals in the edge. Computing was only about central expensive machines until Apple turned it all upside down with the first personal computer. And ever since have IT managers and others had to struggle with the balance between edge and core. At 3Com we invented Ethernet and argued power to the edge. Why send data outside the office if it’s internal and only to be shared between people in the office? It’s at least not safer and what if connection to the center is lost? It has been going on like this, back and forth, Thin Clients with all power in the core was really the future for a while and most recently employees started bring their own, rarely thin, devices to work.

There is definitely a lot of economies of scale to run things from the center. But innovation often comes from the edge. That’s why we have regional and local governments for example. Culture, climate, economy, religion, desire and everything else differs from place to place, company to company, human to human.

Coming back to Big Data and IoT. First of all, IoT is most often small data, and little or no velocity, variation and all the other V’s that Big Data is supposed to deal with. Secondly, in many applications we need to make really quick decisions down there at the floor, in the edge. A home care solution which tries to identify when a person living there is about to get stroke, requires a thorough understanding of that individual, constant monitoring and learning and very rapid and correct alarms when something is about to go wrong. A retailer who need to put the new pasta somewhere need to make that decision now. With real-time support for that decision it will be a better one than without.

I believe a new wave of distributed AI applications within self-learning systems will be a really important part of the Internet of Everything. Keep an eye at companies like our THINGS member Aifloo and Imagimob, both developing AI capable edge devices for industrial, healthcare, retail and energy markets. These clever devices with their own sensors built-in, might even make it possible to avoid further integration into larger equipment to provide applications requested.

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Inspiring example: Infracontrol makes cities talk

July 21, 2014

smartcityOne of the most talked about areas for Internet of Things is Smart Cities. Cities themselves invest to become one. Most of the large players in IoT focus on Smart Cities. There are events, predictions, articles and show cases everywhere and each and everyone use their own definition of Smart Cities. A city is a very complex and dynamic location which from an ICT point of view could be described as a system of systems. It is obvious that sub-systems could be more efficient using IoT solutions and that the overall system of systems could be improved if the data collected was shared cleverly between the systems. No wonder Smart Cities is a perfect topic to focus on both for suppliers and municipalities.

But how much smarter has cities become over the last years? Well, there are of course impressive reference cases here and there and a lot of sub-systems in a lot of cities have become better using IoT solutions. But the size and complexity of pulling it all together in a city is difficult to deal with both from practical and technical perspectives.

This is why I am really impressed by Infracontrol, their pragmatic approach to Smart Cities and what they have been able to do. They started about 20 years ago to help cities connecting mainly traffic related things like tunnel alarms, ventilation systems and traffic lights. As they grew bigger in several cities and with new applications they developed Infracontrol Online™ 2003 to connect cities and citizens for better services. Today they have 56 Swedish municipalities using Infracontrol Online™ and their first ones in Portugal in place as well. Their customers report 60% better service quality, 30% savings in maintenance expenses, a lot of energy savings and higher citizen satisfaction. Sounds smart to me! Needless to say Infracontrol is a member of  the Swedish SMSE-alliance!

Get inspired by Jenny Gustavsson’s 5 minute pitch on Infracontrol at Internet of Everything For Real™ 2014!


Inspiring examples: Watty – like Shazam for electricity

July 4, 2014

electricityBetter use of energy is one of the key challenges to our society today and smart metering is the first step towards a smarter electricity system. It makes it possible to understand the overall level of electricity consumption and for example compare it with historical data or similar buildings. But in order to understand which devices consumes what in a house, office or apartment we have had to put a meter on that specific device for a while and track the result.

But Watty, a small start-up in Stockholm, is taking a completely different and much more elegant and scalable approach – they listen to the electricity and identify patterns they recognize. In a similar way as Shazam identifies music they can see fridges, heat pumps and washing machines. Their detective mounted on the smart meter send the data to the cloud where Watty use their clever algorithms to analyze and report back in an easy to use app. They can even detect appliances that might go on fire or an open door to a fridge.
I think this is brilliant and the right approach to better energy use. Take a couple of minutes to listen to Eva Andersson at Watty presenting what they do in the Case Marathon at Internet of Everything For Real™ 2014 in Stockholm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyfBrbh840o
Watty is of course a member of SMSE together with 27 other Swedish start-ups in the IoE space.

M2M doping

May 27, 2013

freeimage-3771421-webMany of us are convinced that M2M, Internet of Things or whatever we want to call it, will happen big ways and will bring massive change to most industries. The part of it easiest to measure is things connected using a mobile subscription and it grows with some 30% per annum. Good growth but from small numbers. Since standard mobile subscriptions sometimes are used to connect things it’s hard to say exactly how many mobile M2M connections we have but it should be close to 150M. And an absolute majority of these are 2G – probably still around 90%.

150M subscriptions is a lot and annual growth 30% normally sends sales directors on President Club trips to Hawaii. But there are a two issues I would like bring attention to.

A big part of the subscriptions comes from connected meters. Connected meters are great and enables smart metering, smart grids, new services, etc. But most of the meters are connected due to political decisions and not business decisions. I called the combination of regulation and public stimulation packages for “M2M doping” at a speech at M2M+ in Milan earlier in May which triggered an interesting discussion. Personally I  believe the political push for smart meters around the world is very good for the society and obviously for the M2M industry too. My point is that people in the M2M industry must remember that a big chunk of M2M business so far comes from artificial promotion and not genuine market demand. I believe meters would have become smart also without the doping but it would have taken much longer time. Let’s not fool ourselves!

The next wave of doping is eCall and similar public initiatives. The idea to save lives and minimize injuries due to car accidents by sending an SMS with position when the airbag explodes is over ten years old. Me and my colleagues at BrainHeart Capital invested in Wireless Car at the time together with Volvo, Telia and others, and OnStar was developed in parallel by GM and others in the US. It looked very promising until the owners of the connected cars with the airbag service had to start pay for the service themselves. Very few did and Wireless Car and OnStar, both still live and kicking, had to go after adjacent business opportunities. I’m not saying it’s wrong now when politicians are pushing this to the market, I just want to remind everyone in our industry that this is “doping” and not the result of genuine market forces. Interestingly enough the car industry is very active in Telematics again, with visions and plans often quite similar to the first wave of plans ten-fifteen years ago. But due to the technical approach chosen for eCall these plans might be separated from implementation of eCall. Transport is supposed to be the biggest segment for M2M 2013 and it will be interesting to see if the “built-in approach” will beat the “BYOD-approach” that won last time.

Mobile operators have taken the lead in promoting M2M. All operators want to exploit the expected growth of subscriptions but most if not all of them are uncertain of exactly which role to play. The fact that the M2M business still is a tiny fraction of the operator’s business together with the widespread uncertainty of which role to play could make operators become less aggressive and take on a more cautious “wait-and-see” approach. I definitely don’t vote in favor for such approach and suggest more concrete collaboration with selected partners to conquer industry by industry. Specialist service enablers are key to such efforts and in a perfect world operator device connectivity platforms should be delivered with an á la carte menu of specialist service enablers for different industries. But until that happens I have to continue introducing the members of Swedish M2M Service Enablers to mobile operators one by one.


Inspiring example: The thermostat Jobs would have loved

February 13, 2013

nest tstatThe power of M2M is the ability to enable drastic changes in an industry. To do things differently. To change the game. Like in the early days of Internet we still focus on connecting things. That is good and makes us faster, cheaper, greener, etc. But it doesn’t change the game. It is when the technology is used to completely re-think and re-design something the power is released.

A wonderful example is thermostats. The “father of the iPod”, Tony Fadell, created the “learning thermostat” after having stumbled over expensive, dumb and ugly thermostats for the green house he was building. He created the gorgeously designed Nest which has been shipping for more than a year now. It is said to be compatible with 95% of the American and Canadian low voltage residential heating and cooling market by now. This little sexy device can remove some 20% of the heating and cooling energy bill and cost $250 US. Nest is now shipping 40-50K units per months and investors continue betting on Nest which now is said to be valued to $800 million US.

People normally don’t bother about thermostats but this easy to install and use, wonderfully designed and intelligent darling that saves people money has become a best-seller at Amazon, at Lowe’s and on Apple’s online store. It uses a number of sensors to understand the life-style of the household and adjusts heating and cooling in an optimal way. Beyond the information on the device itself it communicates with people’s smartphones and pads.

Innovative new approaches in established industries are always challenged by established players and Nest is already involved in legal battles. But I think we only have seen the beginning of Nest. Now they address consumers right away, seducing them with design and a good cause. But the device is Wi-Fi and ZigBee enabled thus ready for the Utilities and the Smart Grids. Is there a reason for a Utility to install another device in a home where a Nest already is in place?


Tropos acquired by ABB – going for private networks

June 4, 2012

ABB acquires the Wi-Fi mesh pioneer Tropos Networks to strengthen its Utility Communications product group. California based Tropos Networks has delivered a large number of wireless metropolitan and campus networks over the last ten years or so and I would even say that they made Wi-Fi mesh a viable metro network solution to the market.

This acquisition by ABB is very interesting and underline the grande potential for especially smart grids but also other private network applications. Tropos has deployed private networks for applications like meter reading, ITS, mobile workforce, public safety, telemedicine, parking meters, etc.

M2M is required to solve the efficiency problems, the security issues and the sustainability challenges in the world. And many of these applications will use private networks for financial and/or security reasons. Each of these areas will develop to become ICT systems in the size of the Internet which is why really large global players invest early on. I suggest you keep an eye at GE, ABB, Siemens, IBM and similar players.

Interesting move ABB!


Utilities and M2M

December 27, 2011

Utilities normally come up first when talking M2M. Primarily electricity but also water and gas. It’s huge global businesses and infrastructures dealing with things that are closely related to the sustainability issues as well as safety and security, everyone on the planet including politicians are involved one way or another and on top it’s one of few areas where M2M solutions already have been used in large scale. Many utility companies have telecommunication business experience which makes them knowledgable buyers.

Smart Grid is the white paper or vision for how the electricity industry will cope with the new world where production, distribution and consumption of electricity is managed in real time all around the grid and where usage is optimized over time. The basic idea is to connect everything and add computing on top. If the smart grids happen we are looking at a new industry of “Internet size” in 30-50 years which has made many large corporations starting to dig there already.

Given the limitations of our globe it is obvious that we have to do something and I am convinced “connecting and computing” is a major part of it. But the scale of the project means it will take a lot of time, financing has to be sorted out, concepts and solutions have to be proven and so on, which explains why we still see primarily pilot projects and trials. And when it happens big way, most of it will be a game for large players with big projects and thin margins like most infrastructure business.

The first step towards the smart grids are connected electricity meters for automated meter reading (AMR) and we are in the middle of that huge roll out project right now. Global shipments of smart meters exceeded 100M 2011 and is estimated to be 250M by 2016 (ABI Research). EU wants 80% of the meters to be smart by 2020 and Italy and Sweden are already done. North America has already more than 50% meters connected (Berg Insight) after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which included US$ 43 Billion plus tax incentives for the energy sector. Also Asia is speeding up their efforts with Japan having the most advanced power grid monitoring systems in place, China announcing a five year AMI plan, Singapore working on their Intelligent Energy System and South Korea their Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Some 1,5B smart meters will be deployed during the next 10 years and meter manufacturers like Landis & Gyr, Sensus and Itron and communication module providers like Telit, Cinterion and Sierra Wireless are all working hard to capture this big business opportunity. But since the traffic per smart meter is tiny (probably less than half MB per year) it is not obvious that the smart meters is the salvation for network providers. A mix of different technologies is used to connect the meters to the central applications. Reportlinker estimates 38% of M2M connections in the utilities industry today to be cellular connections growing to 57% by 2020. MAN, including power line communications (PLC) and community WiFi, accounts for 53% today and is estimated to 28% by 2020.

Even though energy companies and governments are keen on rolling out smart electricity meters some consumers are not. Several US consumer groups like in Naperville, Illinois, are fighting the smart meter roll-outs in order to give the consumers the option to stay with the old meters. But more often consumer groups are pushing smart meters to put the consumers in control.

Replacing meters for electricity, water and gas with smart ones is only the beginning. Making the grids smarter will require a lot of relevant networks and IT systems to be made available. The grids are also part of the national critical infrastructure protection efforts why I believe we will see governments getting very much involved in how to build, operate and protect this infrastructure onwards.


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