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Posts Tagged ‘IOT

Disrupting with AI & IoT: Who owns the data?

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IoT & the data it will generate is going to disrupt businesses – both in a good and a bad way. CNN Tech covered how a tomato grower is leveraging sensors, IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase yields, eventually, as much as 20%. When you are growing millions of pounds of tomatoes a year – this is a significant number.

NatureSweet has six tomato farms in US and Mexico. They have deployed AI technology from an Israeli digital farming company Prospera. Prospera uses imaging to detect issues related to farming such as insect infestations or dying plants. Prospera technology has enabled 24/7 monitoring of the plants in contrast to once a week manual inspection.

Undoubtedly as time goes by the Prospera system is going to improve with real world plant data, and NatureSweet would benefit. However the ownership of the plant data being obtained by the Prospera system could also benefit other tomato growers.

I posit that contractual ownership of data, and the resulting gains in algorithmic efficiency would be key to either disrupt or be disrupted. In the beginning NatureSweet would have an advantage over competition – improved yields leading to increased profitability but as the Prospera solution enhances it could enable NatureSweet’s competition to benefit.

Note – the video that autoplays is for another digital farming company – Bowery and NOT for NatureSweet or Prospera.

Written by Ashu Joshi

August 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Can AI & IoT save retail?

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Image Credit: Bloomberg / Credit Suisse

Late Q1 2017 saw a spate of news on the coming “retail apocalypse”:

Business Insider: The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America

Bloomberg: America’s Retailers Are Closing Stores Faster Than Ever

The Atlantic: What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?

Bloomberg research indicates that 2017 could see up to 8,640 store closings (extrapolated) in contrast to the peak of 6,200 in 2008. Some of the retail chains such as Payless are declaring bankruptcy and closing many stores, and many others are just closing to stay ahead of bankruptcy. And there is class of retailers such as Kenneth Cole trying to reinvent themselves as e-commerce brands.

BI has a nice chart on store closings by retailer:

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The Atlantic attributes the decline of brick and mortar to three reasons:

  1. Growth of e-commerce – more people buying online
  2. Glut of malls – just too many malls especially in the US
  3. Rise of the experience – American consumers shifting habits from materialism to experience

And per BI the decline in the fortunes of brick & mortar retailers is not because of the rise of Amazon:

“It’s mathematically impossible for it to be Amazon’s fault,” Stephens said.

Online sales are growing rapidly — up 15% in the most recent quarter compared to 4% for total retail sales.

But total e-commerce sales account for just 8.5% of overall retail sales in the US. The other 91.5% of purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores, according to the US Census Bureau.

The same article outlines the three reasons as above (the Atlantic post) for the decline and closings.

The bottomline from all of these reportings is that for retailers to compete, and grow – they have to improve the customer experience both online and offline. It is the offline part that could stand to benefit from both IoT & AI.

At the beginning of the year at the NRF there were a slew of announcements by technology companies – dominated by how IoT – specifically technologies like RFID can improve the in-store experience for consumers. Intel, JDA, Honeywell, Zebra, IBM – and many others made a push for IoT to improve retail business – top and bottom line.

Intel & Honeywell announced a collaborative solution to:

“To succeed in the e-commerce world, retailers need to invest in connected solutions and harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to track inventory and gain insights into customer shopping habits,” said John Waldron, president and CEO, Safety and Productivity Solutions business, Honeywell. “The collaboration between Honeywell and Intel will provide a platform for future technology developments to leverage both firms’ expertise in capturing and analyzing enterprise data. We look forward to working with Intel on industry-leading solutions this year.”

In an interview with Forbes, ex-CEO Baljit Dail of JDA had to say this:

Given these business trends, the things that we focus on, from a technology perspective, are things like machine learning, predictive analytics, trying to understand what the demand is in the market place. We spend a lot of time on IoT, working with a variety of different folks to get signals from different devices. A good example is our partnership with Intel on something called store optimizers. Intel has technology that is sprayed onto the label like an RFID tag. We can put in the chief RFID reader in the store, and then using our in-store technology, we can figure out what is happening to the inventory and direct the store associates.

We work with a some apparel companies. One of their big issues is that they have out of stocks on the shelf, and it is not because the inventory is sitting at the back of the store, and it is not a case of they did not get the shipment from the distribution center. The issue is that the inventory is sitting in the fitting room. What happened is, if people try it on, but they do not purchase it, they leave it in the fitting room. We have the RFID reader talking to our in-store systems, and we can send a note to the store associate and say, “Unless you are serving a customer, you need to go to the fitting room and get three of the green, large sweaters, pack them up, and put them back on the shelf because you are down to one on the shelf.” That’s another example where we’re leveraging IoT.

JDA has had a change of leadership but if you look at their new team – they come extensive IoT-oriented backgrounds – and I believe JDA would continue to look upon both IoT & AI to deliver better retail software solutions to their customers.

Other companies are also foraying to cater their products with IoT-centric solutions for the retail industry. For example, lighting companies such as Acuity Brands are trying to improve the consumer experience as well as help the retailer with proximity solutions:

Acuity Brands delivers embedded Indoor Positioning technology within wirelessly controlled LED luminaires, allowing retailers to save considerable energy and maintenance costs, while deriving highly accurate, real-time location of loyal customers, employees and critical assets. Acuity Brands has leveraged the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to deliver an affordable, scalable and secured IoT infrastructure to address multiple business needs.

Virtually every article, tweet, opinion you read on the future talks about enhancing the consumer experience as a strategy to grow the retail business. Smart Lighting companies such as Acuity are trying to leverage proximity sensing, data analytics to do both – improve the in-store shopping experience and help the retailer things such as stock outs on the shelf.

Other technology companies are helping reduce cost by optimizing their supply chain – solutions from Intel and Honeywell fall into this category. And these solutions are being driven by IoT and Big Data / AI.

Yes, IoT & AI can help retailers but it’s a Catch-22 situation. Retailers need to invest in technology – and with shrinking revenue & profits they have limited funds to do so. This, of course, puts the investments being made by technology companies in jeopardy.

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

August 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

IoT drives strategic diversification, growth & differentiation

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be a game changer for companies to transform their businesses. Here are two great examples:

Insurance

A 150-year old provider of speciality insurance company – Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) has acquired Meshify last year. HSB is owned by the reinsurance company – Munich Re – which was ranked as the #1 reinsurer in 2015. HSB Ventures is an active investor in the IoT space with investments in Augury, Slice, Helium, Waygum etc.

CEO Greg Barats of HSB has said(just a month before the Meshify acquisition) that “insurers must be ready to embrace the disruption through IoT – or risk being made obsolete by hungrier technology companies”.

Meshify was founded in 2012, and had raised seed money, followed by debt financing (Crunchbase info). It is an interesting strategy. HSB has chosen to acquire and own an IoT platform that aids in critical issues of remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance and equipment monitoring. Meshify is part of HSB’s IoT business – yes an insurance company HSB has an IoT business.

Smart Water

Xylem is a water technology company, spun off originally from ITT in 2011. Their current CEO Patrick Decker (3rd since the spinoff) has been growing Xylem through a series of strategic acquisitions. Last year Xylem acquired Sensus and set the stage for an IoT-driven diversification and growth.

This is a bold move for a company that is not a software or a digital company. It proves the point that IoT can be a strategic differentiator for companies dealing with the ‘physical’ world.

Sensus brings a wide spectrum of “smart” solutions to the Xylem brands (Sensus sales are dominated today by Smart Metering for Electric, Gas & Water utilities). The Sensus division will now be the home for all things ‘analytics’ for all Xylem brands (see link to investor deck). Xylem has a bold vision on how to transform the company with IoT.Xylem also has acquired Visenti (a Smart Water analytics company based out of Singapore) following the Sensus acquisition in November 2016. Sensus in 2015 had acquired a Smart Grid analytics company called Verdeeco.

Bottom line IoT is going to disrupt industries, and visionary companies are getting ahead of the curve by making IoT a key part of their future strategy.

Further Reading

HSB/MunichRe/Meshify & Insurance:

6 Charts Breaking Down How Insurers Are Investing in Tech Startups

HSB Internet of Things (IoT) Vision

Why Hartford Steam Boiler is investing in IoT start-ups

The Startup & Accelerator Moves Of Reinsurance Giants Munich Re & Swiss Re

Xylem/Sensus & Smart Water Resources:

Xylem Transports Patrick Decker From Harsco To Be New President And CEO

Xylem Investor Day Presentation (April 4th 2017)

Written by Ashu Joshi

April 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm

4 ingredients needed to get started with LoRaWAN

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Introduction

LoRaWAN™ defines the communication protocol and system architecture for the network while the LoRa® physical layer enables the long-range communication link. The protocol and network architecture have the most influence in determining the battery lifetime of a node, the network capacity, the quality of service, the security, and the variety of applications served by the network.

Note that LoRa is a proprietary protocol – and the rights of the IP belong to Semtech (they acquired Cycleo – the company that invented LoRa).

You can read up here (PDF) on the distinction between LoRa and LoRaWAN, and more about the technology in general at the LoRA Alliance website.

This post will give a quick overview of the ingredients into building a complete LoRaWAN-enabled application. The software development or rather the details of it on each ingredient are topics for another day.

4 Primary Ingredients

To get started on building solutions using LoRa/LoRaWAN this is what you going to need:

  1. Thing: A LoRa radio module that you can hook up with a sensor… the challenge, especially in the US, it’s not easy to get something like that. The easiest, I think, is to get a dev kit such as the one from Multi-tech (combine the mDot with the UDK). It has a Arduino shield socket making it easy to plug in sensors and play around. Of course if are serious about using LoRa to enable your IoT applications you will end up making sophisticated devices such as the ones from Decent Lab.
  2. Gateway or Concentrator: You will need a Gateway or a Concentrator that speaks LoRa to the sensors & devices, and IP Connectivity to the Cloud – that can be for example Wi-Fi, Ethernet or 3G. LoRa Alliance is making a concerted effort to get everybody to adopt LoRaWAN as the protocol. I say that because if you wanted to you could build your own like Link Labs has decided to. My primary point is that while one side of the LoRa Gateway speaks “LoRa” – the other side will connect to the Internet (over TCP/IP or UDP/IP). The piece of software that interfaces with the backend is typically referred to as the Packet Forwarder – and has been open sourced by Semtech. Once again the choices are limited but while I used the Multi-tech Gateway – you could also get the gateway from Link Labs.
  3. LoRaWAN Network Server or Backend: This is the entity that speaks LoRaWAN to the Gateway and gets you the data to your application. Semtech the company behind LoRa hosts a backend that you could leverage. Multi-tech runs a “network server” on the Gateway itself. Or you could connect to the The Things Network (TTN for short, open-source, crowd-funded backend). On that note TTN is also going to be delivering cheap gateways. I first used the Network Server running on the Gateway, then made changes to make use of the TTN Backend. And finally I hacked using a combination of several open source backends – and ran it with my application backend.
  4. Application or Application Backend: The actual IoT application – that does something useful with the Thing – is most likely running on a private or public cloud would interface with the LoRaWAN network server and do the application-specific processing. The interface between the LoRaWAN backend and the Application Server is driven by the LoRaWAN backend provider – that is not a standard. TTN uses MQTT to do that, so does Multi-tech. This one is the easy part because you could use your own PC or Mac to run it or use any of public clouds for it. (Or may be a Smartphone App).

Note that if you (for the prototype or production) end up using a Network Service Provider such as Senet then you could skip on the Gateway. This is because companies like Senet want to offer LoRa as a Network Service, akin to how AT&T or Verizon provide cellular (both voice and data) service,  and they set up “gateways” to cover a certain area with the LoRaWAN network. You could use TTN – but either you will have to be within the coverage of a community-hosted TTN Gateway or buy your own and hook it up to the TTN backend.

Getting all the 4 ingredients in place will enable you to truly understand the details of LoRaWAN and guide you on how to build solutions that address use cases well-matched with the attributes of LoRaWAN.

This is how the device kit looks like – it has a BME280 (Pressure, Temperature, Humidity), Light Level and GPS sensor attached to it. Also attached an NFC tag reader that I use for provisioning.

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Written by Ashu Joshi

September 1, 2016 at 8:23 pm

50B Devices by 2020: The Math Behind The Number

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Internet of Things or IoT has been a megatrend worldwide for the last decade or so. I have seen a frequently quoted number from Cisco that indicates the number of connected devices will be 50B by 2020. But what is the math behind the number? How did Cisco arrive at that number? How many analysts, companies, presentations, and blogs have used that number?

I read through, again, the Cisco IBSG report which was published in 2011, and here is how the number was computed:

  1. Cisco started with a report from Forrester (actually in the Cisco IBSG PDF Report – the reference is to a number quoted by George Colony of Forrester Research in a post published by InfoWorld – March 2003) that states there are 500m Connected Devices
  2. Next take the number of connected devices in 2003, and get the number of devices per person – 500 Million divided by 6.3 Billion – resulting in 0.079 Devices per person.
  3. Using data from US Census Bureau and their internal IBSG data for 2010 – the next step was to state the number of Connected Devices was 12.5 Billion, and dividing that by the world population (6.8 Billion) results in 1.84 devices per person. Please note that per Cisco the 12.5 Billion number includes Smartphones and Tablet PCs.
  4. Cisco then used the work done by a team of researchers in China that showed the size of the Internet doubles every 5.32 years. The reference in the report is to the following: Internet Growth Follows Moore’s Law Too
  5. Next step was very easy – multiply the number from 2010 every 5 years – you don’t even need a calculator now – you get 25 Billion for 2015 (double from 12.5 in 2010, and that leads to 50B in 2020.

The 50B number does not get into a bread down by categories on the devices. We cannot make out from this number the percentage of sophisticated devices such as Smartphones or the percentage or low-power, low-cost number.

This number probably (and anecdotally) is one of the most cited number to show the growth of IoT. The math behind it looks simple and abstract but it helped propel the market forward!

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

July 18, 2016 at 9:26 am

8 Attributes of a Full Stack IoT Company

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noun_internet-of-things_143916Chances are, if you are in the business of technology, you have come across the term “Full Stack”. It started few years back with the notion of a (software) developer being able to program all layers for web applications – you can find a great description from 2012 here: What is a Full Stack developer?. The momentum, and market for Full stack developers kept going up. And then it started being discussed at the level of a company or rather a startup – and I would attribute it to the VC firm A16Z to define it at this level. A16Z has dedicated a page on the Full Stack Startup as a part of their ‘trends‘ in investing. The ideal full stack company is Apple – they do everything top to bottom, providing the best user/consumer experience to their customers (readers may be familiar with the previous iteration of full stack – the Vertically Integrated Company – I’m not sure how it is different from the definition of Full Stack).

This got me thinking on what are the attributes, skills, expertise needed by a Full Stack IoT Company – a company that build a complete solution based on the benefits of IoT, and here they are:

1. Hardware design, development and manufacturing: This may or may not be part of a full stack IoT company but the reality is that the T in IoT stands for “Things” – physical things. And interfacing with them requires hardware. Full Stack IoT companies will own or control significant aspects of the hardware required in their solution. This implies the Full Stack IoT company needs skill around design, development of hardware. And as many delayed Kickstarter hardware projects prove – these companies would need expertise and experience in manufacturing, and supply chain. The hardware would involve both the sensor and the gateway being used.

2. Embedded / Firmware (resource-constrained) Programming: IoT has re-surfaced the lost art of an embedded programmer. Imagine the code running inside the wearables or sensors – it is all embedded code and in some cases running without any real operating system. Design, development and debugging is fundamentally different than cloud or mobility or application level programming.

3. Application-level & Middleware Programming: Programming on the IoT Gateway, Cloud and the distributed middleware to integrate all of the elements together

4. Cloud development, and operations: All IoT applications require a cloud component, you would need the cloud infrastructure (e.g. Amazon AWS), the IoT middleware portion running on the cloud and the IoT application which provides the functionality.

5. Management – of devices, of applications, of network (even though the network belongs to a third party): as the solution provider – managing devices, and apps – for version control, updates would be needed as a part of the integrated offer and solution. Once again – the Full Stack IoT company may license or integrate a third party solution but would own the responsibility.

6. Smartphone & Tablet Apps: Do I really need to justify this? You would need apps to both for management of the IoT application and also for consuming the experience provided by the application.

7. Analytics, Mining, Business Intelligence: ideally the company provides basic analytics with its solutions, and can be integrated with other products and solutions for advanced analytics. Full Stack IoT companies may leverage analytics solutions from other companies, but would still retain control of the data.

8. Integration with IT & other systems – to interface, and integrate with business applications in order to deliver the contextual value provided by the IoT system. Your IoT application may also need to integrate with other services to enhance your service – for example you may need to integrate with a Weather reporting web service if you are offering an application that controls/manages air conditioning (HVACs).

Bottom line – IoT applications are distributed across multiple systems and that is both a challenge and an opportunity! Whether your company is a “Full Stack” IoT company or not – if you building IoT applications – you cannot escape the 8 attributes described above. You will have to partner, build or integrate that help address all the 8 elements.

Full Stack Reading

The Rise And Fall Of The Full Stack Developer

A16Z’s Ben Horowitz did an interview (in Jan 2014)  talking about Full Stack Startup

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

July 12, 2015 at 7:49 pm

The Step(s) Before Predictive Analytics in IoT

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There is no doubt that “Internet of Things” or IoT is the buzz word in technology – destined to change our future forever. And yes I do believe that IoT will change our future or rather the change has begun, and only accelerating. However another buzz word that marries IoT with Big Data – is Predictive Analytics. It is all about how all the sensor and machine data can help find patterns, and be beneficial for use cases like predicting equipment failure. IoT Analytics, I feel, at times is a bubble within a bubble.

Is Predictive Analytics important? Yes it is but not at the cost of how IoT can change the present – not just the future. I see the following steps before you can get into a predictive stage for the mass market (i.e. some use cases probably have crossed several of these steps):

1. Reliable connectivity of sensors, and reliable transfer of data – example did the temperature spike because it actually became hot or it was anomaly because of loose connections or software glitch?

2. If already connected in the world of instrumentation such as SCADA or other legacy proprietary protocols – migrating either the connectivity or the data from the sensors over to the world of IP & Cloud Computing

3. Making present, and the near present better than before: actions that can be taken without the need for predicting the future such as shut down the equipment right now because the temperature has actually spiked.

Predicting the future is one of the many benefits of IoT.

Written by Ashu Joshi

May 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm