Internet of Things: Vision 2020

The promise of IoT is coming true.. today. Possibilities are expanding each day and on the ground traction is gathering force across domains. Challenges remain, but the wave is now unstoppable and has washed ashore already.

Having trained 1000+ professionals worldwide and being connected to more than 10K IoT enthusiasts, we have a very good pulse of ground ZERO as the technology happens. We recently conducted a webinar on how our future with ambient intelligence looks like and how embedded intelligence in our day to day THINGS will make them enchanted and magical.

From Things as a Service, to drone delivery, to wearable health care devices our world in 2020 and beyond will be much different from now. Technologies like invisible hardware, energy harvesting, machine learning and seamless communication will make the inanimate world around us alive like we ever imagined. Check out our webinar on the subject conducted for TechGig – our partner for creating largest IoT community in India and beyond.

Axelta is worlds largest and most coveted training and knowledge provider in the world. Our unique IoT training that embeds years of successful IoT product and solutions development learning is empowering IoT enthusiasts and companies get a huge jump start in their journey. Find out more about it and enroll IoT Bootcamps.

Beacon – The Path Breaking IoT Technology

Can you imagine how we lived when smart phones not existed? Isn’t it difficult? The world around us has been revolutionized by Technology & Innovations and it has completely changed our life and the way we do anything. The next and even bigger technological wave is Internet of Things which is more commonly called IoT.

The IoT Beacon is one of the path breaking technology standard that helps us locating a device/thing in a close proximity like inside a building. Saying that, now it’s possible to locate and find your watch /keys/wallet in your home if you forgot where you kept them. However, Beacon has much more broad and important use cases than this. It revolutionizing the retail industry with goods selling themselves and a better customer experiences. Use cases of Beacon ranges from Home Automation to Hospitals to Retail / Commercial Buildings and many more.

So, what make Beacons so useful?

Well, it’s the technology behind Beacon – which is BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) and the Backend Cloud Integration system. Find in this webinar video how Beacons work,  their evolution, big players behind Beacon and future opportunities.

We cover this and much more in our hugely popular IoT Bootcamps that are conducted online. Find out more about them at our site

You can also join our web forum “IoT Interest Group” to stay updated on Internet of Things. Join Here.

100 Smart Cities in India – Smart Utilities

In my previous post, we had discussed about a conceptual understanding of Smart City and its relevance from India context. Coincidentally, there was a a meet up organized by DevThon on the same subject this weekend. Though the participation was limited, I was excited to see that people are thinking beyond the hype of “technology” adoption to make cities smart and are actually talking about on the ground challenges and their solutions.

Given the fact that there is a serious gap between the basic necessities on electricity, hygiene and clean water in most of our cities, straight away going for a high technology solution for solving problems will not work. For example, it will not help to put thousands of sensors on the roads for capturing city information, if we are not sure how long those sensors will work and till the time, we have a robust ecosystem to maintain them and use the information from these sensors.

Its heartening to see that there is a group working on creating awareness on the different sources of information and city level grievance redressal agencies. Their approach to disseminate the information gathered through printed pamphlets is also taking into account that a large portion of the residents don’t have smart phones or access to internet.

Another interesting aspect that came out was that with such a high population density in a city like Hyderabad, a traditional approach of “smart city” will not work. Citizen participation and involvement in this exercise will be a key parameter. Building greater civic sense and a paradigm shift in how residents see their role in overall livability of the city and management will be the critical success factor for any initiative to be successful.

Though, this is not the theme of this blog, so lets get back to the next dimension of Smart Cities – Smart Utilities :)

There are two key areas of within utilities where there are significant challenges and scope to be made smarter for better results

Smart Grids

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 8.27.21 PM

India has one of the weakest electricity grids in the world. Being the 5th largest grid systems and having the dubious distinction of one of the highest distribution losses [24% average and in some states going up to 62%] the state utilities losses itself are 1.5% of the GDP.

Therefore there is a a huge opportunity of modernizing our grids and in the process making them smarter. There have been multiple initiatives in this direction for more than a decade and some states have made very good progress in that direction. What is needed is a multi year and multi pronged strategy that would involve not just modernization and using latest technologies but also improving the execution capabilities to drive such huge initiatives. This might also involve privatization of the utilities that are still under the control of states and driven more on political angle than efficiency and effectiveness.

Some of the key aspects of smart grids deployment and its relevance and initiatives in India are:

Priorities

Impact

Smart Grid Initiatives and Application

Meeting Demand Shortage
  • Augmentation of generation capacity; efficiency improvement
  • Power evacuation and grid access
  • Demand side management
  • Demand response
  • Peak load management
  • Crew management
Clean Energy Deployment
  • Require smarter systems for power balancing to deal with variability & unpredictability
  • Renewable energy integration
  • Demand response
Operational Efficiency Improvement
  • Need for ability to control and monitor power flow till customer level
  • Theft management
  • Asset monitoring
  • Meter data management
  • Substation automation
  • AMI
Enhancing Consumer Service Standards
  • Real time system to enable better system visibility and consumer participation
  • Power quality
  • Work force management
  • Outage management
  • Automatic Billing

Smart Water Management

 

Having access to clean and sufficient water is one of the major problems in a number of Indian cities. Lack of long term planning, distribution losses to the tune of 40% and above and red tape in state managed water utilities have lead to rapid depletion of ground water, which remains as a major mainstay of water supply in the cities. Lack of proper rain water harvesting and concretization of cities are further contributing to loss of this invaluable natural resource.

Smart Metering is an obvious and a proven solution that can bring in a significant discipline and accountability on water usage and management. Polluting and exploitation of existing water resources and water bodies is the other big challenge that the cities currently face and is having a large impact on the health of the residents. Innovative usage and deployment of Internet of Things for better monitoring and control for water and waste water management can provide significant help in meeting these objectives. Organizations like Aquamatix have done some very good research in this area and come up with end to end solutions that provide a holistic solution for smart water management.

There are many such application of Internet of Things in the utilities space that can be explored make Utilities and cities smarter. Signing off now, more about other Smart City dimensions like the following in my next blogs in the series.

  • Smart Buildings and Homes
  • Smart Transport
  • Smart Traffic Management
  • Smart Health
  • Smart Waste and Ecology Management

Axelta as an organization has been focusing on evangelizing adoption of Internet of Things in India and is working on a number of projects, community initiatives and competence development in collaboration with private and government educational institutions to help make the vision of 100 smart cities in India possible. Our IoT Academy that does a 2 days boot camp to equip social and technology entrepreneurs to understand and incubate ideas is also a step in the same direction.

 

100 Smart Cities in India

Smart City

We’ve recently heard our new PM, Mr Modi talk about 100 smart cities to be created in India and just recently CM for AP, Mr Naidu declaring that he would like to make 10 cities in AP as smart cities. We also heard that IT minister of Telangana would like to have free Wifi across Hyderabad.

Sharing my understanding of a smart city its impact to the denizens of any Indian city:

A smart city, at a philosophical level would mean an urban center that has been optimized and is self sustaining on these fronts

  • Human resources

  • Socio economic implications, welfare and inclusive development

  • Cultural

  • Financial capital and infrastructure

  • Natural resources and environment

 

To summarize, “Livability” of an urban center that is sustainable over a long period is what defines a true “Smart City”

There are many “policy” level implications to make it all possible though eGovernance and Internet of Things plays a very important role in making a city smart. World wide there have been a number of initiatives and organizations like IBM and CISCO are doing good research and a number of pilots in this area. Intel had recently started an initiative to make Dublin as first Internet of Things city.

Here, I have evaluated some of the critical applications of IoT from Indian city context.

Public Safety

This is one area where IoT and application of ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] can have maximum positive impact.

  • CCTVs at vulnerable and high density areas is something that a lot of Indian cities have now started implementing. Though, their effectiveness and upkeep is something that has a huge scope of improvement. Also, ability to monitor and analyze all the video data generated from these devices is a big question. This is where the latest development on big data analytics, motion analysis, facial recognition, etc can come have a positive impact.
  • There is a large amount of ground information that gets generated at individual police stations. This information if captured in a systematic manner, mined and processed along with police database on “bad” elements in a city, in a holistic manner can help in generating “predictive” analytics that can help predict and prevent a number of crimes. In the US, cities like Chicago and New York have been able to reduce crime rates by more than 30% through this. I understand that there a number of other things that need to be in place within the ecosystem to enable it. Though, if we have such a vision, this can also be an opportunity. As the information systems in these areas would and are going to get build from ground up.
  • Citizens of a city play a critical role on the safety standards that prevail in that city. We already see a vast contrast in different cities and states. Besides the governments in these cities and states, the residents awareness and willingness to participate in the governance and their own safety also plays an important part. Smart Buildings, GPS enabled Vehicles, Personal GPS trackers and many such IoT applications working in and integrated manner with a Smart City systems will help complete the circle. There is a good traction happening in this space in some Indian cities and shall pick up pace.

More about other aspects of Smart Cities in Indian context in my next blog posts:

  • Utilities like Energy and Water
  • Waste management
  • Traffic management and
  • Transportation
  • Health

Axelta as an organization has been focusing on evangelizing adoption of Internet of Things in India and is working on a number of projects, community initiatives and competence development in collaboration with private and government educational institutions to help make the vision of 100 smart cities in India possible. Our IoT Academy that does a 2 days boot camp to equip social and technology entrepreneurs to understand and incubate ideas is also a step in the same direction.

Building an IoT / M2M Platform

Sharing some thoughts and philosophies that have gone in towards architecting Osmosis platform.

  • Device data capturing – this is perhaps the most important piece of any IoT system. How effectively and securely we can get the sensor data on to the cloud determines the success and failure of the platform. Some of the key guidelines we have followed here are

o    Minimal footprint – Since M2M data is small and frequent, it is very important that we have minimum overhead when getting the data from the sensor network. We have therefore defined our REST protocols to have bare bone headers while not losing on the context and security. We are also building interfaces to support TCP / UDP as well as MQTT and other communication protocols to leverage some of their inbuilt strengths.

o    Failover – Quality of Service is another very important aspect. Making sure that the sensor information is tracked and delivered effectively, is quite critical as some of the applications might have high sensitivity and losing that information can have serious implications. We have built our system to make sure that each piece of information is captured and necessary triggers activated in case there is a delay or loss through the network. This is achieved through well defined response codes as well as support for “heartbeats”

o    Security – A lot has been said about the importance of security and IoT and the lack of it. We have seen numerous instances of security breaches causing some major problems in early stage IoT deployments. While the standards around security are still evolving we have taken a simple but fool proof approach so that no one can impersonate or sniff on the data being sent from the sensor networks. The approach is to achieve this through our custom security protocols while there is some standard that emerges. Thereby making sure that there is no compromise on the customer’s data security

o    Interoperability – While a lot of the existing platforms claim that they are truly interoperable and they can take data from any or every device in the world. The reality is that given the state of art and the state of standardization, it is impossible to achieve it “Out of the the Box”. Here again, we have taken a simple approach of keeping the architecture modular and simple. So that the effort and time required to interface some other devices and platforms is limited to a couple of days if not a few hours while not trying to code of each and ever protocol that exists in the world. Integrators can actually use our APIs and SDK for writing their own handlers and upload to give them full flexibility to build their devices and IoT systems that suit their needs

o    Flexibility – We understand that while building IoT systems, the data that comes from the sensor network can change multiple times and each domain has their own mechanism for grouping the devices / sensors and sensor data. In a sense, the data coming from sensor networks is truly “unstructured”. We have therefore defined our APIs and protocols to give a full flexibility to the system developers and integrators to generate their own hierarchies and send data. Using our state of art rules engine, you can then create your own business process workflows and triggers to notify and actionize specific events or trends.

o    Business rules development and management – Being able to act at real time on data coming from the wireless sensor networks is the crux of any IoT deployment. Given the importance of this, we have put a lot of effort in building a flexible and scalable business rules management system that acts on combination of device and system configuration and sensor data. Users can build simple and complex rules and alarms that can be put into the system in real time and modified as needed to “act” on the real time information and trigger system defined and custom actions. This, we believe is one of the most important design pieces of our system and makes it hugely useful.

  • Device management – With multitude of devices and across different domains and verticals being able to administer and manage them effectively plays a big role in the success as well as Total Cost of Ownership – TCO of the IoT deployment. For that reason, we have invested in a very scalable but simple device management system that does not assume a particular structure or approach. The user interface is also search driven and devices can be identified, grouped and searched through custom meta tags. The customer has full flexibility to define these meta tags, attach them to group of devices and create views and actions based on these groupings. This makes the device management and workflow a fun and easy activity. The entire UI is built on responsive and web 2.0 concepts and technologies that ensures that the simplest and most complex of use cases can be adopted and actors can perform tasks on the go.

 

  • Analytics and Reporting – Some of the basic concepts we have adopted for reporting and analytics is that there is no report that fits all customers. Each customer would have a unique requirement that would not fit in the model that the analysts would have thought about. At the same time, having simple and uncomplicated insights should come out of the box. Using this philosophy, we have adopted a two pronged strategy.

o    One is a standard customer dashboard that gives specific insights in as visual manner as possible. These are based on the type of device.

o    The other is to build necessary infrastructure to quickly churn out custom reports based on customer needs. This infrastructure plugs into both the structured as well as unstructured data and provides ability to apply domain specific implementation to get the necessary insights.

o    While that is all good, we also understand that our customers will have a number of other systems and ERPs in their ecosphere. Therefore all our data is accessible through intuitive REST API that can be used by the integrators to extract information from the Osmosis platform and integrate with other systems.

  • Cost – As I had mentioned in a previous blog on outsourcing and IoT, costs and ROI will start playing a very important role in the adoption of IoT as we get on to the serious side of the business. Keeping that in view, we have made sure that the overall cost of the platform is maintained at the bare minimum without compromising on the security or scalability or resilience of the system. The impact on cost has been a constant thread that has governed our decisions on technology, design and usability of the system. And it is not just the cost of implementing and IoT solution but also the long term cost of ownership. Given our small, lean and agile approach, and the distinct advantage of being in Hyderabad, India we are confident that the platform we have built can be really competitive on cost front.

To sum it up, it has been an interesting learning curve building the Osmosis platform and are happy with what has come out. Its still under evolution but we are confident that it has reached a stage where we can reach out to potential customers and start using it for production deployments.

 

Kumar

www.axelta.com

Outsourcing / Off shoring in Internet of Things – Next big opportunity – Part 2

As promised, this is the second part of my view on Outsourcing / Off shoring and IoT.

Since IoT is still in an early adoption stage, there are mostly pilot projects being done in serious business applications. Given the research-oriented nature of these projects and the maturity [or lack of it] of the IoT platforms being used for them, most of the work is getting done in-house or by the platform vendors. As these dimensions are not conducive for outsourcing being successful. Cost is also not a major factor because the finance guys are also getting their financial models in place to ascertain the ROIs on such investments.

When IoT adoption moves to the next phase [after having proven their worth in pilots] to actual deployment across different divisions and across the globe, there will be a huge need of resources across different technologies including platform specific insights. Cost and availability will play an important role in that phase. Outsourcing and IT services firms, need to and are preparing for such eventualities.

There are a few factors to evaluate on how / where should the services organization focus on to prepare for this opportunity.

  • Technologies – IoT is a coming together of multiple technologies namely
  • Hardware / PCB – design and development. Gateway
  • Embedded development – including knowledge of protocols like MQTT, 6LoWPAN, CoAP, XMPP, etc, IoT Gateways play an important role in this
  • RF related development – including ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth / BLE, etc
  • Cloud development and deployment – Data streaming, complex event processing, etc
  • User interface for managing devices and newer workflows that emerge from these deployments. This includes mobile-based development and development platforms.
  • Big data and analytics – for generating intelligent business insights from the large data coming from the sensor nodes
  • Last but not the least, integration of the IoT systems with the existing enterprise solutions deployed

There are certain areas where existing IT services vendors are quite proficient in and can quickly scale up. Though, other areas will be very new for them and they will have to either tie up with specialized vendors or start building their competence on.

An obvious question here will be whether there will be a need of resources who have knowledge of all these technologies and their interaction or having competence in individual areas would suffice. This question is still out in the open, but my view is that a combination of the two will be needed. This entire system being too new to a majority of the folks, not having deep understanding of how these operate and the challenges around them will not make them very effective. Keeping this in mind, Axelta has recently launched a weekend [2 days] training cum hands on workshop to get the engineers experienced with all aspects of these technologies and their interaction.

  • Domain – I mentioned in my previous blog on this topic, domain will play a more important role than ever in successful deployment of IoT solutions. I had brought about this point in my first blog post IoT – connection between real and virtual world where I had mentioned that vast gap between real and virtual world is getting bridged through IoT. Therefore, people who have worked in the real world are deep subject matter experts in that space will play a very critical role in success of IoT. Which means, that besides the consultants and analysts who have built a reasonable understanding of the domains / verticals through study and consultation, folks who are embedded into the verticals will be needed. That is an opportunity for the industry people but a challenge for IT services organizations
  • Product – IT Services firms have till now depended on just the services. Which has been very linear model and over last decade, there have been a lot of cost pressures on them. There have been many attempts to move up the value chain and build products that can move them away from the linear model. Though, the success in such investments have been very limited. Main reason being that the entire management structure and the overall engine has been geared up for providing IT services. Given that this is an entirely new area and there is a space for multiple new players, IoT throws a very good opportunity to these firms to make the transition. The challenge though being that they still have the same engine that is geared to get more head counts and more billing. A very good option for these firms could be to dig into their large cash piles and buy out some of the IoT start ups in India or in the western world. Give them funding and freedom of operation, nurture them like CISCO has done in the past and like Microsoft Ventures does and then absorb them over next few years

Focusing on product / platform is also important at this point in time because that is where most of the action is happening right now and will happen over next couple of years at least. Till the time a few companies emerge as the leading contenders like SAPs and Oracles and Googles of the world.

  • Managed Services – This has been a trend over last decade which has now picked up momentum. Where industries outsource their entire IT or IT enabled services to outsourcing firms. IoT will need much more of these managed services. It will also enable such outsourcing through larger automation and bridging the gap from the real world. IT services firms that gear themselves up for providing managed services leveraging their or external platforms have a lot to gain from IoT over next 5 to 10 years.

To summarize, IoT and M2M is a brilliant opportunity for IT services firms for ensuring their growth and profitability over next decade but they will need to get their strategy right as well as be ready for changing their proven models to succeed in the IoT outsourcing world of the future.

 

Working with CouchDB – My experience of moving from Sql to NoSql

I had heard about NoSql and read about it for sometime. It was a fascinating areas but had not stepped in it till the time we had to build an IoT [Internet of Things] platform. We decided to have CouchDB as our data store for the device data and MySql as relational store. The top reasons to chose CouchDB against other document stores like MongoDB, DynamoDB from Amazon and others were its simple architecture and support for Map Reduce as well as cluster support.

Our fist struggle started with trying to make it work on AWS [our cloud deployment platform], as AWS does not provide it out of the box. We deployed it on a windows server machine and had challenges in accessing the http url from the webserver deployment. At the end, it turned out to be a silly issue related to windows firewall blocking http request on the port used by CouchDB.

The biggest challenge has been though change in mindset from thinking sql / relational to nosql. We have got so much used to looking at data in a relational way that it becomes really difficult get meaningful results and visualize information when dealing with NoSql. After struggling for more than couple of weeks, we now have got a hang of it and able to make some reasonably complex map reduce programs that gives us meaningful insights.

As of now, I am pretty impressed with the speed at which CouchDB is able to process the information and the power it provides and am confident that going for CouchDB has been a good choice. Our next struggle will be to generate analytics by extracting information from both MySql and CouchDB and collating them together. I can already see some challenges on that and we had to migrate some of the set up / configuration data from relational to object DB to extract max power of the in built CouchDB engine. Whether that is the right choice only time will tell.

NoSql / Big Data is going to play a big role in successful deployment and application of IoT and for developers who have grown in the relational world, it will be an interesting though tough challenge to make this transition.

We are using NVD3 for visualization of the analytics being drawn from CouchDB and it has been a good experience till date. The learning curve has not been a significant one and we have been able to get simple to medium complex reports easily from the system. We might have to move to D3 for more complex visualization but as of now we are happy with NVD3. More on the decision to go for NVD3 instead of end to end reporting frameworks like jasperreports for a later date.