Computer Vision – Grand Dad of All IoT Sensors

manish blog

Human body is the most efficient and powerful system that exists and is a result of evolution over millions of years. And it would make complete sense to emulate its mechanism as we build modern systems.

IoT or “enchanted objects” as I like to call them are also moving the same direction. The 5 human senses that operate through the organs map to the nodes in an IoT system. Same is the case of actuators that map to the voice, gestures, movement and other actions that humans perform through respective actuation organs.

Spinal cord maps to the IoT gateway that forms the backbone of any IoT system and does not just serve the purpose of communication between the organs and the brain but also provides the reflex actions through a local intelligence that has been driven back from the brain by the models created through experiences and DNA

And of course the brain that maps clearly to the cloud platform in an IoT architecture. We can go on an on with this analogy, but that is not the focus of this blog.

Now that we have established that its the human body that we are trying to emulate, lets understand which is the most powerful sense of the human body. Vision. Right? If that is the case, wont it make complete sense[pun intended] to use the same sense effectively while building an IoT system? Lets park this thought for the time being while we evaluate the challenges with current sensors.

When it comes to IoT solutions, getting the right sensor with accurate reliability is the toughest part. That we have learnt through numerous challenges that we have faced with even simplest of use cases. Retrofitting the sensors or reading information from existing sensors [analog or digital] is the other challenge because bulk of use cases we come across require IoT enabling existing assets and systems.

Significant investments are required to update infrastructure, get the sensors installed, create complex networks and its a multi year job to get it all correct and operational. Then comes the challenge with the wear and tear of these sensors and they need to be continuously calibrated or maintained.

Vision has huge power and images / video is our answer to it. Only if we can tap into the information that it provides, we can create some really powerful IoT systems. We can “read” existing analog dials and digital meters. We can compare time series images, extract intelligence and draw inference from them. We can count based on movement of objects from and to a defined video frame. And the system can “learn” from all this behavior. This is what we all do right from a few days after birth.

Axelta provides state of art and innovative IoT solutions for different verticals and domains and we at Axelta have realized the power of “computer vision” in IoT and have done some really interesting experiments and R&D to harness its power. We have also developed hardware that enables this both at the edge level and at the cloud level. The deeper we are going the more we are getting convinced on its power to solve a huge number of digitization use cases. As of now, we are applying its power in security, retail, advertising and many more other areas. If you are interested to know more about it and would like to discuss your requirements with us, please contact us at solutions@axelta.com with your use case.

Manish Agarwal
Co Founder – Axelta Systems

IoT Business Models and Monetizing IoT Ideas

As per many predictions, IoT is a multi trillion dollar value creation opportunity. And everyone is trying to position themselves as a comprehensive end to end player in that space. This includes

  • Appliance manufacturers- Samsung, LG, Hitachi
  • Industrial automation players – Siemens, Honeywell, GE
  • Semiconductor manufacturers – Intel, ARM, STM, Mediatek
  • Large technology companies – Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft
  • IT service providers – Infosys, Accenture, HCL, TCS
  • Consultants -E&Y, KPMG
  • And many more

As we interact with and train many players, experts and stakeholders in this space, we have realized that while everyone is excited about the opportunity, many of them are still not clear about their game plan and are also not in a position to provide comprehensive reliable solutions and services.

The reasons are many including inherent complexity and uncertainty of solutions, having the right partner ecosystem, right talent as well as identifying the correct sweet spot based on your core competence, market you are operating in and the opportunities that exist

After having spent almost 3 years in this space and after implementing multiple successful and some not so successful solutions, we have realized that IoT is too big an animal to tame in a one go and a very focused and strategic approach is needed to get the right mix of value chain positioning, vertical selection and picking up the right technologies and architecture. Breaking down the problem into smaller pieces, managing the customer expectations so that they don’t consider IoT as a silver bullet that solves all their problems is also very critical.

The other tough challenge is to come up with the right value proposition and justifying the RoI of the investments. Especially because the initial investment will be towards getting the required network, infrastructure and business processes in place to bring IoT into current operational processes and technologies. Especially evident in shift from Industrial M2M systems to IIoT/Industry 4.0

A big mistake could be to try and eat the entire cake alone. There are too many components and too many technology, architecture and business process trade offs to be taken to rationally be able to get your hands around. The key is to rapidly go-to-market with minimal upfront investment. Leveraging existing commercially available systems effectively should be part of the core strategy.

Axelta is one of the few companies world wide that has built expertise across the value chain. Right from sensors, to wireless networks, to hardware platforms to cloud based platform and mobile apps. Our IoT enablement ecosystem – Osmosis, is time tested and can provide 80% of the pieces out of the box for solving your business use cases. We also have excellent experience of practical problems faced in the field after having deployed multiple solutions in the market to be your partners to develop and deploy solutions in a reliable, cost effective manner. Check out more about our ecosystem, case studies and more on our solutions site. Axelta has also done some path breaking work in computer vision and video analytics

Axelta also have the entire set of services from getting you started through our IoT bootcamps. Get deeper into technologies through IoT analytics program and other technology training, consulting services, engineering services and more. The chart below explains how we can partner together.

Below is a link for a webinar we had conducted where we covered many of the aspects I have listed above. Contact us at corporate@axelta.com in case you have any requirements that you want to partner with us for any training needs.

Connect with me at:

Manish Agarwal – manish@axelta.com, LinkedIn

Co-Founder – Axelta Systems

The Emergence Of A New IT Professional – IoT Full Stack Experts

There have been two distinct worlds in the computing world. Physical world represented by the Electronics [which includes hardware, RF, embedded and related technologies] and Virtual world represented by Software [which includes databases, web development, analytics, mobility and more].

These Physical and Virtual worlds have come together and are working in cohesive manner to enhance each other and enabling use cases never thought about before. This magical space is called IoT or Internet of Things[everything], ambient intelligence and much more.

In line with the two distinct technology spaces, professionals also were categorized in the same manner. You were either an electronics professional or a software professional. With either a deep hate or deep reverence [or both :)] for the other space.

With the changing technology landscape, when the physical and virtual worlds have come together, its high time that the chasm between the two types of geeks also gets bridged. And make no mistake, its a huge gap to be filled.

This leads to a new breed of technology professionals who are experts in one of the two fields but have a fair bit of knowledge of the other field.

  1. Electronics IoT expert [Embedded and Hardware] with full stack IoT knowledge
  2. Cloud IoT expert [UI, Webservices, Analytics] with full stack IoT knowledge

Add to that, if the expert has a good knowledge and experience of the domain they are operating in, they can really be those unicorns who can make the elusive success of IoT implementations possible. These professionals can emerge to become the IoT solution architects and future CIOs / CTOs of large product or service organizations.

At Axelta, we firmly believe that this is the future direction of the industry. We are already seeing a momentum building in this direction and have been contributing towards building such professionals – We call them IoT Scientists. 

A couple of our efforts in this direction are our end to end IoT bootcamp, that we can been running for almost 2 years and have trained more than 1000 professionals through the program. Many of our participants have leveraged this and are on their path to become IoT Full Stack Experts / Scientists. More about this program is available here.

We also conducted a webinar recently on this topic

We have also launched a program in the US where we are hiring  software or electronics professionals / students, taking them through a grueling 6 weeks course where they are trained on all these technologies and more

  • Electronics and Embedded Development including sensors, different microcontrollers, wireless communication
  • Communication Technologies like BLE, Z wave, ANT, HTTP, MQTT, CoAP
  • Cloud Technologies including Web services, UI, scripting, Cloud Computing, Relational databases, etc
  • Mobile Technologies
  • Analytics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Complex Event Processing
  • End to End IoT Solution and Real Life Use Cases

These IoT scientists will then be embedded in exciting IoT projects and product development efforts and can in future be those elusive and expensive IoT scientists who can be hugely successful in the demanding future technology space.

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.

Career Opportunities in IoT

Internet of Things has opened up an amazing number of new use cases and innovation opportunities for businesses across domains and verticals.

We have been surveying this space and recently did a webinar on the subject where we shared our insights on professionals from different background can prepare and benefit by being early adopter in this space.

Interestingly, IoT has no new technology but its the combination of many that makes the magic happen. So, professionals and subject matter experts in their respective areas just need to understand the end to end piece to steer their career in the direction of IoT to make most of the opportunity.

Axelta is largest IoT trainer in the world and has built a unique program that we deliver online. We have trained more than 500 professionals world wide with 100 each at Intel and MindTree. You can get more information about this training here. Or you can check out our 5 mins Video that gives a very quick view of the training.

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.

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.