Rongwen and Silver Spring team up on Chinese smart light network

Rongwen and Silver Spring team up on Chinese smart light network

Technology firms Rongwen and Silver Spring Networks have teamed up to connect more than 30,000 smart lights in China’s third largest city.

At Smart City Expo World Congress, held in Barcelona earlier this month, China-based intelligent street lighting company Rongwen and San Jose, California-based IoT connectivity specialist Silver Spring Networks unveiled plans to roll out a network of smart LED street lights in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Guangzhou is China’s third largest city after Beijing and Shanghai and has a population of over 14 million people. It is also China’s third largest economic hub and a major foreign trade port, and has committed to reducing its carbon emissions up to 45 percent by the end of the decade.

In this project, Rongwen will combine its patented LED street lights and outdoor lighting controls with Silver Spring’s StreetLight.Vision (SLV) central management system for smart lighting. The companies claim that this will boost the city’s energy savings by over 70 percent.

Read more: Smart streetlights may mean big savings in Cardiff

Reducing carbon emissions

Data compiled by China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows that streetlights in China more than doubled over the decade from 2004 to 2014, from 10.53 million to 23.02 million. In recent years, lighting energy consumption in China amounted to 14 percent of total energy consumption, with streetlights and landscape lighting energy consumption making up 38 percent of the total. Many are still based on high-pressure sodium bulbs, which consume a lot of energy, so replacing these with LED technologies is a step in the right direction.

According to Zhixiong Lee, general manager of Rongwen, the combination of the company’s technology with that from partner Silver Spring will help city officials in Guangzhou better manage resources and reduce overall carbon emissions.

“Rongwen is using Silver Spring’s pioneering smart city platform to provide seamless IoT connectivity to more efficiently operate existing city-wide resources to achieve immediate cost savings and speed time to value for smart city initiatives,” he said.

“We believe that the scalability and sustainability of this system will allow cities such as Guangzhou to grow their network to millions of devices in the future.”

Read more: Echelon connected streetlights to get smart with IBM Watson

Investing in smart city tech

Jeff Ross, vice president of channel at Silver Spring Networks, added: “Guangzhou is an example of a major hub deploying an IoT network to drive sustainability, create resource efficiency and build a more livable city, which in turn draws in new investments.

“We are thrilled to connect smart city devices in our first project in China, as Rongwen deploys our standards-based platform to connect street lights and establish a foundation for additional smart city services for the Guangzhou Development Zone.”

“By working with our partners, we continue to evolve our standards-based platform’s capabilities, in an effort to address our cities’ biggest challenges, such as traffic congestion, pollution and public safety.”

Read more: Smart lights ‘to be most popular IoT device in the next decade’ – Philips

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Apple AR headset one step closer thanks to Vrvana acquisition

Apple AR headset one step closer thanks to Vrvana acquisition

In the clearest sign yet that Apple is developing augmented reality hardware, the company has purchased Canadian AR start-up Vrvana.

While Apple has remained tight-lipped on its latest efforts in the augmented reality [AR] space, rumours abound of the work going on behind the scenes at the tech giant. Now, it seems we may see an Apple AR headset as early as 2020.

Back in January, we reported on indications that Apple could be preparing to launch its own AR headset. Throughout the year we’ve seen numerous developments to reinforce this.

The obvious starting point for Apple was enabling easier creation of AR experiences on iPhone and iPad. An engineering team led by Mike Rockwell launched the team’s first product earlier this year – ARKit.

The tools allowed software developers to create AR applications for iOS and tap into the devices’ hardware to enhance a range of experiences, such as shopping and gaming. The release made Apple the largest AR platform overnight, simply due to the popularity of iPhones.

Since then, Bloomberg has reported that Apple plans to develop technology for a dedicated AR headset by 2019 and ship a product as early as 2020.

Current VR and AR solutions from companies with mobile offerings have utilized those devices in a supporting headset – Samsung’s Gear VR being the obvious example. Apple seems to be choosing a different path though. The latest word out of Cupertino, and the clearest sign yet that Apple is developing AR hardware, is that it has purchased Canadian start-up Vrvana.

Read more: Digital Catapult explains why it’s backing immersive reality

Totem: the precursor to an Apple AR headset?

Sources have revealed to TechCrunch that the deal was for around $ 30 million – loose change in the world of cutting-edge technology, but Vrvana raised just $ 2 million in funding when it was founded in 2005. Some of the start-up’s employees have reportedly joined Apple in California, though the fate of any products currently under development is unknown.

Despite these humble beginnings, the company’s impressive hardware makes it clear why Apple was eager to acquire the technology behind their Totem headset. The device never saw a public launch but it garnered glowing reviews from press at industry events. Tom’s Hardware awarded it best in show at CES this year.

A 1440p OLED screen and 120 degree field of vision [FOV] ensure a high-quality and immersive experience. The latter is an area in which many other headsets fall short and an essential specification for a good VR or AR experience. Most significantly, the Totem allows for seamless switching between AR and VR modes.

Read more: DroneBase unveils augmented reality platform for UAV pilots

Overcoming AR technology hurdles

As Vrvana CEO Bertrand Nepveu explains in the video below, the company had to overcome the infamous challenge of reducing the latency between the camera’s capturing of the footage and it being relayed to the user.

Forward-facing cameras offer depth of field tracking and 3D positioning (as well as images for AR functionality), while additional infrared cameras track the user’s hands. Combined, these technologies offer a whole host of potential applications across many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare and supply chain.

Users can manipulate virtual objects with their hands, with complete awareness of their real-world surroundings, for mixed reality [MR] experiences. The Totem’s usefulness is expanded by its multi-user capabilities – something it calls ‘shared presence’.

“Combined with patent pending hardware accelerated chroma keying (green screen), the Totem’s unique feature set drastically eliminates the need for external tracking or projection equipment, simplifying setup and giving users freedom to move and accomplish more,” its promotional materials read.

On the software side, supported engines include, Unreal, Unity and OpenVR/SteamVR. Vrvana also created a software development kit [SDK] for custom engines.

Read more: Upskill’s augmented reality tech makes impact at GE

Timing is everything

The brains behind the fledgling firm must have impressed the world’s largest technology company (by revenue). Apple have been historically hesitant to enter the AR and VR hardware arena. Until now, an Apple AR headset has seemed to be a distant prospect. In an interview with The Independent, following the release of ARKit, Apple’s Tim Cook highlighted the technological challenges presented by AR.

“The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet. We don’t give a rat’s about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience,” Tim Cook said. “But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”

Nonetheless, Cook feels these hurdles can be overcome, its simply a question of how long it will take. With the acquisition of Vrvana, an Apple AR headset that the company can be proud of may be on the horizon. If such a device integrates the innovations of Totem with the product design and platform capabilities of Apple, we may see a headset of huge potential in both consumer and business environments.

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Tiny robot biohybrids could help treat cancer

Tiny robot biohybrids could help treat cancer

Scientists in Hong Kong have developed biological robots, biohybrids, capable of travelling through the body and degrading cancer cells. 

Rather than design complicated nano-robots from scratch, scientists are increasingly looking to build on the elegant infrastructure provided by nature.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are looking to harness the benefits of Spirulina, a microalgae commonly powdered and consumed as a health food. It’s being used as the building blocks for ‘biohybrids’ – tiny cells that, in this case, have been engineered with magnetic particles that enable scientists to guide them around the body.

Read more: Engineers unveil robot with flexible sensor ‘skin’

Engineering nature

“Rather than fabricate a functional microrobot from scratch using intricate laboratory techniques and processes, we set out to directly engineer smart materials in nature,” said Professor Li Zhang, from the department of mechanical and automation engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

As a result they were able to make use of the algae’s intrinsic properties. Zhang, who contributed to the study published in Science Robotics, worked alongside an international team to make some vital additions to the algae’s inherent properties. These included coating millions of the tiny algae biohybrids in iron-oxide nanoparticles, which allowed them to be controlled remotely using a targeted magnetic field.

“For instance, because these biohybrid bots have a naturally fluorescent biological interior and magnetic iron-oxide exterior, we can track and actuate a swarm of those agents inside the body quite easily using fluorescence imaging and magnetic resonance imaging,” said Professor Zhang.

Read more: Connected healthcare may violate user privacy, warns Forbrukerradet

Adapting biohybrids to fight cancer

As part of the research, the team from the Chinese University placed the biohybrids in the stomachs of rats to test their effectiveness. They were able to make the biorobots release cancer-fighting compounds over time.

Developing autonomous systems capable of moving through the body and targeting specific diseases is in many ways the ultimate ambition of researchers in this field. And there are plenty of teams around the world working towards that aim.

The next step for the team from the Chinese University is to prove that its Spirulina-based biohybrid can carry cargo – in this case specific drugs – that can be delivered with more ease and effectiveness than conventional methods, such as pills or injections.

“It’s still not ready for a doctor to use,” Wang said, but within the next ten years it might be. “Everyone wants to realize this fantastic voyage.”

The University of Manchester also had a representative on the research team, Professor Kostas Kostarelos. He said that “creating robotic systems which can be propelled and guided in the body has been and still is a holy-grail in the field of delivery system engineering.”

“Our work takes advantage of some elements offered by nature such as fluorescence, degradability, shape. But we add engineered features such as magnetization and biological activity to come up with a proof-of-concept behind our bio-hybrid, magnetically propelled microrobots.”

“The potential of these bots for controlled navigation in hard-to-reach cavities of the human body makes them promising miniaturized robotic tools to diagnose and treat diseases which is minimally invasive,” he said.

Read more: Eligo Bioscience secures funding for precision microbiome engineering

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Libelium adds six pack of clouds to Meshlium IoT gateway

Libelium adds six pack of clouds to Meshlium IoT gateway

IoT sensor specialist Libelium has integrated six new cloud platforms with its Meshlium IoT gateway product.

Libelium is known as a player in the IoT, smart cities and machine-to-machine (M2M) platform space. The company develops wireless sensor networks and a commensurate offering of management software that runs its hardware products.

Now looking to provide a higher level of interoperability across its platform base, Libelium has integrated six new cloud platforms with its IoT gateway Meshlium. They are: Biz4, NEC Connexive, RoboMQ, Spark Compass, Symphoni and Ubicamóvil.

Read more: Libelium announces new IoT platform to shake up the market

Definition time

As an IoT gateway, Meshlium receives sensor data from Waspmote Plug & Sense! (a Libelium line of encapsulated wireless sensor devices used by system integrators) and forwards it directly to the Internet via Ethernet or 4G/3G/GPRS protocols depending on the connectivity options available in the area.

By way of one more definition, an IoT gateway (sometimes known as a control tier) is probably best described as a physical device (a hardware appliance) that works with dedicated embedded management software that works as a hub and central connection location between cloud computing services, data and function controllers, sensors and the intelligent devices that serve to make up the IoT itself.

The company is celebrating the fact that more than 100 partners are now actively networking on the company’s IoT ecosystem, joining cloud platform vendors such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Ericsson, IBM Bluemix, Microsoft Azure and Telit – all of which are already compatible with the IoT Gateway Meshlium.  

What seems to be happening here is that Libelium is shifting its strategic focus from sensor devices to Meshlium, in an attempt to extend its presence in the whole IoT value chain allowing the development of end-to-end solutions.

Read more: Italian start-up Evja launches smart agriculture platform for salad growers

Any device, any cloud, any protocol

Libelium CEO Alicia Asin claims that her firm’s IoT platform allows customers to access to new market opportunities. “By connecting any sensor or even any device to any cloud platform through any communication protocol”, as she puts it.

The company has also detailed work recently to enhanced the accuracy, reliability and quality for applications such as smart parking, smart environment, water management, air quality index and others.

NEC has also trusted Libelium and joined its cloud partner program to innovate on IoT. NEC’s Connexive IoT Platform and Libelium IoT Gateway Meshlium interaction are now hoped to deliver state of art capabilities for IoT devices and sensors management and orchestration including support of massive IoT information data storing, processing and analytics.

Of the other platforms Libelium is now working with Biz4Intellia is an end-to-end IoT and M2M with inbuilt reporting and analytics and RoboMQ is a hybrid integration platform that integrates SaaS, multi-cloud deployment and applications over any protocol.

Meanwhile, Spark Compass collects data from devices, wearables and sensors networks with analytics on directed at real-time behavior and actions that are said to provide ‘granular visibility’ in a centralized platform specialized in healthcare and public spaces such as universities, stadiums, or airports. Symphoni is a no-code developer platform, and finally, Ubicamóvil enters the Libelium Cloud Partner Ecosystem as the first Mexican platform. Initially designed to GPS satellite tracking for automobiles, Ubicamóvil is now expanding its business to different verticals into the IoT world.

Read more: Athens International Airport turns to IoT for environmental monitoring

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Internet of Banking & Payments: where every device is a payment device

Internet of Banking & Payments: where every device is a payment device

With the impending arrival of the second payment services directive [PSD2] in January, the pressure is on financial institutions to ensure they’re ready for the digital age of banking. Internet of Business is on hand to smooth the way, with its second annual Internet of Banking & Payments event, taking place this week in the global heart of banking – Canary Wharf, London.

PSD2 leads the march towards a Digital Single Market in Europe. Customers stand to benefit in several ways and with this comes opportunities for service providers to distinguish themselves.

With data rights back in the hands of customers, thanks to Open Banking, ready access to transaction and account information opens the door to FinTechs and other innovators to create products and services that best suit the needs of end users.

Yesterday, industry leading speakers at the Internet of Banking & Payments expressed their belief, across presentations, panels and workshops, in the pressing need to move beyond regulatory compliance and undertake digital transformation with customers’ requirements in mind.

The global financial crash of 2008 means the banking and payments sector is badly behind most other industries in undergoing digitalization. In the face of the glaring need to innovate, several European nations look set to miss the imminent January deadline for PSD2 – not least because of their banks’ reliance on legacy systems.

Are you IoT payment ready?

Yesterday’s opening speaker, Gijs Boudewijn, chair of the Payments Systems Committee at the European Banking Federation, illuminated the threshold the industry finds itself on. We face an era where every device will be a payment device, machines will pay machines and many transactions will occur without in-the-moment awareness or triggers from the user. Setting up the day’s sentiment, he explained how APIs will be the golden standard for the internet of banking.

Even beyond ensuring PSD2 compliance, there are tough dichotomies to navigate, such as strong security standards versus the facilitation of future market solutions and easy user experience. Then there’s the promised high interoperability between Account Servicing Payment Service Providers [ASPSPs], Payment Initiation Service Providers [PISPs] and Account Information Service Providers [AISPs], versus flexibility for market participants.

These challenges (and the accompanying tangle of acronyms) are for the banks and payment solution providers to overcome. The user, on the other hand, will see widespread simplification in the ways they pay for things.

Read more: Crunchfish aims to make mobile payments swimmingly easy

Commerce for every device

In his keynote presentation, Christoph Zehnacker, head of strategic digital partnerships at Mastercard, revealed how payments will become increasingly frictionless for end users. Cars will be hired simply by holding a smart watch to the door handle, petrol paid for automatically by your car communicating with the pumping station.

This is a natural extension of the unquestionable success of contactless and mobile payments (via the likes of Apple Pay and Google Pay), especially when other connected devices are expected to soon outstrip the ubiquity of smartphones.

The average user is growing used to IoT but there is something uncanny about such friction-less payments. Yet, the above examples are not theoretical applications. Garmin and FitBit, Zehnacker reveals, are both working on implementing contactless payments into their devices.

These changes sound appealing from an ease-of-use perspective but there are surely glaring security implications to overcome. Mastercard, who now thinks of itself as a technology company, is employing tokenization to mitigate such risks. Through its Mastercard Digital Enablement Service (MDES), each connected device is given a digital code (a token) that grants it the necessary access and permissions to make payments on your behalf. This can be individual revoked in case of loss or fraud. The solution is already utilised by 1000 banks worldwide.

The importance of tokenization and APIs

To keep customers in control, the MDES express program allows you to use your payment information across multiple devices by using a token that resides in the cloud. You can then switch these tokens on and off at will. Mastercard’s APIs and SDKs will also allow banks to implement further control such as spending limits.

When you put on your MDES-enabled watch each morning your will need to enter a four-digit pin, which is valid for 24 hours. Similarly, when you get into your car to drive to work, biometrics, such as facial recognition, will enable it to transfer funds, when desired.

auto-paying car
Our vehicles will soon be able to make payments on our behalf

As we wander deeper into the digital maze, we will see machines paying other machines for delivery of products and services. Chatbots will also be able to process transactions natively within the conversation stream. This raises questions around legal liability. Where does responsibility lie when things go wrong – can it rest with an AI?

Yesterday’s panel debate, on the opportunities created by PSD2 and the internet of banking, seemed to have little concern for this issue, with participants arguing that liability surely lies with the owner of the instigating AI. But the situation may not be as simple as this, given the historical lack of transparency in AI processes.

The panel also raised the topic of trust, which remains the big institutions’ trump card. Until the large banks catch up with the services offered by innovative newcomers, customers have a choice between the apparent safety of the incumbents and the superior service of the up and coming – the likes of Monzo and Starling Bank.

Read more: Fintech app Glance Pay heralded as ‘the next PayPal’

The post PSD2 banking world

Damian Richardson, head of payments strategy and innovation at NatWest spoke on how Open Banking will evolve banks’ relationships with customers. The arrival of aggregated banking apps, that combine all your accounts across numerous providers into one platform, highlights the prioritisation of the customer.

Natwest’s own efforts in this consumer-centric space, its ‘Get Cash’ function and integration with Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker, show that the big banks are capable of innovation and digital transformation in timely fashion.

Richardson implored others not to get stuck in the regulations and start with the users’ needs, rather than the payment methods. Opening up Natwest’s APIs to students and FinTechs is helping to tap into this ethos. Customers think ‘freedom’, not ‘car loan’, ‘lunch’, not ‘mobile payment’ and ‘home’, rather than ‘mortgage’.

mobile payment
Mobile solutions such as Apple Pay are just the beginning of payments in the age of IoT

From services to platforms

Elsewhere in Europe, Juergen Von Der Lehr is implementing the internet of banking at Deutsche Bank, as head of digital innovation and think tank. In a compelling presentation, he argued for the need for banks to become relevant on a daily basis. Deutsche Bank has adopted a strategy of building platforms influenced by client, tech and regulatory trends, helping it to stay relevant to customers.

Von Der Lehr sees a great opportunity to focus on life events, and what he calls ‘micro moments’, to provide value to users – offering financial advice and other guidance, via apps and AI. FinTechs are potential partners, not competitors, he reasons.

By investing in R&D, in the style of chemical and pharmaceutical companies, and moving from legacy systems to agile APIs, banks can open the door to fintechs and provide innovation and value to their clients.

Almost one in three (31 percent) of people are willing to buy banking services from non-banking companies such as Google or Amazon. Yet, almost half (48 percent) are willing to purchase non-banking services from banks. There is therefore an opportunity for established banks to leverage this trust and learn from the digital strategies of tech companies.

Read more: SAP: Banks must prepare for open banking age

Internet of Banking & Payments: a brave new world

Further presentations on digital transformation from Imran Younis, of Aldermore Bank, user-experience guidance from design consultant George Voke, as well as enlightening sessions with  Metro and Crunchfish, completed a fascinating day.

The event continues today with many key influencers and thinkers in the industry. Take a look at the full agenda.

Overwhelmingly the mood at the Internet of Banking & Payments is one of opportunity and excitement, rather than concern. PSD2 is not without its challenges, as shown by those nations set to miss the deadline, and many of these obstacles are caused by internal resistance to change.

Yet, PSD2s arrival and the wakeup call offered by FinTechs and disruptive startups such as Starling Bank, Monzo and Crunchfish, usher in the greatest shake-up to banking and payments since the internet. And when commerce is made easy, it stands to benefit all those who were ready and willing to keep up.

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