Edge computing: SWIM launches AI digital twins that learn

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AI startup SWIM aims to democratise both AI and digital twin technologies by placing them at the edge and within reach of everyone’s budget – without the need for large-scale number-crunching. Chris Middleton reports.

With Pure Storage and NVIDIA recently launching an ‘AI supercomputer in a box’, it is easy to believe that enterprise-grade AI is solely about throwing massive number-crunching ability at big data sets and seeing what patterns emerge. But while these technologies are notionally aimed at all types of business, the cost of optimised AI hardware that can be slotted into a data centre may be too high for many organisations, as our recent report suggested.

At the other end of the scale are technologies such as IBM’s Watson and Watson Assistant, which can be deployed as cloud services – and, of course, the numerous suite-based AI tools that are currently offered by Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, and others. 

But for many IoT and connected-device deployments, neither data centre not cloud options are realistic, which is why many AI systems are moving elsewhere, fast.

For time-critical processing – such as when an autonomous vehicle needs to avoid a collision –  the edge environment and the distributed core are where the real number-crunching needs to take place. This is why companies such as Microsoft and Dell have announced new IoT strategies that focus principally on the edge and/or the distributed core.

The ability to add AI at the edge is an increasingly important element in the IoT, avoiding the need to transfer large amounts of data to supercomputers or the cloud and back again to IoT networks.

Startup SWIM.AI aims to “turn any edge device into a data scientist”, without the need for big data sets and the enterprise-grade number crunching that goes with them. 

The company recently emerged from stealth mode and announced the release of a new AI edge product, EDX. It aims to supply business and operational insights in real time from what the company calls “grey edge data”.  

Twin solutions

The new product autonomously builds digital twins directly from streaming data in the edge environment.

The system is built for the emerging IoT world in which real-world devices are not just interconnected, but also offer offer digital representations of themselves, which can be automatically created from, and continually updated by, data from their real-world siblings.  

Digital twins are digital representations of a real-world object, entity, or system, and are created either purely in data or as 3D representations of their physical counterparts. The concept is core to platforms such as Microsoft Azure IoT and AWS.

For example, every component of the largest machine in history, the Large Hadron Collider, is stored as a digital twin in CERN’s enterprise asset management (EAM) system. This allows scientists to not only know where everything is and what it looks like, but also how well components are performing and when they need upgrade, repair, or replacement.

But for most organisations, that kind of massive, bespoke programme isn’t an option, and they need something simpler, easier to deploy, and cheaper.

Predictive twins

SWIM’s EDX system enables digital twins to analyse, learn, and predict their future states from their own real-world data, according to the company. In this way, systems can use their own behaviour to train accurate behavioural models via deep neural networks.

The important difference to other AI solutions is that this ability is offered as a service in real time, without centralised, batch-oriented big-data analysis.  

“Our digital twins encapsulate what you really need to know about current and predicted performance of instrumented assets, and the insights can be easily integrated into your ERP logic, ops processes, or workflows to help inform decision- makers, in real-time,” said SWIM in an announcement.

SWIM EDX applications include smart cities, industrial automation, utilities, and IT infrastructure optimisation. “We’ve even used SWIM EDX to power an autonomous swarm of drones, flying a complex mission”, claimed the company.

Read more: Research: NASA to explore Mars with swarm of robot bees

Twin management

Gartner views digital twins as one of the top strategic enterprise trends in 2018. However, a key challenge is how easily enterprises can implement the technology, given their investments in legacy assets.

Read more: Gartner: Four best practices for managing digital twins

SWIM believes that limited skill sets in streaming analytics, coupled with an often poor understanding of the assets that generate data within complex IoT systems, make deploying digital twins too complex for some. Meanwhile, the prohibitive cost of some digital twin infrastructures puts other organisations off.

“Digital twins need to be created based on detailed understanding of how the assets they represent perform, and they need to be paired with their real-world siblings to be useful to stakeholders on the front line,” said SWIM.

“Who will operate and manage digital twins? Where will the supporting infrastructure run? How can digital twins be married with ERP and other applications, and how can the technology be made useful for agile business decisions?”

The company claims that SWIM EDX addresses these challenges by enabling any organisation with lots of data to create digital twins that learn from the real world continuously, and to do so easily, affordably, and automatically.

Importantly, the service can be delivered without new infrastructure, skill sets or expert management, said the company.

Internet of Business says

The edge environment is critical to the success of IoT programmes, but the challenge has long been that systems generally need to be fast, simple, and low cost, which means that processing power isn’t always available locally. And when it comes to AI, IoT systems need to maintain that speed, simplicity and low cost without the need for periodical retraining.

Put simply, edge systems are optimised for proximity, so latency isn’t an option – in other words, real time needs to be real time, and not an approximation of it.

In this sense, SWIM seems to have hit upon an ideal solution with EDX. But unlike the edge systems offered by AWS (DeepLens), Microsoft, Dell, and Google (Android Things), EDX isn’t part of a vendor ecosystem that locks clients into a platform or way of working. That may be an advantage to some organisations, but not to the others that can simply extend their platform to the edge environment.

Read more: Fetch launches world’s first autonomous AI smart ledger

Read more: Mind-reader: MIT’s AlterEgo wearable knows what you’re about to say

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Microsoft invests $5 billion in new IoT strategy

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microsoft announce $ 5 billion iot investment over next four years

Microsoft has outlined plans to make a substantial investment in IoT technology, setting aside $ 5 billion to grow its partner ecosystem, develop a more intelligent edge environment, and build on existing products and services.

In a move similar to Dell’s in New York last October, Microsoft will be revamping its IoT strategy over the next four years. Although the software giant has been invested in the space for years, booming adoption and exponential growth – long predicted by analysts – means that, in its own words, Microsoft is “just getting started.”

In a company blog post outlining the move, Julia White, CVP of Microsoft Azure, set out how fresh investment and R&D will make Microsoft ideally positioned to work with customers of all sizes and industries. “Our goal is to give every customer the ability to transform their businesses, and the world at large, with connected solutions,” she wrote.

Read more: VMware partners with Axis, Wipro on new IoT edge range

Investing at the edge

The $ 5 billion investment will be spread across IoT security, building tools and services for the IoT and the edge computing environment, and in continued growth within Microsoft’s partner ecosystem.

“Today, we’re planning to dedicate even more resources to research and innovation in IoT and what is ultimately evolving to be the new intelligent edge,” wrote White.

“With our IoT platform spanning cloud, OS, and devices, we are uniquely positioned to simplify the IoT journey, so any customer – regardless of size, technical expertise, budget, industry, or other factors – can create trusted, connected solutions that improve business and customer experiences, as well as the daily lives of people all over the world.”

Read more: An inside view of start-up factory Dell Technologies Capital

Developing a partner ecosystem

Like Dell, Microsoft acknowledges the importance of a partner ecosystem in delivering products and support to clients with differing needs.

“We’re also getting a look into how both customers and partners overcome the specific challenges of building an IoT solution that harnesses massive amounts of data. Whether they’re building products that transform the home, office, or factory floor, one thing remains clear: IoT is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort that spans cloud development, machine learning, AI, security, and privacy.”

Microsoft’s Azure IoT suite allows companies to develop their own use cases and experiment with connected technologies. The platform was bolstered by the launch of Azure IoT Edge last year.

Microsoft’s partner network already includes technology specialists Cisco and Hitachi and management consultants PwC and EY. It’s likely that the company’s VC arm, Microsoft Ventures, will also make further investments in the IoT space as part of the new strategy – a further echo of Dell’s recent moves.

“Today’s announcement is big – for us and for the future of IoT and the intelligent edge,” concluded White. “It positions us to support customers as they develop new and increasingly sophisticated IoT solutions, which few could have imagined just a few years ago. We can’t wait to see what comes from our customers and partners next, and we’ll have more to share throughout the year.”

Read more: HCL opens Microsoft Cortana AI Lab for Azure development

Internet of Business says

When Dell EMC launched its own IoT strategy last October in New York, it stressed a number of things: the critical role of the intelligent edge and the distributed core, the boom in connected-device uptake, and the need for investment in both the partner landscape and innovative startups. Less than six months later, Microsoft has announced a similar move – but with five times greater investment.

Alongside the growth of AI – which Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, and Apple are all pouring resources into – we can see that IoT systems are moving into the core to the new enterprise computing landscape, on both the software and hardware side of the industry.

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How to succeed in IIoT deployments | Exclusive Q&A with Jon Hill of InVMA

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InVMA started working in the industrial IoT (IIoT) space in 2012, and today builds software and hardware that link connected things to a company’s systems and processes. InVMA says that it aims to do three things for its clients: create new revenue streams; enhance customer satisfaction; and improve operational efficiency.

Internet of Business spoke to Jon Hill, the company’s business development director, about why some IoT projects succeed and others fail, about monetising deployments, and about whether the IoT could lead to job losses in manufacturing.

Internet of Business: In your line of work you must see a lot of good ideas that need strategic help to succeed. In your view, what are the three main reasons that some IoT projects fail – and what can organisations do to make sure that doesn’t happen?

Jon Hill, InVMA

Jon Hill: “One: they focus on the ‘how’, and not the ‘why’. Before any IoT project begins there are key questions that should be – but often aren’t – asked. Such as, what is the problem we are trying to solve? How does this help our customers or help us service our customers better? Where is the value?

“Most people do a proof of concept to test the technology, but very few do a proof of value to test the business model.

“Two: they try a DIY project and can’t scale it. It’s amazing how many people think that IoT is just another application development. Wrong. It’s the bringing together of IT and operational technology (OT). Hardware, firmware, communications, certifications, security, rules, data, and then the application.

“We have been building IoT applications for six years now on the most complete platform on the market, ThingWorx, and we are still learning.

If your team is launching a DIY IoT project, especially if they are not using a recognised platform, then you are just spending money to solve problems that have already been solved and to create a solution that may not scale. Focus on what makes you different rather than becoming an expert in IoT.

“Three: they target a low launch cost. Working to a budget is sensible, but skimping and trying to save a few dollars per device at launch really isn’t. Cheap devices are unlikely to give you much room for adding features later and can often lead to technical challenges.

“If you can, use tried, tested, and ‘off the shelf’ equipment and an IoT platform in your first iteration, with plenty of headroom to add new features. This will give you the flexibility to pivot your product and provide your customers with an upgrade path in the future.”

Monetising the IoT

One of the key areas of IoT failure is being unable to monetise a project successfully. Why do you think this is?

“There are two mains reasons for that failure. The first is that they haven’t looked at the customer’s value. Often the focus is on what it means to their business and not to their customer.

“Or they focus on the technology and don’t think about, or even understand, that this new approach will mean that they need to change their service teams, their partner relationships, and so on. This means that the promise of the service does not match the outcome from the service.

“The second reason is usually to do with pricing and a lack of understanding of how to price for the IoT project. The costs associated with an IoT deployment are normally capex for the hardware and opex for the communications, hosting, and an application enablement platform.

“So, should the pricing include all of the costs in a simple capex model, where the customer pays up front for a set period? Or should it be a service-type opex contract, which requires financing – and potentially new billing engines? Not considering and testing this prior to launch is where most companies and projects fail.”

The IoT is creating huge changes in manufacturing, as companies realise the value of harnessing data and using it to improve processes. Does this inevitably mean job losses in the sector?

“The recent OECD report said that there is a significant risk to manufacturing jobs from automation, of which IoT forms a part.

I agree with the assessment that some jobs will be lost to automation. However, successful IoT projects will make companies more successful – and, hopefully, able to employ more people in other roles.”

“They will also realise improvements in the form of reduced energy and material usage, further increasing their competitive positions.

“And as with any technology development, other jobs will be created too. For example, companies like InVMA did not exist 10 years ago. The speed of change that the addition of Industrial IoT, additive manufacturing, and similar innovations brings will see new employment opportunities being created.”

InVMA are among the companies that offer an end-to-end IoT service. What particular benefits does this give organisations that want to explore IoT programmes?

“Any full-service offering enables companies to lower the risk of innovation and prove the value from applying the technology without the need to invest heavily.

“The main advantages are: direction – access to experienced advice from, in our case, ex-Big-Four consultants about the business models that work and the potential impact on a company, its market, people, and processes.

“Quality – using proven technology and platforms enables a company to innovate on what a customer finds important, knowing that the hygiene factors of security, scalability, and ongoing development are being provided as standard.

“Cost – using proven approaches and lessons learned from other implementations reduces the risk and cost of the deployment for customers. And finally, speed – avoiding re-inventing the wheel and the IoT platform reduces the time to market.”

Internet of Business says

Putting IoT and IIoT programmes under the general heading of ‘automation’ is an interesting argument, especially when it comes to jobs.

In the manufacturing sector, the metric appears to be 2.5 new, skilled jobs created within organisations for every 10 routine jobs automated (approximately). For example, the US automative sector acquired 60,000 robots in 2015-16. If each robot is capable of doing the jobs of 15 full-time workers – as some robotics companies claim – then that is the equivalent of automating 900,000 jobs. However, during that timescale the industry created 230,000 new roles.

Likewise, Amazon has probably automated faster than any company on the planet, and yet has created roughly 100,000 new human jobs in recent years as the company expands and tries new markets.

And of course, this does not include the many new companies that will appear and create new human employment opportunities as the IoT grows – as has happened with ecommerce and mobile applications. This is why some automation reports have suggested that the long-term employment impact will be neutral.

Read more: South Korea most automated nation on earth, says report. The UK? Going nowhere

Read more: Hitachi Vantara: Bridge the IT/OT divide for IIoT success

Read more: IIoT security: How to secure the ‘Internet of Threats’, by IBM

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Mind-reader: MIT’s AlterEgo wearable knows what you’re about to say

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mit alterEgo wearable predicts speech

A wearable being developed at MIT’s Media Lab knows what its wearer is going to say before any sound is made.

The AlterEgo device uses electrodes to pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations – all before a single word has been spoken, claim MIT’s researchers.

Every one of us has an internal monologue of sorts, a place where our most intimate thoughts come and go as they please. Now, thanks to sophisticated sensors and the power of machine learning, the act of saying words in your head might not be so private after all.

MIT believes that the simple act of concentrating on a particular vocalisation is enough to engage the system and receive a response, and it has developed an experimental prototype that appears to prove it.

To ensure that the conversation remains internal, the device includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones. Instead of sending sound directly into the ear, these transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear, conveying information back to the user without interrupting the normal auditory experience.

Read more: Apple hires Google AI chief to head machine learning | Analysis

The benefits of silent speech

Arnav Kapur, the graduate student who is leading development of the new system at MIT’s Media Lab, wants to augment human cognition with more subtlety than today’s devices allow for. “Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways, and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?” he said.

Kapur’s thesis advisor, Professor Pattie Maes, points out that our current relationship with technology – particularly smartphones – is disruptive in the negative sense. These devices demand our attention and often distract us from real-world conversations, our own thoughts, and other things that should demand greater attention, such as road safety.

“We basically can’t live without our cellphones, our digital devices,” she said. “But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive. If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself.”

The challenge is to find a way to alter that relationship without sacrificing the many benefits of portable technology.

“So, my students and I have for a very long time been experimenting with new form factors and new types of experience that enable people to still benefit from all the wonderful knowledge and services that these devices give us, but do it in a way that lets them remain in the present,” she said.

Read more: MITs CSAIL lab studies aquatic life with robot fish

The potential of AlterEgo

Instead of being a precursor to some kind of Orwellian dystopia, the MIT team believes that the technology, once perfected, could improve the relationship between people and the devices they use, as well as serving a variety of practical functions.

So far the device has been able to surreptitiously give users information on the time and solve mathematical problems. It’s also been given wearers the power to win chess games, silently receiving opponents’ moves and offering computer-recommended responses, claims MIT.

The team is still collecting data and training the system. “We’re in the middle of collecting data, and the results look nice,” Kapur said. “I think we’ll achieve full conversation some day.”

The platform could one day provide a way for people to communicate silently in environments where noise is a concern, from runway operators to special forces soldiers. And it could perhaps even open up a world of verbal communication for people who have been disabled by illness or accident.

Read more: Health IoT: New wearable can diagnose stomach problems

Internet of Business says

The rise of voice search in the US – where 20 percent of all searches are now voice-triggered, according to Google – together with the rapid spread of digital assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, and IBM’s new Watson Assistant, has shifted computing away from GUIs, screens, and keyboards. And, of course, smartphones and tablets have moved computers off the desktop and out of the office, too.

However, while voice is the most intuitive channel of human communication, it isn’t suitable for navigating through, and selecting from, large amounts of visual data, for example, which is why technophiles are always drawn back to their screens.

This new interface will excite many, and may have a range of extraordinary and promising applications. But doubtless it will alarm many others as the rise of AI forces us to grapple with concepts such as privacy, liability, and responsibility.

 

And let’s hope, too, that this technology doesn’t always translate what’s on human beings’ minds into real-world action or spoken words, as the world could become a bizarre place indeed.

In the meantime, transhumanists will see this as yet another example of the gradual integration of technology with biology – and with good reason. But whether these innovations will encourage us to become more human, and less focused on our devices, is a different matter; arguably, such devices may train human beings to think and behave in more machine-like ways to avoid disorderly thinking.

Meanwhile, thoughts that can be hacked? Don’t bet against it.

Read more: AI regulation & ethics: How to build more human-focused AI

Read more: Fetch launches world’s first autonomous AI smart ledger

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Research: NASA to explore Mars with swarm of robot bees

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nasa wants to explore mars with robotic bees

Researchers have proposed a swarm of collaborative robots as a better means of exploring Mars. Malek Murison reports.

Mars is a long way away. At its closest to Earth, it would be 33.9 million miles away, and at its furthest, 250 million miles. NASA’s preferred measurement is 140 million miles, with Earth’s closer orbit to the Sun lapping Mars every 2.16 years, providing the space agency with launch windows between planets whose relative positions are constantly changing.

Whichever measurement you choose, it’s clear that exploring Mars comes with enormous challenges. For human beings, these include a one-way trip lasting six to eight months of zero gravity and radiation exposure, during which time they would have to keep themselves fed, hydrated, and constantly exercised to prevent atrophy of body and mind.

Then they would have to land safely – tricky in a thin atmosphere – survive on Mars for long enough to make the project worthwhile, launch from the surface back into space, and make the journey home in the same hazardous conditions. That means carrying enough food, water, and fuel to survive a return trip that may be even longer than the first. Finally, it may take weeks or months to adjust to life back on Earth.

So far, these obstacles have proved to be insurmountable, especially since the last time astronauts ventured beyond Earth orbit was 46 years ago, when Apollo 17 touched down on the Moon. This why all explorations of Mars to date have been via telescope, space probe, or landing a robot on the surface – several attempts at which have failed.

So NASA’s solar-powered, 185 kilograms (408 lb) Mars rover, Opportunity, is a stunning scientific and technological achievement, and to date it has spent more than 5,000 days roaming the planet. But while there is no doubting the scale of NASA’s Mars progress to date, a single rover moving slowly over the surface doesn’t represent an efficient way to explore a planet.

NASA is well aware of this, and has invited research teams to submit alternative methods as part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which aims to “nurture visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs radically better, or entirely new aerospace concepts.”

Read more: Bee robotic: Walmart files patents on automating agriculture

Harnessing the power of swarms

Among the 25 shortlisted proposals are plans to develop a swarm of small, flying robotic drones, called Marsbees.

An article published by the University of Alabama’s Chang-kwon Kang provides details of a robotic program that could “increase the set of possible exploration and science missions on Mars by investigating the feasibility of flapping-wing aerospace architectures in a Martian environment.”

Put simply, NASA wants to see whether a swarm of small, flying reconnaissance robots could operate in tough Martian conditions – including its much thinner atmosphere – or if the idea belongs in the realm of science fiction.

The proposed system would use a Mars rover as a kind of beehive – the home base where recharging takes place. The Marsbees might be around bumblebee size, with wings the size of a cicada’s. Each robot would be fitted with sensors and wireless communication devices.

Should the concept prove successful in tests, the exploration of Mars could benefit from an swarm that creates an adaptable, resilient sensor network. Environmental samples and data collection could be carried out by single Marsbees, or by groups working collaboratively.

Read more: NASA tests drone traffic control system across the US

Internet of Business says

Developing the Marsbee concept will bring together expertise from both the US and Japan, with greatest challenge being to address the physics of winged flight in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Fortunately, the team from Japan has already developed similar technology, highlighted by one of the only hummingbird micro air vehicles (MAV) in the world. The University of Alabama team will now work to optimise the technology to suit the atmospheric conditions on the red planet.

Read more: NASA looks to bring IoT to space with wireless comms test

Read more: SpaceX successfully blasts broadband into space

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One-third of firms can handle 100,000 IoT devices: report

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Businesses ready to invest in IoT technologies

Nearly one-third of organisations (31 percent) believe that they can handle up to 100,000 connected devices, according to a new study.

The report, published by IoT World, explores the things that senior executives consider when implementing Internet of Things technologies. The survey was carried out among IT and business leaders in supply chain/logistics, energy, construction, telecoms, agriculture, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, ecommerce, travel, and government.

Alongside the one-third of organisations that are able to implement large-scale projects, nearly half of all respondents – over 46 percent – revealed that their organisations have the resources to manage 1,000 IoT devices.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, 28 percent said that they can accommodate less than 100 devices, probably due to a lack of funding and expertise.

Lack of plans

While connected technology offers organisations numerous benefits, half of respondents lack global IoT strategies, according to the report. Nearly one-quarter of those are developing one, but 16.5 percent have yet to begin.

Aru Bala, president of the innovation business at industrial tools manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker, said that it is crucial that firms plan ahead for the continued rise of IoT technologies. “We have reached an inflection point where IoT is starting to accelerate to commercial mass-scaling from the proof-of-concept experimentation stage,” he said.

“It’s imperative for organisations to have a coherent IoT deployment strategy and not to be left out in this digital transformation arena.”

Great challenges

Although many respondents are confident about implementing IoT systems overall – some on a large scale – organisations still face challenges when it comes to scaling them or integrating them with existing systems, found the survey.

Currently, 53 percent of firms are dealing with legacy devices and software, while 46 percent admitted that they need highly specialised or custom tools to make a success of their IoT programmes.

Delegating IoT responsibilities among business departments is another challenge, found the report, with 37 percent of respondents admitting that they don’t know who should be in charge of connected sensors, gateways, hardware, or software.

When it comes to management, 47 percent of organisations revealed that they have been set back by implementation problems, while 12 percent said that they are unable to find the right support for production-quality deployments.

IoT security challenges

Connectivity and data protection are also presenting problems, according to the survey, with nearly half of respondents (49 percent) lacking the confidence to integrate the correct network management solutions.

Meanwhile, 37 percent said they’re not confident that they can secure IoT data.

Read more: Gartner: IoT security spend hitting $ 1.5 billion – but strategy poor

Read more: Vendors, users ignoring IoT security in rush to market – report

Read more: IIoT security: How to secure the ‘Internet of Threats’, by IBM

On the upside, 72 percent of firms said that they have successfully incorporated security into the design of products, while 62 percent are developing their own IoT security policies.

Dave Shuman, IoT and manufacturing industry leader at Cloudera, believes that firms are balancing “conflicting objectives” when deploying IoT technology.

He said there is a need to “apply pragmatic infosec policies to network devices around availability, integrity, and security, with the heterogeneous nature of the IoT landscape and its constrained network bandwidth”.

Internet of Business says

This timely report offers a useful snapshot into the state of play within IoT deployments. As the recent Gartner security report and others have found, there is a mismatch between many organisations’ operational technology objectives and their ability to formulate a coherent strategy throughout every level of the organisation.

Integrating IoT systems with business objectives is as much a cultural and management challenge as it is a technology problem demanding technology solutions.

And while Aru Bala may be right to warn interested organisations not to get left out in the race to digital transformation, there has to be a real strategic objective behind IoT programmes and the data that they gather and process – not just a strategy for their deployment.

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FUELlink uses IoT to track fuel efficiency of bio-gas buses

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vinie - Fuellink use the iot to track nottingham buses

NEWSBYTE: Scottish fuel management company FUELlink has secured a deal with Nottingham City Transport to install smart data collection devices on the city’s new fleet of bio-gas buses.

FUELlink’s IoT fuel-tracking device, named ‘VINIE’, sits on the dashboard and allows fleet managers keep track of and analyse data picked up from the vehicle’s engine management computer. Operators can set miles per gallon targets, view the amount of hours worked per litre, and detect fuel leaks.

The device was developed with support from the CENSIS IoT Centre, one of eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council.

Read more: Transport companies lack skills to get the most out of IoT data

Fleet management for city transport

FUELlink expects to see its VINIE devices gain traction in the coming months, particularly as the benefits become clear to transport operators that are keen to retrofit old vehicles and build more efficient fleets.

John Ashley, director at FUELlink Systems, notes the importance of support from CENSIS in reaching this point. “The way we’ve grown as a business is by listening to our customers and developing products which help them run their companies more efficiently,” he said.

“Working with transport operators, we recognised some of the pitfalls and challenges facing them on a daily basis. And while we had a concept to address some of those challenges, it was by teaming up with CENSIS that we were able to develop VINIE.”

Read more: Transport Scotland turns to IoT to keep roads clear this winter

He continued, “by demonstrating the proof of concept, we could pilot the product with a number of companies, showcasing the benefits of the device, and have since landed significant contracts, including Nottingham City Transport.

“At the moment, we’re focused on introducing the product to local authorities, bus operators, and haulage firms, but in the future, we hope to diversify and allow companies across industries to take advantage of VINIE’s versatile data monitoring and storage capabilities.”

Internet of Business says

Fuel and energy efficiency is emerging as an important hotspot in IoT programmes, not just in transportation and the supply chain, but also in starting new relationships between utilities and energy companies and their business and domestic customers.

We applaud any new programme that seeks to make public transport smarter and more efficient, and city centre traffic more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Read more: Smart energy: Why vehicle-to-grid technology is on the move

Read more: WaveRoller energy: Why the sea is the world’s biggest battery

Read more: IoT helps wind power match conventional fuels, says report

Read more: Pirelli smart tyres underpin its Cyber Car strategy

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Global fleet management market to hit $16bn by 2025

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verizon fleet management

According to a new report by Grand View Research, the value of the global Internet of Things (IoT) fleet management market is predicted to hit $ 16.86 billion by 2025 – at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.8 percent.

Fleet management covers a range of systems and tools, with each sharing the aim of improving productivity and keeping both customers and company accountants happy. Many of these tools rely on IoT technologies, connecting vehicle-specific data to a central platform for tracking and analysis.

Read more: Feeling the chill: Bringing IoT to cold chain logistics in retail

The advantages of deploying fleet management solutions are becoming clear to logistics companies, and to any business with a highly mobile workforce. Benefits range from using GPS tracking to pinpoint where employees are at a given moment, to route optimisation, remote diagnostics, automated administration, and improved driver safety.

But arguably the biggest benefits lie in fleet analytics, especially for companies that have highly mobile workforces. With enough source data, usage patterns begin to emerge. This means that driver performance can be correlated with working hours, for example, and vehicle maintenance can become proactive rather than reactive.

The result is a double win: fleet operators can increase operational efficiency at the same time as reducing expenses.

Some of the sector’s biggest players have vast business experience in connectivity and transport, such as Verizon and TomTom, respectively.

Read more: Verizon launches connected vehicle management firm

Key findings from the fleet management market report

The Grand View Research report hinges on connectivity. For fleet management systems to offer benefits in real time, wireless connectivity and a supporting infrastructure are obvious essentials. This is why the technology has been adopted in Europe and North America faster and more widely than anywhere else, says the report.

It predicts that regional markets where connectivity is already established will continue to grow steadily in the coming years.

However, it is expected that countries with booming ecommerce markets, such as India and China, will also see a spike in fleet management adoption, as authorities and businesses develop more efficient transport and delivery systems. As a result, the report pinpoints the Asia Pacific IoT fleet management market as the most promising region over the forecast period.

Aside from geographical variations, the report suggests that, within the sector, device management – covering sensors, smart tags, and mobile devices – will be the fastest-growing hotspot, with a CAGR of 21.7 percent.

Read more: LeasePlan and TomTom partner on connected fleet management

Internet of Business says

The IoT’s smart mix of connected assets, dashboard management, and usage data is proving to have countless applications in business, of which fleet management is just one. But with most existing vehicles fast depreciating in value – a problem that may be solved in the long run by the on-demand use of autonomous vehicles – and with fleets being expensive to run, fuel, and insure, IoT insights could prove invaluable, not just on companies’ bottom lines, but also in terms of minimising the environmental impact.

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Newsbyte: Total to deploy autonomous robot on North Sea platform

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total oil and gas to use autonomous robot in north sea

French oil giant Total has partnered with Austrian robotics company Taurob, and German university TU Darmstad, to develop an autonomous robot for deployment to an oil and gas platform in the North Sea.

Taurob and research partner TU Darmstadt won Total’s ARGOS Challenge, in which five teams from around the world competed to develop a robot for routine inspections and on-platform emergency operations.

The winning robot is expected to be deployed to Total’s gas plant on Shetland. It will then move on to operations on the firm’s Alwyn platform in the North Sea, some 440km north-east of Aberdeen.

The 90kg robot moves on two tracks and uses laser scanners to read instruments and valve positions. It can also measure air temperature and gas concentrations, detect abnormal noises, sense obstacles, and move with ease on slick, slippery staircases.

Read more: Shell joins digital twin initiative for offshore oil and gas assets

When working on oil and gas platforms, the priority for any machinery or operations is to avoid anything that can cause a fire.

“Our robot is also the first fully automated inspection robot in the world that can be used safely in a potentially explosive atmosphere,” says Dr. Lukas Silberbauer, who founded Taurob with partner Matthias Biegl in 2010. The robot is fully ATEX certified to ensure it doesn’t trigger an explosion while operating near explosive gases.

Falling revenues in the North Sea oil industry present one side of the argument for increased automation. But Total expects that it will also make inspections more reliable and safer.

Dave Mackinnon, head of technology and innovation for Total, believes that autonomous robots are very much here to stay in the oil and gas industry.

“Total believes that robots have the potential to play an important role on offshore platforms,” he said. “We are on the cusp of delivering technology that will improve safety, reduce costs, and even prolong the life of North Sea operations.”

Internet of Business says

The use of robots and also drones for remote or offshore maintenance – particularly in hazardous environments – is both a growing application of the technology, and ‘low hanging fruit’ in regulatory terms.

For example, a number of startups are focusing on drone maintenance of offshore wind farms in order to prove that the technology works and is safe. Authorities are happy to approve these deployments as test cases, because there are few other people around and airspace is less crowded.

In this way, the offshore energy industry is both an ideal application of robotics in itself, and a proving ground for the technology.

Read more: Aerones creates drone to de-ice and service wind turbines

Read more: DJI and FLIR launch drone tech that saves lives

Read more: The world’s fastest drone fleet is ready to service the US

Read more: Robot teachers take classes at Finland primary school

Read more: Predictability key to robot-human collaboration, finds Disney research

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Bristol looks for partner in smart city initiative

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NEWSBYTE Bristol City Council has tendered a £400,000 contract to find a supplier to deliver phase two of its Smart City strategy. The programme looks to upgrade urban traffic management and healthcare, among other connected services.

According to a posting on the UK government’s digital marketplace, the local authority is looking for a partner to “lead, plan, prioritise, prototype, and deliver the technical innovations that will form Bristol’s SMART services”.

The work will also cover a variety of other areas, including security and surveillance, energy, the environment, and waste, says the announcement.

The local authority said that it wants to ensure better use of its assets, funding, and technology. The successful applicant will help to ensure that programmes are taken all the way from concept to implementation.

Under the scheme, commercial strategies will also be put in place to ensure that Bristol’s fibre network, Operations Centre, urban assets, and infrastructure are all “fully utilised in an efficient way to ensure the best use of technology, capacity, people, and processes”.

The first phase of the Smart City programme has already been completed, and Bristol City Council wants to complete phase two by February 2019.

Multifunctional operations centre

Under phase one, the council built a new multifunctional operations centre, which includes an IT platform on which other systems can be integrated to provide dashboard-based management, insights, and analytics. Urban traffic management will be the first programme to move into the new centre, followed by tele-health and broadband rollouts.

Phase 2 also hopes to increase the number of customers using the Operations Centre. Alongside Operations Centre staff will be other council employees and partner agencies, such as Bristol is Open, the University of Bristol, local emergency services, and clinical commissioning groups.

Internet of Business says

The expected contract length is 8-9 months with a maximum budget of £400,000. The closing date for applications is 5 April.

Read more: Asia Pacific smart city spend to top $ 28.3 billion in 2018

Read more: Smart city hotspots: FLIR manages traffic using thermal imaging

Read more: Councils partner with Telensa on smart city programmes

Read more: Poles apart: Five cities putting smart streetlights to new uses

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