Bluetooth ups its IoT cred with mesh networking

In the ongoing fight to become a dominant wireless standard for the IoT, an update to Bluetooth has provided mesh networking capabilities.

Much like WiFi-based mesh networks, which are gaining in popularity, Bluetooth Mesh has the ability to use other devices as relays to extend coverage. Your hub may not directly reach your garage door, for example, so it could pass the message to your TV, which could pass it on to your doorbell, and then on to its final destination.

Of course, you still retain all the benefits of Bluetooth such as its low power consumption. The fairly ubiquitous nature of the standard also means it could saturate the market with capable devices quickly.

The stickler is that it relies on manufacturers getting on board. While any device that already features Bluetooth 4.0 or later has the ability to support Bluetooth Mesh, it will be up to device manufacturers to release an update to enable it.

The Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) expects new standards to enter the market around six months after they’re released. In this case, however, the SIG expects Bluetooth Mesh to begin rolling out sooner because of the lack of need for new hardware.

While it’s likely your next Bluetooth device will support Bluetooth Mesh, the same cautious optimism can’t be applied to your current devices. If you have a recent flagship you may be holding out for the goodwill of the manufacturer, but the likelihood quickly dwindles for devices a year old or more.

Various types of devices are being prepared to be supported by Bluetooth Mesh and not all will have to rebroadcast signals which helps to ensure power usage is kept to a minimum and can potentially be used outside for smart city deployments.

It goes without saying, but all signals must be encrypted as part of the standard.

With this update, Bluetooth feels like it’s maturing into a real IoT standard competitor. The recognised name and existing widespread hardware adoption could propel it past competitors as long as manufacturers throw some weight behind it. However, the group behind WiFi is also working on a low-power spec, which means this fight is not over yet.

Are you looking forward to Bluetooth Mesh? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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WaterGroup to leverage its smart water metering solutions using Thinxtra’s LPWAN

WaterGroup, renowned name in water conditioning, manufacturing and distribution business since 50 years in North America, has signed a five-year agreement with Thinxtra. WaterGroup will make use of Thinxtra’s Sigfox Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) to boost the capabilities of its IoT smart water meter connections.

WaterGroup, after having spent 24 months researching and developing multiple LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) wireless technologies, found the Sigfox technology most suitable to fit its needs. Thinxtra is expecting the Sigfox network to cover 95% of the Australian population by the end of 2017 from the current cover of 71%.

Guenter Hauber-Davidson, managing director of WaterGroup, believes that heavy users of water will be most benefitted by the usage of this network coverage because it provides many valuable additional offerings apart from the automated meter readings, such as detection of leakage and unauthorised usage. Providing clients with such alerts in real time can lead to tremendous water and costs savings.

Hauber-Davidson said the smart water meter systems and solutions will eliminate the bill shock that users get when they realise that their quarterly water bill has gone up enormously due to a costly leak or large unauthorised use.

He is hopeful of beating the past connectivity-related cost constraints by using Thinxtra’s simple-to-use, large-scale and low-cost Sigfox network, monitoring their water use and identifying leaks.

Loic Barancourt, Thinxtra’s chief executive, said WaterGroup has been chosen as a partner “because it is one of the leading providers of systems and solutions to the smart water meter market in Australia with an excellent reputation of delivering tangible business outcomes to its enterprise and utility customers.

Thinxtra is gaining wide acceptance and popularity in Australia as the network of choice for IoT because it makes it simple and economical for objects to connect owing to the Sigfox networks deployed and operating nationwide.

 

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Setting the stage for the future of farming: Drones, autonomous vehicles, and more

Agricultural practices will need to continue to develop and become more efficient, if the findings of recent research pieces are anything to go by. For instance, PwC has reported on expert views that agricultural consumption will need to increase by close to 70 per cent by 2050 to account for the world’s growing population — projected to hit 9 billion people in the same year. While not as high, the World Bank has predicted that those across the globe will need to produce 50 per cent more food by 2050 should global population continue to rise at its current pace.

Fortunately, technology is constantly advancing, with various developments being made to aid the agricultural industry. Two main areas of interest are that of drones and autonomous vehicles — this guide sets out how each could assist farmers in the future.

Farming drones

Drones have become a very lucrative market, with global market revenue from the sales of such gadgets expected to increase by 34 per cent to reach over £4.8 million in 2017. US technology research experts Gartner has also predicted that drone production figures will jump by 39 per cent this year compared to the numbers recorded in 2016.

They offer numerous benefits for those in agriculture. Here are a few reasons why:

They can be used for planting

Drones can take the stress out of planting and looking after produce, thanks to systems which have been created by start-up companies that can achieve an uptake rate of 75 per cent and reduce the costs of planting by as much as 85 per cent. The idea is that the technology sees drones shooting pods with seeds as well as plant nutrients into the soil, enabling plants to receive the nutrients they need to sustain life.

They can make the most of irrigation

To avoid wasting water around a farm, drones can be fitted with remote sensing equipment — think multispectral, hyperspectral or thermal sensing systems. The idea is that the technology will quickly and easily identify the driest sections of a field and then allow farmers to allocate their water resources more economically.

They can be used to spray and monitor crops

Crop spraying and crop monitoring are two practices that many in agriculture will already be very familiar with. However, drones can improve both of these common practices.

In regards to crop spraying, drones can effectively scan the ground of a farm and then spray the correct amount of liquid once the distance from the ground has been modulated — even coverage will be achieved while the amount of chemicals penetrated into groundwater will be reduced.

When it comes to crop monitoring, time-series animations through the drones will be able to display the exact development of a crop and detail any inefficiencies with production. These kinds of insights would have previously only been gained by satellite imagery — while very advanced, this technique could only be used once a day. Monitoring through drones can be used whenever a farmer wishes.

Autonomous farm vehicles

Just like drones, the market for autonomous vehicles is looking very bright. In fact, a comprehensive report by Business Insider Intelligence has forecasted that there will be close to 10 million cars available which will have either semi-autonomous or fully autonomous capabilities. From a more general perspective, management consulting firm Bain has estimated that the global opportunity for assistive and autonomous technologies for the business-to-business market will be somewhere in the range of $ 22 to $ 26 billion per year by 2025.

Steps have already been made to showcase how autonomous vehicles can assist those in agriculture. For instance, a team of agricultural engineers from the Harper Adams University in Shropshire have set about creating an autonomous tractor which can perform tasks like the drilling, seeding and spraying of land while being steered by a farmer who is positioned not behind the vehicle’s wheel but in a control room. The same team — made up of Johnathan Gill, Kit Franklin and Martin Abell — are also looking into how an automated combine harvester can be used to then harvest the same field.

Explaining the potential benefits of the developments, Mr Franklin told the Daily Mail: “These small autonomous machines will in turn facilitate high resolution precision farming, where different areas of the field, and possibly even individual plants can be treated separately, optimising and potentially reducing inputs being used in field agriculture.

“The tractor driver won’t be physically in the tractor driving up and down a field. Instead, they will be a fleet manager and agricultural analysts, looking after a number of farming robots and meticulously monitoring the development of their crops.”

Meanwhile in the Burgundy region of France, inventor Christophe Millot has been successful in creating a vine-pruning robot. Developed as a counter to a shortage in farm labour, the latest-generation model of the four-wheeled gadget is made up of six cameras, two arms and a tablet computer found inside the robot. These features combine in a way that the machine can learn as it goes about its task so to trim grass around each vine with a cut every five seconds.

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Bevi raises $16.5 million in series B to ramp up smart vending machines

Smart beverage machine maker Bevi has raised $ 16.5 million in a series B funding round conducted by Trinity Ventures, with an ongoing support from Horizons Ventures and Tamarisc.

The funding will be used to expand its presence throughout the US, the company said. A part of the funding will be used towards launching their new counter-top beverage dispenser model, and also towards speeding up the development of IoT-enabled technology to enable consumers to customise their beverages at the point of use.

The new model of smart water cooler stores natural flavourings and features a touchscreen interface for customers to create custom drinks and creative concoctions like coconut and peach seltzers. Bevi has also designed a counter-top unit for smaller spaces. Introduction of such new smart technologies will aim to contribute towards making water coolers and bottled and canned beverages obsolete thus furthering Bevi’s mission. Workplaces that implemented its offerings have noted a 50% decline in office beverage costs.

Bevi noted a 1000% revenue growth in 2016 and it is foraying in new avenues such as hotels, fitness centres, and schools. It serves many fortune 500 companies such as Apple, Netflix, Fidelity, and GE.

Bevi uses proprietary software and IoT capabilities to track machine performance and collect real-time data on beverage consumption and combines it with a minimalist user experience for thoughtfully customising beverages. Using this data Bevi proactively restocks ingredients, streamlines operations and collects vital analytics around beverage consumption trends.

Patricia Nakache from Trinity Ventures said: “The Bevi value proposition for employers and employees is unbeatable: less expensive, more customisable and better for the environment. They are also precisely on-trend as consumers are demanding healthier food and beverage options as well as better environmental sustainability.”

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Nvidia powers the first Level 3 self-driving car – the Audi A8

Audi announced earlier this week its upcoming A8 will be the first vehicle in production to ship with ‘Level 3’ self-driving technology, and now we know Nvidia is helping to power a lot of the smarts behind it.

The A8 was unveiled last Tuesday and will include six Nvidia processors to power self-driving technology such as ‘traffic jam pilot’ as well as other, more standard features such as the infotainment system, virtual cockpit instruments, and tablets on the back of the front seat headrests for passengers in the back.

Audi’s latest Modular Infotainment Platform, the MIB 2+, serves as the control hub for all these functions. It integrates a cutting-edge K1 processor by NVIDIA. A second K1 chip generates the graphics on the Audi virtual cockpit which, as the digital instrument cluster, offers a full HD resolution of 1,920 x 720 pixels.

Level 3 self-driving technology is a step up from the current Level 2 found in production cars from the likes of Tesla whose Autopilot feature provides assistance on the highway but requires a driver pays attention to resume control if needed.

This categorisation means drivers of the A8 won’t have to pay attention under certain safer road conditions. One requirement is the car must be driving 37 MPH or slower on a highway with a physical divider. If this requirement is met, a driver can do whatever else is legal behind the wheel and the system will alert when manual control is required.

Powering the self-driving features of the A8 is the central driver assistance controller (zFAS) which computes an image of the surroundings by merging sensor data. As well as the radar sensors, a front camera, and the ultrasonic sensors, Audi claims to be the first car manufacturer also to use a laser scanner.

Beyond the aforementioned traffic jam assistance on the highway, the A8 includes remote parking and remote garage parking features.

The new Audi A8 and A8 L are being built at the Neckarsulm site and will appear on the German market in late fall 2017. The starting price for the A8 is EUR 90,600, with the A8 L starting at EUR 94,100.

What are your thoughts on Audi’s partnership with Nvidia? Let us know in the comments.

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Darktrace raises $75 million in Series D financing round

Darktrace has announced it has raises $ 75 million (£58.2m) in a series D financing round, adding that its total contract value has hit $ 200m.

The machine learning cyber security provider had its funding round conducted by Insight Venture Partners, with the company’s existing investors, Summit Partners, KKR and TenEleven Ventures, also part of the seed funding.

Known as the frontrunner in disruptive AI technology for cyber-security, Darktrace can easily confront the most sophisticated cyber-attacks. The company’s Enterprise Immune System technology, which is powered by machine learning and AI algorithms, can detect and respond to cyber-threats that evade legacy security controls, containing incidents before damage is done. Over 3,000 of the Enterprise Immune System have been deployed across all the industries worldwide. These include global financial companies, telecommunications providers, media companies, retailers, healthcare providers, government agencies and critical national infrastructure facilities.

Nicole Eagan, CEO at Darktrace, said: “Insight Venture Partners has a proven record of partnering with tech-focused firms, and its backing of Darktrace is another strong validation of the fundamental and differentiated technology that the Enterprise Immune System represents. It marks another critical milestone for the company as we experience unprecedented growth in the US market and are rapidly expanding across Latin America and Asia Pacific in particular, as organisations are increasingly turning to our AI approach to enhance their resilience to cyber-attackers.”

Jeff Horing, managing director at Insight Venture Partners, added: “In just four years, Darktrace has established itself as a world leader in AI-powered security. Insight is proud to partner with Darktrace to continue to drive its strong growth and superior product market fit.”

Regular readers of this publication will be aware of Darktrace; as it was put when first reported in April, ‘by detecting odd behaviour, Darktrace believes its ‘digital antibodies’ can be effective in preventing or reducing damage from rogue parties.’

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SAP and Centrica team up to bring efficient energy IoT management

SAP has partnered with energy and services company Centrica to leverage the use of IoT for better energy consumption management.

The partnership will bring together the powers of SAP’s digital innovation system, SAP Leonardo that combines the power of IoT, analytics, big data, machine learning and blockchain on SAP’s cloud platform using design thinking services and Centrica’s energy insights technology, Panoramic Power.

Centrica and SAP aim to provide new business value to customers by delivering a connected asset experience and digitally transform the energy market. The duo intends to find new avenues for introducing energy IoT solutions for commercial and industrial customers.

They plan to do so by integrating Panoramic Power technology and machine learning algorithms running on SAP Leonardo IoT capabilities with SAP Asset Intelligence Network, a cloud-based asset information repository connecting manufacturers, operators and third-party providers to improve collaboration on industrial machinery, and the SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service solution with IoT energy capabilities and functionality.

Centrica’s relationship with SAP has not always been this smooth. As Computer Weekly reported in March, the energy provider helped move its HR systems to the cloud, through a 13-month project where SAP was replaced by Workday’s cloud HR technology. Centrica made this move on learning that the support cost associated with the platform was more than modern cloud-based alternatives and also because of the difficulty in its usage for the staff. The technology also failed to provide full overview of the global workforce and the ability to gain insights from analysing workforce data.

Elvira Wallis, senior VP for the IoT smart connected business at SAP Labs, writes on the benefits and features of SAP Leonardo IoT Bridge to increase the efficiency in managing supply chains. The solution combines the IoT data with business process data and offers pre-configured work environments for operations professionals designed as per their areas of responsibility, while providing helpful and intelligent business context and real-time visibility across the value chain helping them with decision support in case of uncertainties. Its reach can be extended beyond outbound-logistics by configuring SAP delivered scenarios to specific customer needs.

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Microsoft’s Seeing AI demonstrates how artificial intelligence can improve lives

Artificial intelligence can have a meaningful impact on improving the quality of life for some individuals, as demonstrated by Microsoft’s Seeing AI app.

Seeing AI uses artificial intelligence to recognise objects and faces. The results are then described to a user to help them understand the situation around them – which is particularly useful for those who are blind or have severely impaired vision.

The app, which released on iPhone today, has been previously demonstrated on multiple occasions including at BUILD 2016 and on an episode of Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix. On the show, it was demonstrated by Microsoft software engineer, Saqib Shaikh, who lost his eyesight aged 7 and pursued a career in the use of computing to improve lives.

Harry Shum, Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s AI and Research Group, says: “As AI breakthroughs abound, we as a technology company have the chance to channel all those innovations into tools that help people do their jobs better and more efficiently, and that solve some of the world’s toughest challenges.

“We are responsible for building AI advances that amplify human ingenuity, and also that reflect our shared societal values and expectations. The AI tools and services we create must assist humanity and augment our capabilities.”

Microsoft’s AI is particularly impressive with faces and can describe the age, gender, and even the emotion of a person with a fairly high degree of accuracy. When handling money, the AI can report the value of bills which is highly useful as it’s difficult for a blind person to differentiate bills as they all feel the same.

“As AI moves from research to product, we are maintaining our commitment to foundational, open, and collaborative research and our dedication to solving society’s toughest problems in partnership with all members of society.”

The AI runs locally on a person’s device without the need for an internet connection and has been implemented with smart glasses to provide instantaneous descriptions of what the individual is looking at without the need to use a smartphone.

For now, however, the Seeing AI app has been released in the US on iOS. There’s no word yet on whether Microsoft plans to bring it to Android or other countries, but we’re sure it’s currently in a limited release and will be rolled out to a wider audience in the not-so-distant future.

You can download Seeing AI from the App Store here.

Are you impressed with Microsoft’s Seeing AI? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Fairhair Alliance drafts specifications to equip commercial buildings with IoT

The Fairhair Alliance, a confederation of leading companies from lighting, building automation and technology, has framed three draft specifications covering resource modeling, resource discovery, and security in a move to bring the Internet of Things (IoT) to commercial buildings.

The specifications have undergone an external review, and the feedback received will help Fairhair to make further enhancements.

Fairhair is dedicated towards making a set of technical specifications that will define a set of common system services for the creation of a common IP-based infrastructure, based on open IEEE and IETF standards. This will enable the use of a single, unified IP-based network infrastructure in commercial buildings.

It aims to further the use of the IoT in the building-automation and lighting-control industries so that they can build secure, cost-effective and scalable systems. Fairhair is also advancing the adoption of its specifications by well-established ecosystems such as BACnet, KNX and Zigbee.

Fairhair benchmarked the scope and direction of its work by opening up to a selected group of external companies, organizations and university groups, who were asked to review the draft specifications. One of the suggestions it received was to increase the flexibility of the metadata framework by including the concept of linked data and to better integrate implementation efforts into the work plan of the alliance.

According to Navigant Research back in June, the global ‘IoT for intelligent buildings’ market is set to surpass $ 22 billion in 2026, up from $ 6.3bn in 2017. The research noted that commercial building owners are ‘feeling the pressure to invest in intelligent building technologies that leverage the IoT, providing better insight on operations and equipment as well as access to real-time data for productivity, convenience, and sustainability.’

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First Internet of Things degree in US to be offered by Florida university

Florida International University (FIU) is set to become the first university in the US to offer a bachelor’s degree in the Internet of Things (IoT).

According to FIU provost Kenneth G Furton, the degree will allow students to get and create great jobs, many of which do not exist today. “We are proud to lead in this field and provide our students the opportunity to be equipped for the technology-driven jobs of the future,” Furton said.

The IoT degree offered by FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing will focus on the four major areas of IoT – hardware, software, communication and cybersecurity.

Keml Akkaya, program director of the IoT degree and associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU, said the degree will focus on preparing students with specialised skills to succeed in the operations that help prevent and respond to cyberattacks and the techniques required to strengthen the defense of vulnerable systems that employ IoT devices.

The IoT program, which will start in the spring of 2018, will be a 120-credit hour degree with hybrid courses combining in-person and online learning. Learning about the technologies behind increased machine-to-machine communication will form a core part of the degree.

Elswhere, Republic Polytechnic, a university in Singapore, has launched a 300-hour specialist diploma focused on IoT. It will provide students with hands-on experience with 3D printing, programming, statistics and analytics, and societal role played by interconnected systems. Enrolments for the course will end in July, with the class starting in October. 

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