Hoopo tries a low-power geolocation solution

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New, low-power ways to track your cattle will make cows part of the internet of things.

Location has been a mainstay of the mobile internet for more than decade. Using GPS in phones has enabled all kinds of innovative applications, from Waze to Uber.  But GPS isn’t a match for the internet of things. It hogs battery power, doesn’t work well indoors, and GPS modules are expensive to put into products.

Which is why a crop of startups and big companies are trying to find other options for locating devices that won’t cost a lot or drain batteries. And it would be awesome if they worked well indoors — or better yet, in three dimensions, so you could see if an object was on the fourth floor or the fifth. Hoopo is one of the startups that thinks it has mastered this challenge.

Hoopo uses existing low-power wide-area networks to track goods and services in a set area. It uses triangulation to find tiny tags placed on pallets, vehicles, or whatever other equipment a client wants monitored. Currently, Hoopo’s technology can work on LoRa networks, although it isn’t confined to that radio standard.

The Israeli company has raised $ 1.5 million to build out its tags and the necessary gateways. Its CEO, Ittay Hayut, says he sees a market for tracking things as diverse as cattle on farms to managing medical equipment in hospitals. Hayut’s contention that the IoT needs low-power location tracking technologies is a common one.

Other companies are trying to get granular location without GPS as well. For example, PoLTE uses triangulation of cellular signals to determine the placement of a device. It recently raised an undisclosed Series A round, although the company has existed for at least the last nine years. PoLTE doesn’t use tags, but instead uses a device’s SIM card. It sells its software and an appliance to run its software to carriers that then implement it into their networks.

The operators then sell the location services as part of their IoT solutions. PoLTE has signed deals to get its software into a variety of modems and can deliver location data between 2 meters and 6 meters. It’s not able to offer location in three dimensions yet, but is working on it.

Locating things without sucking up a lot of power will go beyond letting companies track people and assets. It could also lead to new ownership models for expensive gear and expand our understanding of the world. For example, loaning out a ladder to a neighbor is easier when you can see exactly where that ladder is. Or in the case of the environment, low-power tracking lets us monitor small creatures that a GPS module might overwhelm.

So while initial use cases will be around asset tracking and fleet management, low-power geolocation will enable a new wave of startups and innovation in the years to come.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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On your bike, GPS! Is Sigfox a better low-power location service? (Case studies)

Four decades on and still going strong, but is GPS the right positioning system for the IoT? Nik Rawlinson looks at how a range of innovative businesses use location technologies.

GPS turns 40 this year and rarely gets the credit it deserves. Forward-thinking at its inception, it still underpins everything from smartwatch apps to spaceflight – so seamlessly that we barely notice.

But all that could be set to change.

As the IoT goes mainstream, our reliance on positioning data for applications such as asset-tracking and billing will rise – but not on the back of GPS, with its fearsome power requirements. Lower-power chips can reduce consumption, but they can’t accelerate the data, which streams at 50bps.

This isn’t some hangover from the 1970s spec, but a design choice that increases the likelihood of transmitting something usable to the receiver. But at that rate, getting a fix on three moving satellites (the minimum required for triangulation, of course) can take seconds. That may not be a problem where there are constant, predictable currents, but IoT devices may need to run for years on a single charge.

This challenge drive the uptake of low-power, non-GPS alternatives.

The low power challenge

Sigfox, which triangulates by sniffing SSIDs, can send up to 140 packets of data through the uplink daily. It can give accurate – if not quite real-time – location updates, rivalling the accuracy of GPS and obviating the need for integrated 3G.

“The beauty of Sigfox is that it just needs a few micro-watts of power to get a message out of the SSID,” says Neal Forse, CEO of WND UK, which is building a UK-wide Sigfox network for the Internet of Things. “Until now, if you wanted to track an asset for its lifetime, such as a cage in a transport hub, you’d have to use RFID. But as soon as it left the hub you’d have no idea where it was.”

Swapping RFID for GPS is impractical, because it would require warehouse managers to renew a tracker’s batteries every few days. But, says Forse, “if you put one of our trackers on it, you can embed it within the fabric of the asset, and it will last for the lifetime of the cage itself.”

The power requirements are so low that Sigfox has even developed a smart paper envelope, which can notify the sender where and when the recipient opened it. The cost of materials for the envelope is just 20 cents, significantly undercutting traditional tracked mail services.

However, Sigfox isn’t a magic bullet. For example, it wouldn’t work for ad-hoc car rental services or for Uber-style ride-hailing. These continue to use GPS, as do rivals to the UK’s official bike-hire schemes, which are rolling out across the country.

On your bike

London’s government sanctioned public bikes are being challenged by some smart, connected competitors. One is oBike, while another, ofo, is launching similar services in Sheffield, Norwich, and Oxford. By tracking their bikes using GPS, these smart providers are more agile and asset-light than other bike-hire services. They reduce both start-up and ongoing costs by doing away with the need for street-side infrastructure, such as bike docks.

“Having bikes free from docking stations brings us a lot of advantages,” says Joseph Seal-Driver, ofo’s general manager for the UK and Ireland. “Our set-up costs are lower, we can deploy faster, our users are more likely to find a bike nearby, and they can park it anywhere responsibly at the end of their journey.”

ofo’s 10 million bikes worldwide are fitted with Bluetooth and 3G to constantly stream their location, and this enables users to unlock them via an app. The company began shipping thousands of smart bikes to the US and UK in 2016.

“The app also gives us the flexibility to create virtual hubs in key locations – such as outside tube stations, where users can park and reliably find bikes,” says Seal-Driver. “We have the power in our software to incentivise customers to leave bikes in these hubs, such as credits for a free ride.”

ofo charges by the half hour, with a daily cap, but the technology could work just as well in reverse.

Blockchain-based payroll start-up Etch, which is targeting the construction industry at first, is using location services to save employees from clocking in and out of their shifts. Payments are processed immediately, rather than once a month, with every minute that an employee is onsite credited to their account in real time.

No easy ride

One thing is clear. Smart services such as oBike, ofo, and Etch are winning support because there’s a clear end-user gain. And in ofo’s case, community gains, too: since rolling out in Shanghai three years ago, car use for journeys of less than three miles has decreased by 44 percent.

However, research from the UK’s ICO, published in late 2017, revealed that only one in five of the UK public trusts organisations that store their personal data – and twice as many actively distrust them. This suggests that where the end-user benefit is less obvious or incentivised, providers will have to work hard to gain acceptance.

This is the hidden challenge in rolling out smart services to the public. Research and strategy consultancy, Populus, came to similar conclusions. In a report on the insurance sector, it found that almost half of all drivers dislike the idea of black boxes or apps tracking their performance, and believe that the data gathered will end up costing them money.

It added, “rewarding consumers in the form of discounts, lower premiums, or consumer incentives, may be a way of encouraging the sharing of personal data while creating a sense of value… [which] outweighs some of the concerns.”

Return to sender

Which brings us back to GPS. For many smart applications, it has proved itself over and over again. But an inherent conflict remains between its demanding power requirements and IoT devices’ limited power supplies.

So, does this mean we’re about to see a parting of the ways, with many applications opting for Sigfox and other low-power alternatives, leaving GPS to niches in transport, sport, and military use?

Not at all, says Forse. “If you’re leaving port with a £1 million Ferrari on your ship, there aren’t many SSIDs out at sea, so GPS is always going to have its place. The choice of technology will depend on the value of the asset you’re tracking. All of these technologies will be embraced by business. None of them is going away.”

Internet of Business says

Forse is right. At heart, this is a debate about putting business value first, and then matching the right technologies to strategic business aims – at the right delivery speed and price.

This report raises a number of interesting points. First, developing sustainable, environmentally safe battery power remains a massive challenge – at least if we are to avoid littering the land with billions of tiny batteries. And with that, of course, comes the need to develop low-cost, low-power, high-speed devices and services, at the edge and at the core.

But there is a hidden point in Nik Rawlinson’s first report for Internet of Business. And it is to do with blockchains being linked with services, such as Etch, that track our location and store our data. Many people are lauding blockchain to the heights as the force that will defeat the data superpowers and democratise data; but it may have an unintended side effect: making us slaves to a system that stops paying us the moment we take a break.

Where are we at as a society? The unexpected question in a debate about location.

Read more: Opinion: Use blockchain to build a global data commons

Read more: IoT success demands radical cost reductions and minimal devices, say Cambridge Consultants

The post On your bike, GPS! Is Sigfox a better low-power location service? (Case studies) appeared first on Internet of Business.

Internet of Business

LG’s next flagship phone may tout an extra-bright, low-power screen

Just because LG is shying away from typical smartphone release cycles doesn't mean it will have nothing big to show in 2018. Well-known leaker Evan Blass has heard that LG is planning to unveil a new flagship phone, nicknamed Judy. The star attract…
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MIT develops low-power high-speed chips for IoT security

MIT chip performs hardwired encryption faster and using less power.

MIT researchers have hardwired public-key encryption into a new chip for IoT devices. It uses 1/400 of the power of software execution, one tenth of the memory, and executes 500 times faster. 

From data breaches to weaponised devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been plagued with security issues. In part, this is down to hardware manufacturers implementing security as an afterthought, along with a lack of standardisation.

But it’s also true that building a low-power network of connected devices will remain challenging while encryption is so energy intensive.

Sensitive data transactions are usually protected by public-key cryptography. This type of encryption allows computers to transfer information securely without needing to establish a secret encryption key.

However, the software responsible for executing these protocols is both memory and energy intensive. The battery life trade-off required for embedded sensors and smart devices to run has long been a burden on development.

Read more: Virtuosys launches Edge Application Platform

Energy-efficient encryption for the IoT

But that could be about to change. Researchers from MIT have developed a chip that’s hardwired to execute public-key encryption.

It uses a tiny fraction of power (1/400) compared with software execution of the same protocols, and just ten percent of the memory. Better still, MIT’s new chip executes the encryption process 500 times faster.

The new chip relies on a technique called elliptic-curve encryption. The process uses mathematical functions to secure transactions. Previously, chips have been hardwired to handle specific elliptic curves or families of curves. MIT’s latest chip has been developed to work with any elliptic curve.

“Cryptographers are coming up with curves with different properties, and they use different primes,” said Utsav Banerjee, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, and lead author on the paper.

“There is a lot of debate regarding which curve is secure and which curve to use, and there are multiple governments with different standards coming up that talk about different curves. With this chip, we can support all of them, and hopefully, when new curves come along in the future, we can support them as well.”

The researchers will present a paper on the new chip at this week’s International Solid-State Circuits Conference.

Internet of Business says

This is merely the latest innovation from MIT to focus on reducing the energy consumption of intelligent systems, while increasing their power and speed. Our separate report today looks at its work with neural networks. Energy use, cost, and speed are the critical elements in developing sustainable IoT devices and services that can really deliver on their promise.

Read more: NEWSBYTE: ARM launches scalable chips for IoT machine learning

Read more: Dell Technologies unveils new IoT strategy in New York

Read more: MIT’s NanoMap helps drones to navigate safely at high speed

The post MIT develops low-power high-speed chips for IoT security appeared first on Internet of Business.

Internet of Business

Brains on a battery: Low-power neural net developed, phones could follow

Low-power neural network developed

Researchers at MIT have paved the way to low-power neural networks that can run on devices such as smartphones and household appliances. Andrew Hobbs explains why this could be so important for connected applications and businesses.

Many scientific breakthroughs are built on concepts found in nature – so-called bio-inspiration – such as the use of synthetic muscle in soft-robotics.

Neural networks are one example of this. They depart from standard approaches to computing by mimicking the human brain. Usually, a large network of neurons is developed, without task-specific programming. This can learn from labelled training data, and apply those lessons to future data sets, gradually improving in performance.

For example, a neural network may be fed a set of images labelled ‘cats’ and from that be able to identify cats in other images, without being told what the defining traits of a cat might be.

But there’s a problem. The neurons are linked to one another, much like synapses in our own brains. These nodes and connections typically have a weight associated with them that adjusts as the network learns, affecting the strength of the signal output and, by extension, the final sum.

As a result, constantly transmitting a signal and passing data across this huge network of nodes requires large amounts of energy, making neural nets unsuited to battery-powered devices, such as smartphones.

As a result, neural network applications such as speech- and face-recognition programs have long relied on external servers to process the data that has been relayed to them, which is itself an energy-intensive process. Even in humanoid robotics, the only route to satisfactory natural language processing has been via services such as IBM’s Watson in the cloud.

A new neural network

All that is set to change, however. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MITT) have developed a chip that increases the speed of neural network computations by three to seven times, while cutting power consumption by up to 95 percent.

This opens up the potential for smart home and mobile devices to host neural networks natively.

“The general processor model is that there is a memory in some part of the chip, and there is a processor in another part of the chip, and you move the data back and forth between them when you do these computations,” MIT News reports, in an interview with Avishek Biswas, MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who led the chip’s development.

Traditionally, neural networks consist of layers of nodes that pass data upwards, one to the next. Each node will multiply the data it receives by the weight of the relevant connection. The outcome of this process is known as a dot product.

“Since these machine-learning algorithms need so many computations, this transferring back and forth of data is the dominant portion of the energy consumption,” said MIT Biswas.

“But the computation these algorithms do can be simplified to one specific operation, the dot product. Our approach was, can we implement this dot-product functionality inside the memory, so that you don’t need to transfer this data back and forth?”

A mind for maths

This process will sometimes occur across millions of nodes. Given that each node weight is stored in memory, this amounts to enormous quantities of data to transfer.

In a human brain, synapses connect whole bundles of neurons, rather than individual nodes. The electrochemical signals that pass across these synapses are modulated to alter the information transmitted.

The MIT chip mimics this process more closely by calculating dot products for 16 nodes at a time. These combined voltages are then converted to a digital signal and stored for further processing, drastically reducing the number of data calls on the memory.

While many networks have numerous possible weights, this new system operates with just two: 1 and -1. This binary system act as a switch within the memory itself, simply closing or opening a circuit. While this seemingly reduces the accuracy of the network, the reality is just a two to three percent loss – perfectly acceptable for many workloads.

Internet of Business says

At a time when edge computing is gaining traction, the ability to bring neural network computation out of the cloud and into everyday devices is an exciting prospect.

We’re still uncovering the vast potential of neural networks, but they’re undoubtedly relevant to mobile devices. We’ve recently seen their ability to predict health risks in fitness trackers, such as Fitbit and Apple Watch.

By allowing this kind of work to take place on mobile devices and wearables – as well as other tasks, such as image classification and language processing – there is huge scope to reduce energy usage.

MIT’s findings also open the door to more complex networks in the future, without having to worry so much about spiralling computational and energy costs.

However, the far-reaching power of abstraction inherent in neural networks comes at the cost of transparency. Their methods may be opaque – so called black box solutions – and we expose ourselves to both the prejudices and the restrictions that may come with limited machine learning models. Not to mention any training data that replicates human bias.

Of course, the same problems, lack of transparency, and bias be found in people too, and we audit companies without having to understand how any individual’s synapses are firing.

But the lesson here is that, when the outcome has significant implications, neural networks should be used alongside more transparent models, where methods can be held to account. Just as critical human decision-making processes must adhere to rules and regulations.

The post Brains on a battery: Low-power neural net developed, phones could follow appeared first on Internet of Business.

Internet of Business

hoopo Aims to Provide Low-Power Geolocation Solutions for IoT

In an effort to radically improve precision for low-power Internet of Things (IoT) tracking, hoopo today announced the launch of the company and its innovative, accurate geolocation solution for low-power wide area (LPWA) networks.

The company also announced it has received $ 1.5 million in funding to further grow its business from a group of investors, including the initial investors in Mobileye; noted Israeli investor Zohar Gilon; and Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap.

The need to understand and quantify asset location is quickly becoming a requirement for the enterprise and industrial IoT. However, the accuracy of today’s low-power geolocation isn’t precise enough to deliver on the full promise of the IoT.

hoopo’s geolocation solution enables companies to locate their valuable assets, without the significant cost or battery consumption that can be associated with GPS. hoopo’s IoT solutions help companies precisely track specific assets in areas such as ports, vehicle dealer yards, parking lots, cattle ranches and other asset-dense areas.

LPWA networks are becoming the driving force behind Smart City and other IoT applications because of their low-cost, low-power consumption, and high-coverage capabilities in rural and urban environments. The long battery life of LPWA devices allows businesses to deploy a maintenance-free device in the field for several years.

“hoopo is addressing a real business need of companies around the world: cost-effective, yet precise, tracking of their valuable assets with longevity of battery life up to 10 years in the field,” said Ittay Hayut, CEO of hoopo. “LPWA checks off all of the boxes companies need in terms of cost and coverage, and hoopo’s solutions work alongside these LPWA networks to help businesses keep their assets safe, anytime and anywhere.”

The post hoopo Aims to Provide Low-Power Geolocation Solutions for IoT appeared first on Mobile Marketing Watch.

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