Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Internet of Things


Big Data

Big Data has been touted as the answer to many problems. Currently many organisations are collecting everything they can get their hands on in order to try and make sense of it, either now, or eventually. And then of course to leverage that for profit, advantage, protection, whatever…

But there is a massive flaw in one aspect of this. For instance, you can determine that there is a statistical correlation between 2 sets of numbers, but that doesn’t mean it is causative.

Tyler Vigen

Tyler Vigen

Tyler Vigen has written Spurious Correlations to demonstrate just this issue. Below are 2 examples.

Spurious Correlation #1

Spurious Correlation #1

So it looks like the US spending on science correlates with suicides. But does it cause it? Or is this merely a coincidence?

Spurious Correlation #2

Spurious Correlation #2

Same here. Would suggest spelling bees stick to short words only to limit the damage they could be doing.

And this is what we need to be careful of. Now this doesn’t mean our own thinking can’t be fooled. Rolf Dobelli in The Art of Thinking Clearly documents 99 more common cognitive biases we can suffer from. Think of these as bugs in our thinking algorithms. An example is Confirmation Bias. Most people believe they are above average. Nearly half of them are wrong. This is called Illusory Superiority.

So the danger is concluding there is a cause and effect relationship when there is not. Leading to decisions being made and outcomes not working out as expected. There are no simple answers here. The above examples are selected because it is easy to conclude there isn’t a direct relationship. It is harder to discern when the data is big and an auto-correlating algorithm is coming to it’s own conclusions.

The Art of Thinking Clearly

The Art of Thinking Clearly

And to round off, here is Rolf Dobelli talking about The Art of Thinking Clearly.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Artificial Intelligence

There has been hype about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, ever since we starting thinking about creating it. Moves to create truly independently thinking systems are still struggling but expert and self-learning systems have made a lot of progress.

So I was interested to get an email from Karthik Reddy of 16best.net  with a new blog post from them about how brands are using AI to enhance their marketing.

Here is a snippet. Click on it for a more readable version.

Artificial Intelligence Use Now

Artificial Intelligence Use Now

The projection that really interested me is “100% of IoT initiatives will be supported by AI by 2019″. That is a pretty substantial claim. And of course not all the support will be in field as the processing power to make a difference is usually in the back end systems. Given we do a lot of projects for devices that fit the Internet of Things category I’m fairly confident that this is likely to be true. I’m not convinced it will be 100% but it will be high. And this is because once you have devices in the field gathering data, you start making connections between the data and outcomes, and then it becomes valuable.

A good example of this is the arcHUB Smart Cities Sensor devices. Once you have the data, you can learn a lot from it. And then you can start making better decisions. And then you can actually measure the improvements.

You can see all the details in How Brands Use AI including detailed statistics from many well known companies on how they are using AI.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Insecurity in Cyberspace

This is not one of those topics that makes you feel better initially. In IoT Security we looked at how the emerging IoT world needed to protect itself against attacks. This is a different problem to pure Software Security which has its own challenges.

It was with recent interest that I received a copy of the Barr Group 2018 Embedded Systems Safety & Security Survey . We contribute and so get access to a free copy. I recommend you do the same if this is an area of interest.

They have also put together an infographic that speaks to the The Internet of Insecure Things and I am reproducing a low resolution version here with their permission. You can get a full resolution version by registering at the Barr Group website.

The Internet Of Insecure Things

The Internet Of Insecure Things

It speaks to where the insecure aspects come from. As usual, better Embedded Software Development practice leads to better and more secure products.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Precision Electronic Technologies Supplier Award

2017 was a big year at Successful Endeavours. Lots of new projects and some world first products as well as operating out of our New Premises in Narre Warren and adding some staff. One of the things that makes it possible for us to complete Product Development project quickly is the local Australian suppliers that support us so well.

So it is with great pleasure that we awarded Precision Electronic Technologies with our Supplier Award for 2017 for offering us both the flexibility we needed and very rapid turnaround so our clients could get to market on time and secure new business because of that.

Precision Electronics Technology Supplier Award 2017

Precision Electronics Technology Supplier Award 2017

This was particularly important for 2 projects in particular.

IND Technology EFD SWER

IND Technology provide Early Fault Detection systems for the electrical distribution grid. These devices use the atomic clocks in the GPS network to time synchronise 250MHz sampling of electrostatic transients in the distribution grid and logging that, some FFT results and some other calculations to determine where in the grid there is activity typical of pending equipment failure due to things like partial discharge. They also get some statistics on overall grid health levels. The data is logged and uploaded at 1 second intervals.

Precision Electronics Technology Staff

Precision Electronics Technology Staff

So find potential faults early before you have shrapnel, unplanned outages or a fire.

The 3 phase version won the PACE Zenith Award for Best Networking Implementation for Australia in 2016.

This new version does the same thing but for rural SWER (Single Wire Earth Return) networks and are solar powered. There was a tight installation deadline to get them into the field before the fire season started.

So 4 new PCBs designed including an 8 layer PCB for the FPGA and 250MHz ADC sampling IC. And built in 4 weeks to first samples for testing. Because of that Precision Electronic Technologies made it possible for IND Technology to meet their delivery schedule.

So flexibility, on time delivery and fast turnaround made an impossible project possible.

IND Technology EFD

IND Technology Early Fault Detection

arcHUB

The second project was the Active Reactor arcHUB Smart City Sensor. This is a new type of device that does not need an electrician to install it. They can be solar powered or primary battery powered with field life of up to 5 years and a huge range of possible sensor options.

Precision Electronics Technology Award Presentation

Precision Electronics Technology Award Presentation

In order to bid on local council smart city projects the product development had to happen quickly and the manufacturing as well. Again, Precision Electronic Technologies came through turning around 2 new PCB designs rapidly so that we could complete the development and have enough units for a first trial deployment. As a result, Active Reactor won the contract for their first Smart Cities deployment.

So again, agility and responsive supply allowed another Australian manufacturing success.

 

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

And also lead to the arcHUB Smart City Sensor being nominated for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science for Australia in 2017.

Here is a list of features you won’t find combined together in conventional devices:

  • battery operated (either solar charged or primary cells)
  • minimum 2 year battery life for standard AA cell alkaline batteries
  • 10+ day running time if solar charging is lost
  • up to 20 days on board non-volatile storage
  • compact form factor
  • multiple sensor types per node (up to 20)
  • sensor area network to minimise data costs
  • over the air firmware upgrades
  • over the air configuration updates
  • variable sample rates and upload timing
  • still has to be low cost to make and also run
  • easy to install

So here is the range of sensors already trialed:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gasses – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)
  • Sound and Noise

Launching a new electronics product is never easy, but working with the right design team and suppliers can give you a much better chance of success. So we commend  Precision Electronic Technologies for their excellent service and look forward to bringing many more new products onto the Australian and world markets in partnership with them.

Precision Electronics Technologies

Precision Electronics Technologies

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

IoT Change Catalyst

The Internet of Things, or IoT, continues to break new ground. Although there are still many things to be worked out, there is no doubt it will create new opportunities and enable value propositions previously unimaginable.

So I was please when Garrick Stanford from RS Components sent me an infographic looking at the way the Internet of Things will drive change. Here is his introduction.

‘Sometime ago we discussed exactly what the internet of things is. Well here we’re going to take a closer look at how it is going to change your life – and how that has started already. More and more technology and everyday devices and tools are now connected to the internet – think about your phone and TV, for instance. But here we’ll examine how the amount of connected devices that we use is going to hugely increase and how that will affect our lives.’
IoT Infographic on Change

IoT Infographic on Change

The one things we can be sure of is that this is but the start.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

arcHUB

Tonight I was at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner. We recently learned that the the  arcHUB Smart Cities device was a finalist for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science. This award was presented tonight.

 Clean Up 2017

Clean Up 2017

The arcHUB Smart Cities device measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities including particulates, gases, micro-climate, pedestrian traffic, water level and supports a host of other sensor types.

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

The Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science presented during the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Presentation

arcHUB – Agilent Award Presentation

The arcHUB Smart Cities device was runner up with the University of Newcastle winning the award.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Certificate

arcHUB – Agilent Award Certificate

Above we have Brian Oldland and Richard Dluzniak of The Active Reactor Company with Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner with the award certificate as runner up for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017.

arcHUB - Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

arcHUB – Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

The arcHUB Smart Cities sensor suite is an excellent example of a designed in Australia, Made in Australia product with massive potential for environmental and Smart Cities monitoring throughout the world.

Agilent

Agilent

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science

We are pleased to announce that our client, The Active Reactor Company, are finalists in the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017 this coming Tuesday 12 September 2017.

Agilent

Agilent

This is for the arcHUB Smart Cities device that measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities. The initial data set is:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gases – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

We are looking forward to the awards outcome on Tuesday night and wish The Active Reactor Company all the best.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Powering Telemetry

A big issue in the world of the Internet of Things, or IoT as it is abbreviated, is how to get power to remote devices. And this splits up into 2 separate but definitely related problems:

  • the power source
  • the power consumption

Obviously, if the power consumption is high, the power source has to be capable of providing a lot more power. We looked at this in our IoT – Remote Telemetry Case Study. So let’s tackle that one first.

And the focus for this article is remote devices using Solar Charging. Before we look at that specifically, let’s understand the problem.

Power Consumption

There are multiple ways to reduce power consumption. These were covered already in Reducing Power Consumption and Reduce Power While Awake with examples given in Sleep Saves Energy.

Low Power Sleep Mode

Low Power Sleep Mode

The short version of this is that you have to do 2 things at the same time:

  • reduce the average power that is consumed all the time
  • reduce the energy required to process an event

The first of these is also known as Quiescent Power Consumption. This is the power consumed just running the system when it is doing nothing, or close to it. At a minimum, the Power Supply has to deliver this amount of power just to make sure that we could react to an event, should it occur. And I can hear you thinking that it is hard to get this low enough and still have a responsive system.

Correct! But you have to have at least this amount of power or Game Over!

Which is where the second part comes in. You also need some power to respond to events. These can be something you need to log, or reports you need to post. If you are uploading to a web service using cellular communications, the peak power consumption can be very high. So you have to minimise this time.

We would normally model both of these and work out a power budget based on the worst case scenario model. Excel is a suitable tool for doing simple modelling of this as well as scenario modelling.

But I can hear you thinking “why worst case“? Answer: “Because you want it to always work, not just work on average“!

Telemetry

Telemetry means measurement at a distance or remote measurement. So you are measuring something at location A, and want to know the value of the measurement at location B. This implies the 2 locations are not close enough together that this is a trivial problem to solve.

In our world, Telemetry can mean anywhere on earth, though our customers are usually in Australia. In NASA’s world, (maybe world is the wrong term for them) it can be anywhere in the solar system. Voyager 1 is currently more than 18 billion Kilometers away and has been active for 40 years.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight

Artist’s concept of Voyager in flight

The challenge for low power consumption, is how to get the measurement from location A back to location B?

Solar Charging

The NASA solution is simple. Near sun facilities are Solar Powered, and the rest use some form of nuclear power. Since no-one will ever let us nuclear power any Telemetry device, and I’m Okay with that, and we are near enough to see some sun, we will follow that option instead. And besides which, we can do it in our office and not a heavily shielded facility.

So lets recap on what we know about solar charging:

  • ignoring the energy cost of making a solar panel, the energy cost is free after that
  • there is a maintenance cost which includes cleaning panels
  • provided the construction is robust, they are a long life product
  • you have to do Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) to harvest the most energy or minimise the panel size

And to get more power from a solar panel, you have to:

  • have more sun
  • have a better angle to the sun (cosine reduction)
  • have a better MPPT
  • handle lower voltages
  • use the right silicon

Not all Solar Panels are equal. If you want you panel to work in a mostly shady place then you might also want to use mono-crystalline Silicon solar cells because they are efficient and can continue to convert even low levels of light. In recent developments the efficiency of conversion had passed 25% as reported in Efficiency of Silicon Solar Cells Climbs and some of the stacked cell technologies are past 40% efficiency.

compact solar cell

compact solar cell

And then you have to harvest that energy. Which is where new devices like the SPV1050 come in. Experiments in our office showed that we can charge a Lithium Polymer battery from the internal lighting. And it is a buck boost converter meaning that it can charge the battery in full sunlight (reducing voltage) and also moonlight (increasing voltage) and the device costs less that $2 in 1K pieces.

I only have on criticism. The super low quiescent current LDOs would have been more useful if they were fully independent because this would have taken another item off the Bill of Materials.

Primary Cells

The other option for Telemetry is using Primary Cells. These are not rechargeable and so must last the life of the product. We currently deploy Cellular based Telemetry modules that can run for up to 10 years from a Lithium Primary Cell or 5 years from Alkaline Primary Cells. This is ideal for Smart City style projects where the devices might be moved as they fulfill their current purpose. A good example of this is people metering or pedestrian counting where a council may want to know how much use an area is getting. Once that is understood, the Telemetry module can be redeployed and since it isn’t connected to mains power you don’t need an electrician to do that. Or they could be used to understand the level of demand of public transport services in real time so you can adjust capacity on the fly.

So there are options and as technologies like NB-IoT and CAT-M1 come online the power budget for cellular communications continues to fall. We covered this in Cellular IoT Communications. And as of last month, Telstra turned on CAT-M1 across the 4GX network.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Smart Cities

This follows on from our look at Smart Cities and the technology mix being considered for how you implement them. For this post we will look at the development of a Smart City Telemetry sensor suite and the ICT communications that go with it. This is also a classic IoT case study.

I also want to point out that a Smart World will only happen if we have Smart Regions, Smart Countries, Smart States or Territories, Smart Cities and Smart Neighbourhoods.

arcHUB

My thanks go to The Active Reactor Company for giving me permission to share their story about the development of the arcHUB Telemetry sensor suite which is aimed at the Smart Cities programs as well as being more widely deployable.

arcHub Telemetry Module

arcHub Telemetry Module Logo

A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Mulino who is the State Member for Eastern Victoria. The picture below comes from his visit to our office in Narre Warren. The original post he made along with my explanation is here. I’m giving a more detailed explanation below including some history.

Ray Keefe - arcHUB - Daniel Mulino

Ray Keefe – arcHUB – Daniel Mulino

For those wondering about the device I am holding, it is an arcHUB Smart Cities Telemetry module aimed at Smart Cities projects and environmental monitoring where you don’t have access to, or want the cost of, connecting up mains power. This is designed for The Active Reactor Company and is already involved in 1 Smart Cities deployment and multiple trials of low cost sensor modules by councils and government agencies in 3 states. I can’t yet provide specific details on those as they are covered by non-disclosure agreements.

To understand how we got here, it helps to know the history.

The Active Reactor Company make a product called The Active Reactor. It improves both the efficiency and the life of arc lamps such as low pressure sodium street lights, high pressure Sodium  and metal halide lamps.

The Active Reactor

The Active Reactor

With the advent of LED street lighting their current product is not needed for new installations and so they wanted to secure the future of the business. So a great example of addressing an issue that will arise in the future so you are ready for it rather than just reacting to it once it happens.

Initially the new product was aimed at monitoring LED street lights. One of the big issues with LED lighting is that the LEDs either fail over time or they fade and lose brightness. Or a mixture of both. The fading is a result thermal diffusion in the semiconductor substrate. When they fall by more than 30% then you have to address that as they no longer comply with legal standards for lighting levels. The other catch is that the claimed life of 10+ years isn’t yet proven and so it is expected that there will be many lights that fail early or fade early or both.

Of course, once you have a communicating device that can monitor one thing and report it, it can also monitor other things and report them as well. Plus there were issues with being allowed to monitor the light. And where would the power come? Their inquiries with authorities responsible for the poles would not give permission to tap the power in the pole or light.

So this set us the follow set of constraints to work within:

  • must be battery operated
  • easy to install
  • low cost to make and also run
  • communicate using the cheapest data transport
  • monitor the LED light at night and keep track of the brightness trend
  • send an alert when it is persistently out of specification
  • field life to match the street light (10+ years)

As The Active Reactor Company talked to target users (initially the same people who buy their current product) and got an idea of what they wanted, a very different picture emerged. The people who cared about LED street lighting, also cared about micro climates, and soil moisture levels, and air quality, and foot traffic, and …

So that lead to a change of direction and a look at what else was required. The result is a device aimed at the Smart Cities market that also suits a wide range of other end customers and has the following features you won’t find combined together in conventional devices:

  • battery operated (either solar charged or primary cells)
  • minimum 2 year battery life for standard AA cell alkaline batteries
  • 10+ day running time if solar charging is lost
  • up to 20 days on board non-volatile storage
  • compact form factor
  • multiple sensor types per node (up to 20)
  • sensor area network to minimise data costs
  • over the air firmware upgrades
  • over the air configuration updates
  • variable sample rates and upload timing
  • still has to be low cost to make and also run
  • easy to install

So here is the range of sensors already trialed:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gasses – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)
arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules connect via 915MHz ISM Band communications and use standard AA batteries. They can run for between 2 and 5 years depending on what sensors are attached and how often they are read and reported. If you used primary lithium cells then you can expect life beyond 10 years.

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules are also capable of stand alone operation with the addition of an internally fitted cellular modem so you can have a portable people counter module that can be easily moved to a new location and doesn’t require an electrician to install it.

And pretty exciting to also announce that this is not only a designed in Australia product range, but it is also a made in Australia product range.

Again, my thanks to The Active Reactor Company for permission to share this story and if you want to know more, leave a comment and I will put you in touch with them.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Smart Cities

Smart City is a blending of current and emerging technologies being employed to allow a city to better manage its assets and deliver value to its residents. It is an emerging concept and still very much in exploration. The 2 core technology areas being investigated as the primary value creators are ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and the IoT (Internet of Things).

Smart City

Smart City

What isn’t fully understood is the relationships between any or all of the list below:

  • what is worth measuring?
  • how to measure it (what sensor, what platform)?
  • how often?
  • in what detail?
  • to learn what from?
  • how quickly to transport the reading?
  • how much will it cost to transport the data?
  • via what technologies?
  • stored how?
  • accessed how?
  • analysed how?

Quite a big list.

Did you know there is a Smart Cities Plan for Australia? I only recently found out. And if you read through it there are more questions than answers. Which I think is the right balance given where we are positioned in trying to understand what is possible versus what is useful.

Smart Cities Plan

Smart Cities Plan

There are some obvious areas already being tackled by ICT systems. These include:

  • transport logistics (road, rail, freight, air, sea)
  • public transport
  • utility services (gas, water, electricity, waste)
  • weather prediction
  • environmental monitoring

And there are a range of trials underway to try and understand what using a broader sensor mix and more widely deployed sensors might do to improve amenity, even if they aren’t all very high quality sensors. Again the questions come back to:

  • what sensors?
  • how many and where?
  • how accurate?
  • how much do they and their platform cost?
  • measured how often?
  • at what latency?
  • what to do with the data?
Smart Cities Segments

Smart Cities Segments

IoT Challenges

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) has a huge promise to live up to, there is a still a lot of confusion over how to go about it. This breaks up into 3 distinct areas.

IoT Hardware

The first is the IoT Hardware device that is deployed to the field. These come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, power profiles and capabilities. So we are seeing everything from full computing platform devices (Windows, Linux, Other) deployed as well as tiny resource constrained platforms such as Sensor Node devices. Examples of the later are Wimoto Motes and our own FLEXIO Telemetry devices which are OS-less Sensor Nodes.

The trade offs are between:

  • power consumption
  • power supply
  • always online versus post on a schedule or by exception
  • cost (device, data, installation, maintenance)
  • size
  • open standard versus proprietary
  • upgrade capable (over the air OTA firmware or software capability)
  • security

As of a month ago, the KPMG IoT Innovation Network reported there are 450 different IoT platforms available. And most don’t talk to each other. Many lock you in. Many only work with their specific hardware. So picking a hardware platform is only part of the challenge. And new products appear every week.

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Communications

The second area of challenge is the communications. Everyone is trying to get away from Cellular IoT Communications because the Telecommunications Companies pricing model has traditionally been higher than they want to pay, and because the power required means you need a much higher power budget. So there has been a push to find other options which has opened the way for players like LoRa and sigfox.

However the CAT-M1 and NB-IoT Telecommunications Standards mean that the pendulum could easily go back the other way. CAT-M1 reduces the data rate (no streaming video needed for most IoT devices) and changes the modulation scheme so you get a better range at a much lower power consumption. And unlike sigfox, you aren’t severely constrained on how much data you can move or how often. CAT-M1 has just gone live in Australia on the Telstra network and we are about to do our first trials.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

NB-IoT doesn’t yet have an official availability date but we aren’t too concerned about that. NB-IoT is really aimed at the smart meter market and similar devices which have low amounts of data and upload it infrequently. So a water meter running off battery for 10+ years is an example of what it is targeting. We will find CAT-M1 a lot more useful. And the modules that support CAT-M1 currently also support NB-IoT so we are designing now and can make the decision later.

IoT Back End

The third area of challenge is the back end. Pick the wrong data service and storage provider and you could find you don’t own your own data and you have to pay every time you want a report on it. And you can’t get at it to port it to another system. And if the volume of data grows the cost can grow even faster as many offer a low entry point but the pricing get expensive quickly once you exceed the first threshold.

Because of this there is an strongly emerging preference for open systems or for systems that do allow you to push and pull data as it suits you.

So our strategy to date has been to provide our own intermediate web service and then republish the data in the required format to suit the end user / client. The result is the best of both worlds. We can deploy resource constrained field devices which are low power and low cost, then communicate with high security and high cost platforms using the intermediate service to do the heavy lifting. And we don’t try and imprison the data and trap the client.

The service is called Telemetry Host and was a finalist for IT Application of the Year in Australia in 2015 at the Endeavour Awards. And again for the PACE Zenith Awards in both 2015 and 2016.

Telemetry Host

Telemetry Host

This isn’t the only approach and so we also create devices and incorporate protocols that allow them to directly connect to other systems. This includes porting our core IP to other URLs which are then owned by our clients. So far we haven’t found that one single approach suits every scenario.

Smart City

You can’t be smart if you don’t know anything. And this is certainly true for Smart Cities. To be a Smart City requires Sensors and Telemetry. But the jury is still out on how much and what kind.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

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