My eighth U.S. patent just issued

I just received notification that my eighth U.S. patent as just issued.  It is 9,704,310 “Multi-mode vehicle computing device supporting in-cab and stand alone operation”.

This patent was the result of the “Internet of Things” work I did at Peoplenet, a company that designs and develops on-board computing equipment for the telematics market.  We were the first company to offer a tablet PC that could be used in the vehicle to  monitor vehicle operating conditions and report that data to the cloud.  The Tablet could also be removed from it’s vehicle mount and used for vehicle inspections, recording freight loading/unloading, and other duties outside the vehicle.

IoT meets Virtual Reality

The Internet of Things meets Virtual Reality. At the NAB show in Las Vegas last week, one of our customers was showing this seven camera rig used to record VR content. They are using our multi camera controller to insure that all cameras begin and end recording at exactly the same point — allowing the recordings from each camera to be digitally “stitched” together in post production.

New adapter for remote camera control

We’ve just announced our ALE726 Sony Remote to Serial adapter to the market.

This adapter, combined with our ALE716 Serial to LANC controller, allows the use of any wired Sony LANC remote over long serial or fiber optic cables.  This means that the LANC remote can be physically separated from the camera by hundreds of feet in situations where the operator is not in proximity to the camera.

Any wired LANC remote can be used and the system is compatible with Sony, Canon, and Blackmagic cameras and camcorders that are LANC compatible.

This adapter was created to fill the need for scientific and research applications with deep water ROVs, terrestrial drones, and other remote control needs in labs or in the field.  It is also useful for sporting events, movie production, and other applications requiring remote camera control.

The ALE726 Sony Remote to Serial adapter is available now and can be ordered directly from our ecommerce provider here.

The IoT — a bottom-up approach

In the early 1980s, the Apple II computer combined with the first spreadsheet program (called Visicalc) revolutionized how financial analysis was done. Suddenly through the use of these new tools, complex models could be created by anyone that could type numbers and formulas into a grid. Almost overnight, financial decision making was transformed through the ability to use more data to accurately predict business outcomes versus simply guessing.

But this transformation did not happen from a corporate edict. Back in those days, Apple II computers were brought in the back door of businesses by employees that understood the power of the tool and the value it could provide.   It was not part of the IT infrastructure and was not part of any corporate computing initiative. Businesses did not offer to buy Apple II computers and did not offer training or support and, frequently, if an employee was “caught” using unauthorized equipment, they would be in hot water.

Yet this grass roots movement changed the face of technology and evolved into computing as it is known today. And the companies that lagged in the new technology deployment were left in the dust by their competition.

What does this have to do with the Internet of Things (IoT)? Plenty. We believe that history is about to repeat itself.

As designers and developers of IoT systems, from our vantage point virtually all industries can benefit from the IoT. If you are involved in providing a product or service, you can always gain from having a deeper understanding of how satisfied your customer is, how they use your product or service, and how you can make your product or service even more compelling to that customer. The IoT allows for the collection of near real time data about your product or service — and this data obtained can revolutionize your business and can leapfrog you ahead of your competition.

So why aren’t more companies deploying IoT solutions today? Yes the technology is new.   But we believe that many people are waiting for someone to tell them how to “do” the IoT.

As a case in point — some Internet of Things providers have taken the approach of doing things from “the top down” and recommend that their clients study the IoT from a corporate perspective. They talk their client companies into developing a corporate vision of how IoT technology can be used across the entire organization, followed by the development of a 3-5 year plan to successfully implement the strategy successfully. They engage with their clients initially with an expensive study that produces a vision and plan before any real IoT benefits are deployed and realized.

We believe there are several problems with this approach. First, IoT technology is changing so rapidly that any type of long term plan defined today will most certainly need to be redone as things evolve. Technology changes, costs are plummeting, and new solutions will be developed that are not even on the horizon yet. Second, it has been our experience that it is very difficult to envision all of the ways that a single IoT deployment can benefit an entire organization. Many times a project is developed with a specific goal in mind, but once the deployment is completed, there are typically many other benefits that are realized once the data obtained is fully digested. And third (and probably most importantly) this approach delays the benefits to the organization by deferring any IoT deployments until the entire vision is defined and agreed to.

Our preference is to promote a “bottom-up” approach to IoT.   In a similar vein to Agile software development, we believe that a strategy in which projects are formed based on today’s real, identifiable needs within the organization and developed/deployed iteratively while realizing new value from the project as new information is learned, is a more successful way to realize the benefits of the IoT . Each project stands on its own merits and has specific and tangible goals that can be achieved in short deployment cycles that build on the previous cycles.

The benefits to this approach are many — smaller efforts with specific ROI can allow the organization to gain the benefit of IoT technology quickly to improve their products and services and reduce their operating costs. Using an iterative deployment approach, organizations can learn about the value of data acquired and rapidly build on the success of their smaller projects as they apply this learning on new deployments.

So the choice is yours. You can wait for someone to study your situation and deliver a high level analysis of your corporate IoT situation that will be obsolete in 6 -12 months or you can start deploying IoT technology today on a smaller scale, delivering near term results that can be expanded as you learn and as the technology evolves.

Truly innovative organizations find the right tools and put these tools to work to gain the advantage on the competition, learning as they go.   Does this describe your business? Or does it describe your competitor?

Before…

Before there was an iPhone, an Internet, personal computers, a space station, Google, integrated circuits, Apple, WiFi, Java, Linux, Windows, MS-DOS, Silicon Valley, the Space Shuttle, and any number of other technical achievements that we have enjoyed or that we enjoy today, there were these seven guys.

If you don’t know who they are, I will leave it as an exercise for you to figure out.  No they were not computer scientists.  They did not write code.   They did not design electronics.

But they were at the forefront of the most technological advanced period of time in the history of the planet.  Over the course of the ten years after this photo was taken, the US developed the core technology that led to all of the advances I’ve listed above — and many, many more — as a direct result of the space program.  And these guys were at the front of the line driving this national vision.

These were tough guys.  They were not only the world’s best pilots, but they were engineers that knew the tremendous risk they were undertaking.  They embraced it because they knew it would advance our collective knowledge of space and technology, which would propel us forward into our future.

These guys were revered.  They were heroes.  They were men’s men.  And as a child of the 1960s, I can tell you that they drove kids like me into technology fields by opening the door into this world.

And with John Glenn’s passing yesterday, they are now memories.  While they are now all gone, they will never be forgotten.

End of another diving season

model-t 1932 Ford Deluxe Roadster. (07/24/2007)

The end of another diving season is here.  I made my last dive for the season last weekend in 35 degree water in Lake Minnetonka.  It’s a shame to end the season as I had 35 foot visibility!

It was another year of exploration and discovery with Maritime Heritage Minnesota, where I have been a volunteer for the past 9 years.  We continue to dive on anomalies that were discovered during their side scan sonar survey of Lake Minnetonka from a couple of years ago.

My personal stats for the year:

  • 87 dives completed
  • 9 shipwrecks including the passenger vessel White Bear in Lake Minnetonka and the Fleetwing in Lake Michigan (Door County)
  • 2 antique cars — the body from a Ford Model T touring car and a 1938 Ford Deluxe Roadster
  • Water intakes, pipelines, and other artifacts in Lake Minnetonka

Most of these finds have been  documented via video — search for my YouTube channel (K7ALE) to take a look.

 

 

The ROI for the Internet of Things for OEMs

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

As more and more Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) investigate the Internet of Things (IoT) for their products, we frequently are asked about how a company can determine the return on their potential IoT investment.

While much of the IoT “industry” struggles with defining concrete returns from IoT investment, we have led several successful IoT projects with OEMs and have determined how to define and conduct programs that not only meet new revenue goals / cost reduction goals, but frequently exceed them.  We have found that ROI can be categorized in three specific areas that can be analyzed for very specific cost / benefit analysis.

First — what is the Internet of Things?

While there are many definitions of the Internet of Things, in this study we will focus on its meaning as it relates to OEMs.  The Internet of Things describes connecting devices to the Internet to allow them to communicate with other devices and/or other IT systems.  Generally, the inclusion of IoT technology in a product involves adding electronics and software to give it the ability to collect data about itself and provide the means to wirelessly communicate this data to the “cloud” (database servers on the Internet).  Ultimately the goal is to use this data to make the product more appealing to the end-user and to provide detailed information to the OEM on how the product is used in the field and how it is performing.

Examples of IoT use in products are as varied as the products themselves.  Imagine printers that not only warn you that you will soon be out of ink, but automatically place orders for new ink cartridges that arrive on your doorstep when needed.  Or your car that not only automatically diagnoses itself, but also alerts the repair shop of the problem before you even bring the car in, allowing the shop to effectively manage the repair.  Or imagine home healthcare monitoring that not only communicates vital daily monitoring information securely to your healthcare provider, but that also alerts a loved one if your daily activity pattern deviates from established norms.

In all of these cases (and many, many others) – there is no need to “imagine” them – they already exist and are rapidly finding their way into our daily lives.

The introduction of IoT capability to a product line can deliver ROI in multiple ways to the OEM:

  • by adding value to the product from a customer’s perspective
  • by providing meaningful information about the product in the field
  • through data aggregation and associated analysis

By considering each of the strategies separately, it’s possible to answer the ROI question with a degree of precision and certainty.

ROI Strategy # 1:  Making the product more appealing for the end-user

We have worked with several OEMs that wanted to adapt their existing products for IoT use.  Why?  Typically they want to give their product lines additional capability to provide a competitive advantage or sometimes they just want to give their products new “modern” capabilities.  Consider the following:

  • Adding a smartphone Interface to a product

Providing a connection between a product and a smartphone increases the user’s “attachment” to the product by giving the user:

  • The ability to configure the product remotely
  • The ability to monitor the product’s operation remotely
  • The ability to receive alerts / notifications when something good or bad occurs during the use of the product
  • Connecting a device to other “smart” devices

More and more, products are becoming “smarter” and are gaining the ability to communicate with each other to provide additional convenience, value, and efficiency when compared to non-connected products.  Home automation is a prime example of this, but this is also true in manufacturing, in business settings, industry, retail, and many other environments.  By including the capability to be part of this “community” with your product, its value is enhanced.

  • New channel / market penetration

In addition, IoT capability allows for the design and development of new products that can create brand new channels and markets for OEMs.  The ability to be in constant contact with the product in the field creates new opportunity to interact with an end-user, delivering new value and creating revenue opportunities that did not previously exist.

Determining the upside in product revenue is usually the first consideration in figuring out a cost/benefit analysis.   The analysis should include the additional revenue that can be generated by products that are easier to use, that have additional capability, and that are better connected than competing devices.

ROI Strategy #2:  Improving product understanding at the OEM level

In addition to the end-user benefits provided by the IoT, the OEM can benefit directly from the inclusion of this technology in their products.

  • QA / QC during the manufacturing process before shipment
  • We have worked with our clients to provide data collection directly from the product itself as the product is in its final testing, configuration, and check out phases at the end of the manufacturing process. Having the ability to capture QA/QC data at this stage provides for more consistent product quality at a lower overall cost.
  • Data acquisition after product deployment

Once the product is purchased and deployed, OEMs can obtain near real time information about the product and the user

  • How often do they use your product? And for how long?  What is the most frequently used feature in your product?   Is the product ever misused?  If so, how?
    • Product quality benchmarks — time between failure, time to failure, and other common QA measurements can easily be derived from the data provided by products that are supplying data to an IoT cloud as they are being used
    • Marketing — establishing a direct point of contact to your customers.  Target specific messaging based on product usage, etc.  It is also possible to target market follow-on sales for consumables (i.e. ink for printers, etc.)
  • Problem diagnosis / resolution
    • Diagnosing customer issues becomes easier as product data is available for review by the OEM that can shed light on the customer’s problem.   The OEM can also remotely monitor the product in real time to determine operational issues
  • Product Upgrades
  • With IoT technology as part of the product, product upgrades can be delivered via software downloads “over the air”, frequently without the need to involve the end-user

This strategy gives the opportunity to both generate new revenue for the OEM as well as provide cost savings opportunities.  In addition, the OEM now has data that will allow for the creation of better products with higher quality.  It also can demonstrably improve customer/technical support, resulting in a higher level of customer satisfaction at a lower cost.

ROI Strategy #3:  The value of aggregated data

The data acquired over thousands of devices over several months (or years) can have intrinsic value of its own.  Without divulging specific data attributed to individual users (thereby eliminating data privacy concerns), the aggregation of this data can show trends in product quality, feature value, and market adoption.

  • What is the most common point of failure in the product?
  • What is the most/least commonly used feature in the product?
  • Where are we seeing the greatest market penetration?

This data can be used to guide new product development, as a basis for improvement in manufacturing processes, to achieve better marketing programs, and ultimately better products and lower costs.

We have also seen OEMs that have been able to sell this aggregated data to third parties that combine the OEM’s data with other databases to derive additional value.  Insurance companies, government agencies, and industry consortiums are examples of these kinds of third parties.

The OEM’s vendors can also be potential consumers of this data as well – as suppliers to the OEM, they are also interested in how the parts that they supply perform in the product as well.

This strategy also creates opportunity for new revenue streams as well as cost reduction opportunities that can be used to determine payback on the OEM’s ROI investment.

Summary

Frequently, the complete picture for increased revenue and/or cost savings that are attributed to IoT investment may be difficult to envision when beginning an IoT project.

While the initial case for inclusion of IoT technology into your product frequently can be justified on a single strategy (end-user value, OEM value, or the value of data aggregation), additional return on the same IoT investment can usually be obtained by considering the larger picture as illustrated above, giving the OEM a much larger return on the same investment.

 

 

 

 

Another energy monitoring solution using Zeus

We just completed another installation of Zeus (our IoT monitoring/control system)  in a commercial building to collect and report electrical energy consumption.

Zeus - Wattnode

Wattnode device

In this installation, we connected Zeus to a Wattnode Pulse watt-hour transducer (shown above).  The Wattnode Pulse clamps onto the main power line and reads the killiwatts used, converting this data into a pulse output.  Using custom software on Zeus, we were able to read the output from the Wattnode device, format the data, and send it to the cloud via our builtin WiFi radio.  From there, the data can be analyzed, reported, and/or consolidated with other energy data for this particular building.

For a relatively low cost, the owners of this building are now monitoring their energy usage and can take steps to reduce their overall energy usage.