All posts by knehowig

Connecting IoT data with your web applications

During the course of deploying Internet of Things systems for our clients, we are finding that there is an emerging need to consume the acquired IoT data in web marketing, ecommerce, and web analytics applications.  We are happy to announce our collaboration with August Ash, a leading Twin Cities-based web development company, to extend our IoT/Web offering for our client companies.

https://www.augustash.com/our-blog/iot-has-revolutionized-how-businesses-study-customer-patterns-and-optimize-operations

Think outside the home for IoT

Too often, I see articles written by Internet of Things “insiders” that proceed to describe the IoT as simply a system for home automation. Their view of the IoT is limited to describing how a smartphone can be tied to various devices around the house to monitor the home environment and “automate” control. Garage door openers, lights, door locks, and thermostats are typically discussed and promoted as the things that are (by their definition) the Internet of Things.

Some of these same industry insiders will then follow up with articles claiming that the Internet of Things is dead because the adaption rate for these types of home automation devices is relatively slow and that, therefore, the IoT is just a bunch of hype.

Well of course this is a very short sighted (and incorrect) point of view. And it also portrays the IoT as a technology that is “not quite right” for primetime, which really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Over the past few years, we have developed and deployed IoT solutions in many disparate markets and industries. These are not products and services that you will see at the Consumer Electronics Show as they don’t deal with home automation — these products and services were developed to serve business and industry needs.

Some examples:

  • Monitoring and control of commercial irrigation systems
  • Monitoring large electric motors for excessive vibration — a precursor to motor failure
  • Monitoring commercial refrigeration systems for maintaining temperature and reporting failures
  • Monitoring cattle feeders for feed content
  • Monitoring electric meters in commercial buildings to collect energy usage data
  • Monitoring soil temperature, moisture levels, and ambient light levels in agronomy applications
  • Monitoring ground temperature levels to determine frost levels in construction applications
  • Monitoring / controlling commercial LED lighting systems

The organizations that have deployed these IoT solutions have seen their market share increase, profits increase and/or costs decrease. They typically lead in their market segment because they have adapted state-of-the-art technology that has delivered tangible results that benefit both their businesses and their customers.

While the home automation market is interesting, it does not define the IoT. I would encourage the industry insiders that believe the “IoT = Home Automation” to rethink their perspective and explore the deep and broad markets served by developers that work in the real Internet of Things.

End of another diving season

Last Saturday I made my last SCUBA dive of the season.  The lakes are beginning to ice over — so I’ll have to wait until my Florida trip in February to start the new season.

Stats for the year:

  • 78 dives completed in 2017
  • 13 new wrecks discovered or explored, including the SS Liberty in Lake Superior at Grand Marais and wrecks in Lake Minnetonka, Lake Pulaski, and Prior Lake
  • Completed my 10th year volunteering as a diver with Maritime Heritage Minnesota, a local marine archeology firm

But maybe the highlight of the year was my discovery of a new wreck in St. Louis Bay in Lake Minnetonka during my last few dives of the year (photo above).  I was able to excavate and video portions of this wreck, with the remaining work to be conducted next year.

IoT beyond the hobby

As part of the recent “maker” movement, lots of interest has been generated in the Internet of Things space in terms of connecting devices to the Internet for remote control, remote monitoring, and data collection.   It’s an exciting time — inexpensive hardware and open source software allows for rapid ideation and the prototyping of new ideas.

The flood of hobbyists into this space has created some confusion between the “hobby” of the IoT and the “business” of the IoT. What do I mean? Well, consider the person with an idea and some time on their hands. In short order, it is possible for this person to buy an Arduino board and some other low cost electronics from a number of sources, assemble the kit, and acquire / write some rudimentary code to flash an LED from a smartphone.

Because this type of thing can be done in just a few hours, it’s easy to assume that even more complex monitor and control systems targeted for commercial applications can be accomplished just as easily or with just a bit more effort.

However, the difficulty with this thinking is that it doesn’t reflect the reality of delivering a complete, quality product to the market.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support the maker movement and encourage anyone and everyone to get involved to play, experiment, and learn. But I am seeing more and more instances of hobbyists believing that they have a “product” when they really just have a first generation concept prototype.

These days, creating a working prototype is frequently the easy part. Making something that can called a product is quite different. After the proof of concept, the real work starts and real engineering expertise must be applied to take the conceptual prototype and turn it into a product that can be sold to a market.

What do I mean? Well consider the list of typical product considerations that must be addressed during an IoT product development:

  • Power — does your design provide for clean, stable sources of power for the device, including portable applications or applications where the device will be deployed in remote areas?
  • Mechanical design for the environment (temperature range, humidity, vibration, etc.) — will the design hold up to the rigors of the environment in which it will be deployed? How will you test and qualify it?
  • PC board layout / parts selection — generally, electronic costs are plummeting. Does your design use the latest technology?
  • Firmware design that is complete, tested, and validated — are good design practices being used to design, develop, and deploy your code?       Is it secure?
  • Appropriate choices for wireless communication (WiFi, BLE, cellular, LoRa, etc.) — a bad choice here could jeopardize the value expected from your IoT product
  • Communication protocols — have you evaluated TCP/IP, UDP. CoAP, and MQTT and selected the best based on your needs?
  • Robust interfaces to the cloud — some applications require that the data must get from the end point to the cloud no matter what       — have you planned for communication redundancy when your primary data communication path fails?
  • Security — is your system and your data secure from the point of collection to the point of storage in the cloud?
  • “Real” smartphone apps that allow your device to be setup, configured, and monitored — is your app tuned for the end user / application?
  • Overall robust system testing / qualification — after everything is done, how are you qualifying the end product?
  • Agency qualification (FCC, UL, CE, etc.) — and, no, using “FCC approved modules” does not mean that your design does not need to be FCC qualified
  • And finally — producing the design in the appropriate volumes cost effectively and with high quality

As you can see, designing and delivering a complete system that is ready to be sold to a customer is radically different than producing a single conceptual model of an idea.

Hacking (in the positive sense) is valuable and allows for concepts to be quickly developed for study. But it is important to understand the breadth and depth of what it actually takes to move that initial prototype through all of the stages necessary to have a product that will succeed in the market.

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.