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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
This article from Colorado Green magazine highlights the Irrigreen Genius lawn irrigation system. Applied Logic co-designed the WiFi electronics and did the mobile app for this product line. We are thrilled that Irrigreen continues to expand their distribution and market penetration with this exciting technology!
We just completed another installation of Zeus (our IoT monitoring/control system) in a commercial building to collect and report electrical energy consumption.
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.
I’ve been a volunteer diver for a number of years at Maritime Heritage Minnesota (MHM), a marine archeology firm here in the Twin Cities doing underwater survey work in the state, Over the past few years, we have been working at Lake Minnetonka to search for sunken wrecks and determine what they are and how they got on the bottom.
We’ve used Navdive (our GPS-based navigation system for divers) on many of our survey dives, including yesterday when we spotted a possible wreck on our surface-based side scan sonar in the dive boat.
With Navdive, we were able to:
- Preprogram GPS coordinates that were obtained using the side scan sonar on the boat, allowing the diver to navigate to each point while remaining underwater.
2. Capture GPS coordinates of underwater features that are discovered during the dive for cataloging later.
3. During the post dive analysis, we were able to show the path our divers swam during the entire dive.
The results? More efficient use of our underwater time, better data for our research, and the ability to integrate all of our data sources (i.e. surface-based side scan sonar, Navdive data, and Google Earth) to produce reports documenting our findings.
For more info on Navdive, see our web site here.