​IoT devices: Where the bloody hell are they?

It’s a bewildering landscape for would-be Internet of Things implementers and production-grade industrial deployments are scarce.

It’s been over a decade since the International Telecommunications Union published its first report on the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2005.

Since then we’ve had predictions of up to 50 billion connected devices appearing by 2020, while McKinsey & Co recently estimated the potential value of IoT as lying between US$3.9 trillion and $11.1 trillion per annum by 2025.

That’s a lot of money and a lot of devices. But at the end of 2015, it’s not unfair to ask ‘where the bloody hell are they?’

An obvious manifestation of IoT is wearables, which IDTechEx estimates is a market worth US$20 billion. Then there are the hundreds of personal and home-based devices on offer through crowdfunding services such as KickStarter and Indiegogo.

But when it comes to large-scale industrial deployments of IoT, production-grade implementations are scarce.

“IoT is overhyped,” is the conclusion of Alcatel-Lucent’s strategic marketing director and smart cities expert, Marc Jadoul.

“A lot of things are happening, but we are mixing so many different things it is very difficult to distinguish what is useful, what is revenue-generating, and what has a business case.”

That is not to say that IoT won’t play a more prominent role in the future. But getting there won’t be as easy as some market pundits suggest.

A significant barrier to IoT deployment has arisen through the sheer number of companies that have piled into the market, each bringing its own strategy, and in some cases, its own preferred set of standards.

This has created a bewildering landscape for would-be IoT implementers.

“We have to get rid of complexity, and that’s easier said than done,” Jadoul says.

“Software-defined networking would be a way to do it, as we move some things to the software layer. Another thing we need to do is get rid of application stovepipes, and try as much as possible to get to a horizontal application, where you a have a number of common APIs that can be used by different applications. It is the model of any device on any application on any network. And it is also easier said than done.”

The complexity surrounding IoT was noted by communications technology consultant, Geof Heydon while researching a 2015 report with co-author Frank Zeichner for the Communications Alliance, Enabling the Internet of Things for Australia.

“We counted something like 130 different standards for connecting sensors to networks,” Heydon says.

“Vendors say they are ‘standards compliant’, but they all talking about different standards in different environments and applications. So clients are hearing a different story from every major vendor, and what that translates to is, ‘clearly it isn’t mature yet.’”

Smart cities

These barriers have not prevented numerous Australian municipalities launching their own smart cities trials, and creating one of the most obvious manifestations of IoT at scale.

The City of Adelaide for instance is working with Cisco to deploy smart lighting and parking sensors in the city’s CBD along Pirie Street near Hindmarsh Square.

According to the city’s CIO, Peter Auhl, those sensors provide an opportunity to collate information regarding available parking spots and feed it back to the community.

“So instead of people having to work their way through the city and try and stumble across a parking spot, we’ll be able to direct them directly to a park,” Auhl says.

“A lot of the city’s congestion comes down to people trying to find card parking spaces, so there is a massive opportunity for us to increase the usability of city services and assets.”

Ninety parking sensors have been deployed in the pilot, each monitoring between four to six spaces. They can also alert drivers before their allotted time expires. Future possibilities include using the technology for metering and payment.

The initiative is part of an overall strategy that also saw Adelaide become one of the first Australian cities to deploy municipal Wi-Fi, in conjunction with iiNet and Cisco.

“We want to make sure that the experience is great, otherwise people will choose other areas of Adelaide to shop rather than coming into the city,” Auhl says.

“So it really is about creating a vibrant city. That is something I am extremely passionate about, making sure we do as much as we can to put people at the centre of everything we do.”

The lighting component of the project will gather information on how to more effectively illuminate the city and optimise energy usage.

“One of the clear outcomes that we will be looking at from this trial is having the lights be able to adjust the amount of luminance they produce,” Auhl says.

“The purpose of this pilot is to gather that information so that we can turn it into a formal business case, to look at what sort of opportunities that could arise.”

The City of Adelaide is not alone in its smart city ambitions, with numerous cities around the world also conducting trials. These projects will form part of the discussion at the inaugural Australian Smart Communities conference being held on the Sunshine Coast in March 2016.

Auhl says he is keen to share knowledge with other governments, to help them overcome challenges and accelerate the deployment of smart city projects.

“When you are using quite modern contemporary technologies there are always going to be initial issues,” Auhl says.

“We’ve got compliance and certification issues that we need to work our way through, down to making sure that the platforms are uniform so we can create a positive experience for our customers. It is pointless having many systems that are talking in different languages if you are really focused on that clean citizen experience.”

The City of Adelaide has also created a Smart City Studio. Auhl says this provides an opportunity to leverage information from the pilot projects together with additional information sets gathered from South Australia’s universities and state government departments.

“Data and information is really the heart of decision making, so our ability to leverage that information and give that back to customers is a huge point of difference for us,” Auhl says.

“Some of this data has huge benefits from an economic growth perspective also, so our ability to share some of this information with entrepreneurs and small startups, to get them to think about some of the challenges that we have from a city point of view, we see as a really valuable opportunity to look at how we increase usability of our beautiful city.

“So it is a really exciting time to be in my sector and to look at how we can use technology to have a positive impact on people’s lives. We really see this as a point of difference for us and are trying to use this to its full benefit to increase our economy.”

Next up: Industrial things

Page Break

Industrial things

While smart cities might be the obvious manifestation of large-scale IoT, numerous asset intensive industries are also pushing ahead with implementations, particularly in mining and logistics.

One company that has leapt ahead in its adoption of IoT is the Australian waste management and industrial services company, Toxfree, which has up to 600 vehicles on the road each day carrying thousands of assets such as waste bins. It is now using sensors and RFID tags to collect data about a large and ever-growing percentage of them.

Toxfree’s CIO, Josh Bovell, previously spent time working in BHP Billiton’s iron ore division, where he first saw the potential for using sensors in a mobile asset-based company to drive operational efficiency and improve safety.

“It’s really about the data you collect from your fleet,” Bovell says. “People are collecting data all over the world, but they are just stockpiling it. Translating that into real world operational change is where you get competitive advantage.”

Toxfree has implemented a Cisco backbone and communication platform to connect and monitor sensing data, with more than 100,000 sensors and tags have now been deployed across the company’s assets.

Bovell says Toxfree is making significant gains from the data collected. One recent example is at a small site in WA, where sensors have been deployed on ten collection vehicles to monitor movements in real time and provide access to systems such as engine data, with all bins fitted with RFID tags. This information is all integrated into a single communications platform.

The information is being used to calculate the optimum routes for each vehicle, including factoring in the long term wear and tear on the vehicles from each route.

“We can monitor and supervise and understand exactly what is happening with all aspects of that vehicle – brake pressure, oil temperatures, and how many lifts it is doing,” Bovell says. “We aggregate all that data, and at this one site we have taken 30 minutes a day off each of the ten vehicles.”

The company is now able to scale that learning up to a national level.

“We’re now at a point where there is the potential to reduce fuel consumption by between 5 to 25 per cent across the national fleet,” Bovell says. “And when you look at the numbers that is millions of dollars, as fuel is one of the biggest expenses in the company.

“There’s nothing we’re doing that’s ground-breaking, but what we are doing is aggregating all these well-known technologies like telemetry, RFID, and tracking containers from cradle to grave.”

Having aggregated data on every vehicle and load also provides Toxfree with a competitive advantage in customer service that Bovell says competitors can’t match, including delivering near-real time information on the location of their containers, their waste, and the state of processing.

Bovell says the company is also investigating use of IoT technology to improve safety, such as through disabling vehicle ignition until pre-start checks have been completed, along with the use of technology that detects driver fatigue.

The need for openness

While much of the discussion regarding IoT has focused on connecting the devices themselves, it is becoming clear that its real value is in the data they generate and the ability to share that amongst numerous potential beneficiaries.

The final factor Heydon says is needed to bring IoT projects to life is access to existing data sets to use alongside data sets created by new IoT deployments. Heydon says government data is critical to providing a complete picture for IoT implementations, as it provides a basis and context for data created by IoT deployments. But again Australia is lagging behind some parts of the world in terms of data openness.

“The thing that really matters her is the analytics and the data openness,” Heydon says. “Just gathering data from sensors is fairly boring unless you can do some good things with analytics and make the data sets sufficiently open that you can do clever things in the future with it.”

Data openness forms part of the mission for the Knowledge Economy Institute (KEi), being developed at the University of Technology Sydney. Founding CEO and UTS’ industry professor of IoT Michael Briers says KEi will be developing projects in conjunction with industry partners, with the intention of not locking down data for narrow commercial purposes, but will have a good chance of sharing data with the research community.

“It’s a case of trying to build a commercial value proposition but to amplify the benefits of the collection of the data to the research community,” Briers says. “We are still infants in this space, but we know that once this data comes online it will be like a tsunami. So what we are trying to do is get in on the ground floor and influence where this new internet of things goes.”

One of Australia’s longest-serving IoT researchers Ros Harvey is bringing this philosophy to her new start-up, the agribusiness sensing company, The Yield. Initially focused on using sensors to better understand pollution levels in oyster farms, The Yield will make its data available through the KEi.

“I think IoT holds enormous potential to really change the way we create knowledge, how we understand the world around us, and how we can more effectively use resources,” Harvey says.

“But it is still in its infancy in terms of business models and making sure it is user-driven and delivering value. And there is just so much more to be done on that.

“We will come up with ways of socialising it, but it will only happen when the Internet of Things is led by people focusing on real business problems for real people that create a value proposition that will get real uplift.”