IoT Connectivity: From Baby Steps to Giant Strides

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IoT Connectivity: From Baby Steps to Giant Strides

IoT connectivity is growing by leaps and bounds, promising amazing changes ahead. Experience is rapidly bearing out the predicted trend of a stunning number of “smart” devices appearing in businesses, at home, and in the public sphere. Despite the scale of growth, or because of it, predicting change can be difficult.

by Alan Earls

As the Internet of Things re-shapes process industries, speeds and strengthens the creation of drugs and biologicals, and further refines manufacturing, transportation, and almost every aspect of daily life, one of the aspects that will ultimately be most significant is simply related to scale. The coming wave of sensors, controls, actuators will flow into every aspect of life and, when married to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, is destined to be transformative.

We are the ones who stir things up to construct something better.
Jayanti Katariya, CEO Moon Technolabs


The future of IoT springs from human curiosity and restlessness, according to Jayanti Katariya, the founder and CEO of Moon Techno-labs, based in Ahmedabad, India. We are the ones, he says, who stir things up to construct “something better.” Smart devices form one such construct, each one designed to help us “catch and use” all the information that surrounds us daily. As this trend continues, the result will rocket beyond the changes wrought by PCs and cell phones and lead us toward “associated vehicles, shrewd homes, associated wearables, keen urban communities and associated medicinal services; essentially an associated life,” he predicts.

IoT Connectivity - Drone Flirtey

Help from Above: Flirtey is an independent drone delivery service that works with NASA and the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine to conduct deliveries of medicine to rural health-care clinics, ship-to-shore deliveries of medical samples, and deliveries of retail and e-commerce items to consumer homes (source ©: Domino’s Pizza, Inc.).

Certainly, IoT growth is becoming explosive, according to figures from market researcher IoT Analytics:

  • The number of IoT devices in use has grown from four billioin 2015 to eight or nine billion worldwide today
  • The growth trajectory is heading toward 22 billion devices in 2025

Dave Bolman, provost at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona, comments: “I would place IoT alongside the In-ternet and streaming media for the role it will play in disrupting existing approaches and providing positive new solutions.”

IoT will be used in ways not yet imagined.
Dr. Dave Bolman, University of Advancing Technology


He adds that IoT devices are becoming powerful, low-cost, connected and unobtrusive, and will be used in ways not yet imagined. That’s particularly true when IoT is combined with cloud and artificial intelligence technologies, potentially offering insights into nature, cities, and human behavior in real time and “much more nuanced than what has ever been available before.”
This model of ubiquitous IoT technology could help us navigate and solve the current Covid-19 pandemic and future pandemics, Bolman conjects. “With the use of IoT the need for critical medical and sanitation supplies could be anticipated and routed in a much more nuanced way,” he continues. “The result is that what is needed gets to where it is needed – just when it is needed.”

Applications and ­Opportunities

Similarly, the puzzle of contact tracing could be solved using an IoT network of devices. Gathering ongoing micro information about human interactions, infections, and other related factors allows IoT plus AI technologies to identify patterns drawn from what we are learning about pandemics. “Knowing these patterns in focused and early ways provides a completely new way for health officials to use IoT to anticipate the direction of outbreaks and respond early before they grow,” Bolman adds.

I expect further investments in robotic auto-mation, big and small.
Alyssa Simpson Rochwerger, Vice president of data, Appen


Alyssa Simpson Rochwerger, vice president of data and AI at Appen, a data and video annotation company based in New South Wales, Australia, points out that one of the most visible adaptations spawned by Covid-19 is the sudden rise of IoT-powered contactless delivery as restaurants and stores get more creative delivering goods to customers with as little human contact as possible. “I would expect further investments in robotic automation, big and small, from companies like Domino’s,” she says. “Likewise, autonomous delivery services, like [robotics specialist] Nuro, could also see an uptick in business, possibly even beyond food delivery, to enterprise transport use cases like supply chain and inventory management.

Assets were aging at a time when its expert technicians were retiring.
Ajay Raghavan, Xerox Systems Science Lab


“Most of IoT’s growth predates Covid-19 and will continue long after it is just a memory. Ajay Raghavan, strategic execution director for the Systems Sciences Laboratory at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), says his organization has been focusing on IoT and AI and has had a long and ongoing relationship with East Japan Railway (JR-E) to develop AI for predictive maintenance. “There was a huge opportunity to streamline its train operations, as its assets are aging at a time when its expert technicians were retiring and there was a short-fall in skilled labor to replace them,” says Raghavan.

Haptic Interactions: Tactile IoT

IoT Connectivity - From Baby Steps to Giant Strides -Tactile IoT

source ©: IERC Cluster SRIA 2018

Among the trendiest topics in IoT these days is “tactile IoT”. The idea is to use robotic hardware, sensors, and actuators to allow operators to perform manual tasks at a distance or in unsafe environments. Although not an actual application of tactile IoT, telesurgery shows the same kind of thinking by allowing surgeons to perform operations remotely by manipulating robotic arms. According to a section of a report, titled The Next Generation Internet of Things – Hyperconnectivity, from the European Research Cluster, the key to implementing tactile IoT will be ultra-low latency, highly reliable and highly available computing with “haptic” interactions. Haptic refers to a technology that can use vibration and movement to remotely simulate and stimulate the human ability to perceive through the tactile sense.IoT Connectivity
The authors of the report suggest that this additional dimension of interaction with humans – allowing people to “feel” – will lead to new IoT uses and improve existing ones, including training or working with robots. The vital enabling technology, they say, will be the wide-spread availability of the greatly increased bandwidth of 5G in the near future.

This issue was compounded by the fact that JR-E’s operational budget was under pressure with shrinking revenues due to the population dynamics in Japan. Working with PARC, JR-E was able to deploy algorithms using a hybrid physics-with-AI model rapidly on their commuter train systems to help them make sense of their systems and proactively maintain them in an efficient manner during off-peak hours.PARC has also worked with other enterprises on similar initiatives, including:

  • Panasonic on its smart factories initiative, where PARC’s Moxi IIoT System Analytics suite helps to support continuous and remote monitoring of system state using low-cost embedded sensors and model-based algorithms
  • VicTrack is using PARC’s low-cost fiber-optic sensors for the continuous monitoring of bridges, especially for critical components
  • Con Edison and GE Grid Solutions are also using Moxi for power grid asset management in a phase-two field trial to demonstrate the robustness of the technology for a cost-effective scale-up toward truly smart grids

IoT Connectivity: Building Blocks of a Better World

The means of interconnecting IoT elements is one of the most critical challenges in making IoT seamless and pervasive, and for empowering richer applications. Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, is sure connectivity is undergoing rapid evolution.IoT Connectivity

Connectivity and IoT - MOXI Suite

Looking Ahead: PARC’s MOXI IIoT suite can predict the need for maintenance and repair (source ©: PARC, a Xerox company).

The consortium is a group of over 300 companies using the Z-Wave wireless protocol, one of a number of competing RF-based communications protocols for control, monitoring, and status-reading applications. He says two of the top trends Z-Wave hopes to address that will impact the smart home and larger IoT market growth are AI and contextual awareness and the continued emphasis on open standards, network interoperability, and ecosystems to support continued growth.

The context-aware smart home is a distributed system.
Mitchell Klein, Z-Wave Alliance


Klein says that, in an IoT application of a neural AI network, the sensor is at the heart of the system, working to continuously gather data that can then be executed upon directly without having to call to the gate-way or cloud. The sensors baked into smart devices on the neural network are the catalyst for data, power, and memory that can then make the context-aware decisions. “Essentially, the context-aware smart home is a distributed system, perfectly aligned with the architecture of a mesh network,” he adds.

IoT Set to Rebound Quickly: Big Spenders

IoT Connectivity - IDC Chart

source ©: IDC Worldwide Internet of Things Spending Guide 2020 |May (V1 2020)

According to market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) has been slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, growing by only 8.2 percent instead of the forecast 14.9 percent. However, the firm expects global IoT spending to re-turn to double-digit growth rates in 2021 and achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3 percent over the 2020 to 2024 fore-cast period. Currently 28.6 percent of that spending is for modules and sensors, the largest category of spending in the survey.

Z-Wave’s power, range, and band-width are optimized specifically for smart home applications. Additionally, its combination of technological agility, low cost, ease of integration, product-level interoperability, and mature mesh net-working makes it ideal for control applications, he claims.
Another technology aiming to boost the ubiquity of IoT sensors and actuators is LoRa (Long Range), a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) protocol developed by Semtech. LoRa Alliance ambassador Daniel Quant says the technology is ideal for many sensor and actuator roles up to ten kilometers from a base station. One area where LoRa applications appeal is in the petroleum industry, particularly fracking, where distributed activities involving pumping and pressurizing water have tradition-ally required lots of hands-on labor to monitor, supervise, and coordinate.

There is a pent-up demand to modernize and become more relevant.
Daniel Quant, LoRa Alliance


It takes more than just communication to make sophisticated IoT implementations a success. That’s the thinking behind the concept of digital twinning. “We think of a digital twin as a unique instance of a digital model that represents an entity like an asset or a plant,” explains Pieter van Schalkwyk, co-chair of the Digital Twin Interoperability Task Group, sponsored by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). He says digital twins are typically created to solve a specific business problem and are a key part of the future of IoT “because they provide organizations with better situational awareness and enable real-time monitoring, control, and visualization.”

Digital twins can represent any entity like an asset or an entire plant.
Pieter van Schalkwyk, Industrial Internet Consortium


In short, he notes, digital twins are becoming the user interface for IoT. Other researchers are on a similar path – but IIC is taking it one step further with “tactile fidelity,” which allows humans to handle some of their traditional functions remotely (see “Tactile IoT”).Digital twins get their data from multiple sources, with IIoT being a critical data source, says van Schalkwyk. “IIoT-enabled digital twins provide situational awareness to people like reliability engineers and plant managers who need to make decisions based on real-time data,” he adds.
The future is bright, says LoRa Alliance’s Quant: “The truth is that we, as individuals, are often better at adopting digitalization than industries – and companies know it, so there is a pent-up demand among them to modernize and become more relevant.”

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