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One of the earliest adopters of M2M was the water industry and it was with great interest that I listened to Oliver Grievson last week at the European Wastewater Management Conference. In the water industry the term ‘telemetry’ tends to get used, being derived from Greek roots as tele = remote, as in telecope, and Metron = measure. This is where we have come up with the name of our M2M devices, or as we call them ‘Metrons.’ Oliver works for Anglian Water who already have data collected from 500,000 telemetry points every 15 minutes. That’s a lot of data and also a lot of lessons to be learnt as the sensors and machines being monitored are very different and they use different means of communication.
So what lessons can we learn? My first job was back in the early 1990’s and involved radio telemetry. Then major users were the water companies and I would design, supply, install, commission and support these radio telemetry networks in some pretty remote locations. It was great as the water companies needed me – the kit was complicated and quirky and my experiences on top of cold, windy hills getting rain in my laptop, but I soon learnt that to be adopted on a wider scale solutions needed to be simpler, easy to install, more reliable and overall much more affordable. I have seen so many devices developed in Ivory towers by engineers with no practical experience that don’t accommodate the needs of the installer nor consider the total lifetime operating costs.
It is the lessons learnt 20 years ago in these inhospitable places that have formed the basis of the Metron development. In order for the Internet of Things (M2M) to develop in the way we expect it to the devices and solutions need to consider the users. Do we understand who those users are going to be and the language they talk?
We hear about the Internet of Things involving lots and lots of sensors. Who is it that understands the application of these sensors, making sure the right technology is applied in a way that the readings are of value, so that the unit can be calibrated if necessary, that it’s robust enough to survive the conditions and easily maintained (or sometime maintenance free). In order to apply sensors correctly we need instrumentation engineers and we need to talk their language.
Oliver Grievson spoke about the water industry having a lack of trust in instrumentation and therefore telemetry, but also said they can suffer from over design. To me it seems likely that incorrectly applying technology or not maintaining it are the principal causes. We must learn from this.
Today I’m exhibiting at the ‘Oil & Renewable Energy Show’ and there are few companies, who like us, supply tank level telemetry. They have integrated small ultrasonic sensors into their devices and their units look great. Unfortunately their reputations have been tarnished by poor reliability and this doesn’t do me any favours – it’s all bad PR for the world of M2M. Ultrasonic sensors can be power hungry, condensation can form on the sensor face leading to false reading and temperature can affect the speed of sound. Don’t get me wrong, ultrasonic level sensors have their place, but they don’t suit every application. No technology does and that is why the Metron2 can work with allsorts of sensors, not just level sensors, using industry standard interfaces and terminology that instrumentation engineers understand.
I like to think that we at Powelectrics have a good understanding of how instrumentation engineers operate and the language they talk – using terms like zero, span, hysteresis etc.. We include features that make the time on site short and sweet – no more rain in laptops and no more customers reliant on specialist skills to get systems up and running.
Wisdom comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from information. Information comes from data and if this data is coming from sensors we need to get it right.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s noticing a wide range of software based solutions coming available for M2M / IoT that vary from fairly rigid and application focussed service based platforms right through to software development kits. Then there are platforms that manage sim cards and I’m sure there are those that claim to do everything you could ever think of. My understanding is that different users will have different skills and different needs. The reports needed for tracking vehicles is completely different to the data interface needed by a vending company wanting to refine their logistic processes. Do you need, or does your solution provide, reports specific to the sector that you work in?
Bruce Kasonoff’s article provokes some thought. Is M2M machine2machine or machine2man? Sometimes it’s machine2machine, sometimes it’s machine2man, and sometimes it’s of course both. And then we can also consider man2machine. If it is machine2machine that how is the data going to be interfaced? I suspect that again depends on the requirement and I would have thought that many requirements, at least initially, will want the data integrated into their existing infrastructure. I’d love to know what you think, need and provide.
I have questioned before whether hosted platforms are for everyone? Will some clients want to have control of their data, especially if the solution becomes critical to business, or of they have security concerns?
My feeling is that the winners as the IoT / M2M sector grows will be those that are able to take a flexible approach, but understand the vertical market and therefore how the data can be used to benefit and how to apply the hardware and other technology that will win.
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As many M2M and ‘the internet of things’ applications result in less need for travel and therefore pollution, should there not be some tax incentives to help 'the internet of things' along…?
In the UK there’s a way for companies to get tax breaks for investment in various green activities. The ECA scheme includes ‘automatic monitoring and targeting systems’ which are products that are specifically designed to measure energy consumption, record and distribute metered energy data, and analyse and report on energy consumption. This is great though I’d like to see this taken further as a lot of M2M applications benefit the environment more and would therefore be even worthier of some tax incentives.
I have considerable experience in remote tank level monitoring which typically saves 30% of deliveries by optimising when the deliveries are made. Fewer miles by the road tankers means less Carbon dioxide being emitted. A quick internet search tells me that heavy trucks typically emit 10,000 Kgs of Carbon dioxide per 10,000 km. If we assume 100,000 km per year then the use of telemetry creates the opportunity to save 30,000 Kgs of Carbon dioxide. Surely tank level monitoring is worthy of the tax break..?
In the UK there’s a smart metering initiative and research indicates that businesses will cut their electricity consumption by between 5 and 15% as a result of using a smart meter. So tank level monitoring offers up to 6 times the benefit of smart metering. It’s not just the environment that benefits from tank level telemetry but fewer vehicles means less congestion, fewer accidents and less wear & tear on the roads.
Nearly every aspect of M2M and the internet of things result in less need to travel. Do you think our governments should be providing some incentives..
On the technological side of this there are different disciplines involved depending on the requirement - I have touched on this in a past post and again in this one. There’s a bit of jostling for position – the module manufacturers are starting to offer connectivity, the software folk see the hardware as just a black box that anyone can make, the telco’s are working hard to glue things together and understand the different technological requirements in the various verticals.
How will the internet of things be structured? Where will all the data go? Who or what will make sense of it all? More thoughts are provoked in this post . What terminology will be used or the different elements..? The telco’s often use the word ‘platform’ to describe a way of managing sim cards where as to others it’s the data collection element. As an industry we can’t even decide what we want to be called… IOT, M2M, smarter world etc…
The smarter world will only happen if businesses and consumers adopt the technology. In order to do this they need confidence, not confusion and be presented with solutions that make sense to them. Something we seem to be achieving at Powelectrics
As time goes by the number of hosted data collection and presentation solutions available to M2M / Internet of things users is increasing, and this includes the platform we offer in Metron VIEW. This is great and we are working with quite a few ‘software as a service’ companies across the globe who have integrated our M2M & telemetry hardware into their platform and can therefore supply complete solutions to their clients. Clients requirements vary and not every platform suits every application – terminology varies from sector to sector, there’s the need for different languages, some need special algorithms such as predicting when a storage tank will become in need of replenishing, others need some level of approval such as metering. Us M2M professionals cannot hope to understand all the subtleties of every application that will arise - it’s often going to be a case of horses for courses.
The same goes for the hardware. Some applications require a simple modem, others a serial or Ethernet based interface and a bit of intelligence, whilst our focus is generally on applications where there are sensors and alarms so the telemetry / M2M device needs to have some inputs and possibly outputs. Again, it’s horses for courses.
What I am experiencing is the need for yet another dimension when it comes to the M2M platform. Our clients vary in size, IT capability, M2M & telemetry experience and attitude to data security and depending on the clients makeup the way that data needs to be collected & presented changes. What we’ve done with our Metron VIEW platform is to extend its capability from being a hosted platform to one that can be deployed on our clients servers if they so desire. The end result is one that suits all – the client has control and manages their risks and data, we get to sell hardware, sim cards and software. M2M ends up being successful.
There are others who have an existing platform and want to get the data into it. This can be approached in a number of ways including writing a driver to suit the protocol that’s in the hardware, using a hosted solution with an onwards interface, using some hardware / software platform to act as an interpreter (this seems to be a popular choice when getting data into a SCADA system from remote devices), or installing a software solution such as Metron VIEW on the clients server and providing a suitable interface.
What is your approach to M2M..? If you are a solution provider do you intend to offer only hosted solutions or be a bit more flexible? If you are a user what is it you want..? If you are a SaaS company what do you want from the hardware..?