Showing posts from October 2012

M2M and the internet of things must learn from others

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 theMetron2 can work with all sorts 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.