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The Future of Voice Assistants

Artificial intelligence has truly transformed the way voice assistants are used in our daily lives, and we are only beginning to understand how they will be integrated into all of our activities in the years to come.

Report after report is predicting voice assistants will soar and that means the tools and technologies behind these devices are shaping the internet of skills. We are talking about the next generation of tools to spark growth in retail, logistics, healthcare, smart cities, manufacturing, and autonomous vehicles, among many others.

A recent survey from PWC reveals voice assistants have been used in a host of ways during the past decade and they will continue to mold our very essence. Here’s what some of the numbers are showing:

  • 90% of people recognize voice assistants
  • 72% had used a voice assistant
  • 57% top commends come from a smartphone
  • 27% issue commands to a speaker
  • 20% issue commands for vehicle navigation purposes

What’s more, adoption of voice-assistant technologies is highest among 18-24-year-olds. But the age group that uses voice assistants most frequently is the 25-49-year-old group, with 65% of them being considered “heavy” users that issue voice commands to a device at least once a day.

More importantly, let’s consider what voice assistants are used for today. According to PWC’s survey, the most common tasks people ask of their voice assistants are to search for information on the internet, answering a question, providing weather or the news, playing music, and setting a timer or reminder. In addition, the report shows the slightly less common tasks include sending a text or email and checking traffic. Interestingly, 50% or more of people say they never do include buying or ordering something via their voice assistant and using it to control other smart devices.

As for growth, Juniper Research says there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023. That means the stage is set for something significant. But what does this growth mean for chat bots and more?

The first hurdle, awareness, has been cleared during the past decade of usage.  Now the second hurdle, achieving acceptance and basic use across different demographics, has also been cleared during the same period. The technology has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time too. The next hurdle, though, will have to do with user trust.

There is a lot of work that still needs to be achieved yet. We need to be asking ourselves, why aren’t people using voice assistants to accomplish more complex tasks? The PWC report shows when it comes to more complex tasks and involve people’s hard-earned cash, people prefer to use methods they know and trust. That means voice assistants do not appear on the list just yet. But this isn’t true for everybody. A lot of people in this survey, about 50%, say they have made purchases using a voice assistant. Purchases include food (34%), groceries (31%), books (24%), and transportation (21%).

But about 25% came out saying they wouldn’t even consider using voice assistants to make purchases. The top reason is because folks just don’t trust their voice assistants to correctly interpret and process purchases.

It’s all about stakes. The stakes just aren’t that high when you’re asking your Google Home mini to play a certain playlist on Spotify or to tell you what the temperature is outside.  But if you’re asking Amazon Alexa on your echo to buy you a replacement air filter and ship it to your house, you’re asking it to spend real money.

You’re trusting that AI to understand your request, get the right filter, charge you the right price, and send it to the right house. Even if, in this case, we’re talking less than $50, it’s still a much greater risk. Gaining consumers’ trust is going to be the next big task for voice-assistant tech companies. And shopping is just one example of what people aren’t doing.

Even fewer people, according to PWC’s survey, are using voice assistants to control their smart homes, and this is perhaps the biggest the crux of the problem. In the future, we need to look at what voice assistants will be capable of doing, and it’s going to require user trust. For example, one prediction for voice assistants will be their growing use in healthcare scenarios. Voice assistants have the ability to help in so many opportunities. The real question now is how long will it take before we really trust voice assistants to do our “bidding” for us?

Featured

AI Is Changing Your Work

AI (artificial intelligence): The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has released a plan for prioritizing federal agency engagement in the development of standards for AI, and this is worth spending some time talking about.

President Trump said, “Continued American leadership in artificial intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States.” While you might not like everything President Trump has to say nowadays, you have to like this quote. And what’s more it’s not shocking news that AI is going to spur economic growth.

Accenture released a research study in 2016 predicting that artificial intelligence is poised to double annual economic growth rates in 12 developed economies by 2035. Accenture also estimated AI would boost labor productivity by up to 40% by 2035.

AI is doing this by changing the nature of work, and that’s something we’ve talked about before on The Peggy Smedley Show and in our exclusive Connected World content.  If you think about it, AI just might be as transformative in business as computer technology was at the end of the last century. AI is particularly going to benefit industries that are struggling with worker shortages.

By boosting human productivity without requiring more humans, AI can help businesses do more with less. This is one of the reasons the U.S. government is so keen on “being a leader” in AI. If AI technologies can really boost productivity, address labor challenges like skills gaps and shortages, and grow the economy, then it is definitely worth our attention and our investment as a nation.

Compared to other nations, Accenture predicts AI will yield the highest economic benefits for the United States, increasing our nation’s annual economic growth rate from 2.6% to 4.6% by 2035. That translates to an additional $8.3 trillion in gross value added.

The White House talks a big talk about the “age of artificial intelligence” and how this administration is going to take an active approach to accelerating AI innovation in the U.S. for the benefit of the American people.

In February, the president announced the AI initiative—a concerted effort to promote and protect national AI technology and innovation. The initiative aims to engage all sectors in achieving this goal, including government, academia, the public, and the private sector.

This is what the policy calls for:

  1. Promoting sustained AI R&D investment
  2. Enhancing access to high-quality cyberinfrastructure and data
  3. Removing regulatory barriers
  4. Ensuring America leads in the development of technical standards for AI
  5. Providing education and training opportunities to prepare the American workforce for AI, and
  6. Developing and implementing an action plan to protect our technological advantage in AI.

To elaborate on the point about standards, the NIST was tasked with developing a plan that would minimize vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors and develop international standards.

In July, the NIST released a draft plan for federal engagement in AI standards development, and then the finalized plan was just released this month. The plan recommends that the federal government “commit to deeper, consistent, long-term engagement” in activities that will accelerate the pace of AI technology development.

There are a few specifics that need to be addressed as well and I want to encourage everyone to have a real actual plan.

First, there is no question the rhetoric can get annoying, sometimes. Yes, ok, you’re committed to AI … but how are you going to prove it? Under the NIST plan it suggests the federal government should walk the walk and not just talk the talk:

First, it says the government needs to bolster AI standards-related knowledge, leadership, and coordination among federal agencies.  This will help maximize effectiveness and efficiency.

Part of doing this will include building a staff with relevant skills and training in AI, and then providing career development opportunities and a promotion path for these individuals. This is imperative.  Who wouldn’t agree to that?

In addition, it says, the government must also plan, support, and conduct research that can help explore and understand how trustworthiness of AI will play a role in the development of standards. As I see it, this is also a well thought out idea, when we are addressing trustworthiness.

Next, the government must support and expand public-private partnerships to develop AI standards. And, finally, the NIST says the government must engage internationally to advance AI standards.

Based on all the data it appears that AI innovation is going to be a key driver of economic growth for quite some time. We are seeing companies embrace it already and it is changing as a result of Gen Z and so much more. Couple that with what industries like healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services are doing and the sky is the limit. But the real question then comes to how will we all innovate?

Artificial intelligence finds disease-related genes

An artificial neural network can reveal patterns in huge amounts of gene expression data, and discover groups of disease-related genes. This has been shown by a new study led by researchers at Linköping University, published in Nature Communications. The scientists hope that the method can eventually be applied within precision medicine and individualised treatment.

It’s common when using social media that the platform suggests people whom you may want to add as friends. The suggestion is based on you and the other person having common contacts, which indicates that you may know each other. In a similar manner, scientists are creating maps of biological networks based on how different proteins or genes interact with each other. The researchers behind a new study have used artificial intelligence, AI, to investigate whether it is possible to discover biological networks using deep learning, in which entities known as “artificial neural networks” are trained by experimental data. Since artificial neural networks are excellent at learning how to find patterns in enormous amounts of complex data, they are used in applications such as image recognition. However, this machine learning method has until now seldom been used in biological research.

“We have for the first time used deep learning to find disease-related genes. This is a very powerful method in the analysis of huge amounts of biological information, or ‘big data’,” says Sanjiv Dwivedi, postdoc in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM) at Linköping University.

The scientists used a large database with information about the expression patterns of 20,000 genes in a large number of people. The information was “unsorted,” in the sense that the researchers did not give the artificial neural network information about which gene expression patterns were from people with diseases, and which were from healthy people. The AI model was then trained to find patterns of gene expression.

One of the challenges of machine learning is that it is not possible to see exactly how an artificial neural network solves a task. AI is sometimes described as a “black box” — we see only the information that we put into the box and the result that it produces. We cannot see the steps between. Artificial neural networks consist of several layers in which information is mathematically processed. The network comprises an input layer and an output layer that delivers the result of the information processing carried out by the system. Between these two layers are several hidden layers in which calculations are carried out. When the scientists had trained the artificial neural network, they wondered whether it was possible to, in a manner of speaking, lift the lid of the black box and understand how it works. Are the designs of the neural network and the familiar biological networks similar?

“When we analysed our neural network, it turned out that the first hidden layer represented to a large extent interactions between various proteins. Deeper in the model, in contrast, on the third level, we found groups of different cell types. It’s extremely interesting that this type of biologically relevant grouping is automatically produced, given that our network has started from unclassified gene expression data,” says Mika Gustafsson, senior lecturer at IFM and leader of the study.

The scientists then investigated whether their model of gene expression could be used to determine which gene expression patterns are associated with disease and which is normal. They confirmed that the model finds relevant patterns that agree well with biological mechanisms in the body. Since the model has been trained using unclassified data, it is possible that the artificial neural network has found totally new patterns. The researchers plan now to investigate whether such, previously unknown patterns, are relevant from a biological perspective.

“We believe that the key to progress in the field is to understand the neural network. This can teach us new things about biological contexts, such as diseases in which many factors interact. And we believe that our method gives models that are easier to generalise and that can be used for many different types of biological information,” says Mika Gustafsson.

Mika Gustafsson hopes that close collaboration with medical researchers will enable him to apply the method developed in the study in precision medicine. It may be possible, for example, to determine which groups of patients should receive a certain type of medicine, or identify the patients who are most severely affected.

IoT developers to focus more on smart healthcare post-COVID-19

Healthcare technologies will be a greater priority among IoT service providers once the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 die down, according to Forrester Research. Based on its latest figures, only 7% of the work that major IoT service providers deliver in APAC is on Smart Healthcare.

“The crisis has triggered a lot of ideas and solutions, however there was simply no time to look at a more strategic approach for both the technologies and the processes. This will be the focus of governments, health care providers, and others, once the acute crisis is behind us,” said Achim Granzen, principal analyst at Forrester, told FutureIoT.

He added: “I expect this number to increase past  Covid-19, as governments, healthcare providers, and others will seek to harden many of the ad-hoc systems and measures they have put into place during the crisis.”

Granzen noted in the past few weeks the speed of reaction, for example the drive-by testing facilities in South Korea. Speeding up the time to reliable data is another aspect – this is crucial for identifying infection clusters and tracing, with Singapore having done a great job in this area.

A boost for digital and remote technologies

In the midst of the current virus outbreak, Granzen also observed a dramatic boost in the use of  digital and remote technologies.

“Videoconferencing is now ubiquitous, which helps with social distancing while keeping businesses running. This has often triggered organisations to adapt new technologies faster than they had planned,” he said. “I see this faster adoption in other areas as well – schools are changing to video-classes, and even religious gatherings are conducted online.”

On the whole, Granzen said that technology is ready and available to help battle this crisis.

“We see the usage of personal remote monitoring devices or apps – Hong Kong has issued wrist bands for arriving passenger with a high-risk profile, while Singapore has a monitoring app for those on Stay Home Notice. In Singapore, we have had temperature measurements at the entrances of almost all public buildings since weeks – we could have easily gone a step further and connected and report their data into a central instance for real time analysis. That’s a classic IoT scenario.”

He also pointed out that the COVID outbreak shows the benefits of smart manufacturing, saying “Industry 4.0  drives capabilities for remote operations, monitoring and maintenance of production lines and manufacturing plants”.

“This can play a vital part in making manufacturers in APAC more resilient to disruptions,” Granzen added.

According to Granzen, most of the measures have been set up rather ad-hoc, like a PoC.

“I expect some of those [will turn] into a fully fleshed out emergency response system. That by itself is an opportunity both to do better in the next crisis, but also to speed up the digital transformation in nearly all sectors impacted by Covid-19.”

He said, however,  that as with all crisis responses, protecting human lives is the utmost priority.

“As governments and private sector organizations are evaluating which measures to implement permanently, they must find the right balance between the desire to use data for insights, and the privacy concern of citizens and employees. Finding that balance is going to be a difficult but necessary task.”

Impact of COVID-19 on IoT initiatives

With the  virus outbreak, Granzen said there is a risk that current IoT initiatives are impacted as movement of specialists is restricted, or operational sites are closed down.

For one, the postponement of the 2020 Olympics Games, is a blow for IoT providers who have developed new IoT solutions that are to be used during the games.

“Sometimes touted as the first ‘Smart City’games, massive investments have been made by Japanese and international technology companies in building state-of-the-art IoT solutions for location and crowd management, public safety, transport management and other areas. The games being postponed denies those companies a showcase on the world’s stage for now, but the investments are already made and I expect some solutions to be commercialised in 2020 still.”

Granzen said: “I believe that IoT will see a boost after the crisis – extraordinary situations like the Covid-19 crisis will expose inefficient processes and technology bottle necks, and organisations putting ad-hoc fixes in place would want to harden those going forward. IoT will play a big role in modernising healthcare and disaster prevention, public safety and security, supply chain, and manufacturing and production.”

Are you using intelligence to scale your engineering operations?

The products in our daily lives have become modern day marvels of engineering. These complex innovations require a modern-day approach to engineering lifecycle management, and nobody understands this better than the product development teams tasked with managing the rising levels of complexity in today’s products.

At the Engineering Academy at IoT Exchange, you’ll get an all-access pass to in-depth sessions, inspirational keynotes, hands-on labs, and demos to learn from industry experts and practitioners who are solving the same engineering challenges you’re facing.

Be the first to hear product announcements from IBM Engineering Lifecycle Management

Learn how IBM ELM solutions are helping teams produce at a greater speed, lower cost and higher quality – all while adhering to stringent compliance and safety standards.

At the Engineering Academy at IoT Exchange, you’ll learn how to make your data work for you, to produce sophisticated products while reducing risk and the high cost of failure.

This year’s Engineering Academy lineup is impressive. You’ll hear from Bosch, Toyota, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Visteon, Raytheon, Lockheed, GM, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler, Panasonic, Continental and the list goes on!

In addition to highly informative sessions, you can also attend educational workshops. You can also obtain certifications from IBM in four focus areas:

  • Workflow Management
  • DOORS® Next
  • Systems Design and MBSE with Rhapsody®
  • Engineering Lifecycle Management (ELM)

THE INCREASING ROLE OF IOT ON SMALL BUSINESSES GROWTH

IoT adoption is on the rise. Yet, there is no doubt that while IoT adoption continues to grow, there is still a basic lack of understanding throughout businesses on how they can utilize IOT technology, services, apps and sensors to achieve a competitive advantage, market share and to deliver value-based services to customers.

Smart Factory

Computer science scholars Friedemann Mattern and Christian Floerkemeie described IoT as “a vision in which the Internet extends into the real world embracing everyday objects”. Very true and very apt. However, the potential of IoT goes even further when the data captured by sensors, and once understood, can be used to develop new ideas, thoughts, services, and products – thus leading to new business opportunities and models for organizations.

One of the critical, but often under-utilized, benefits of IoT is the creation of data; data which can be capitalized upon in a multitude of ways. This may not sound particularly useful for small businesses at first glance but a deeper looker will show otherwise. To have an understanding of the scope of what is being produced, it is predicted by market intelligence experts IDC that there will be a total volume of data and content produced of 175 zettabytes by 2025. Thanks to the continuous development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the amount of this data that is actually stored is expected to decrease. It’s both impossible and unnecessary after all, to go through every piece of data without AI.

This year’s developments might reveal to be key in the assessment of how IoT will carry on growing this decade and whether the estimation of the value of the global IoT market to lie somewhere around 1.6 trillion by 2025 holds any water. Rob Mesirow, leader of PwC Connected Solutions, goes as far as claiming it will be a breakout year for IoT. This may very well be the case. For all the euphoria surrounding IoT, it should be kept in mind that there are still obstacles to be surpassed in order for adoption rates to increase. The most notorious issue being the absence of a unified IoT framework – a shared central platform. Some see blockchain as the solution for this issue but that is the topic for another reflection.

How Does IoT Contribute to the Growth Of Small Businesses?


IoT data can help small businesses to understand their organization as well as their customers better. As author Aliff Azhar mentioned in an article for the IoT Magazine, with real-time data in hand, businesses are making forecasts, future outcomes, and preventing operation mishaps. Although data can be useful, it only fulfills its potential when understood and managed. Handling the quantity of data generated by IoT devices, and identifying quality is a challenge. Understanding what can be achieved by adopting and using IoT technologies and services is another challenge which is faced by small, medium and large enterprises. Cost of implementing IoT solutions, services, sensors and apps can be seen as prohibitive. A lack of proper skills throughout the workforce can also hamper or curtail the adoption of IoT. 


Having said that, there is a rising number of testimonials showing the successful adoption of IoT in small and medium businesses. There appears to be some common reasons supporting this trend: chips and sensors becoming cheaper, wireless connections becoming faster and faster, better IoT services becoming available, the skills gap slowly being addressed.

The contribution of IoT to the development and growth of such businesses can include the following:

1) Increased efficiency;
2) Added security;
3) Enriched client relationships;
4) Development of new product offerings.

Regarding the last point, businesses should look at IoT devices and services that can contribute to the development of new products and offerings. However, this can be challenging for businesses because the answer is not always clear. Therefore, ask the following questions:

1) What data can we capture with various IoT devices?
2) What can we learn from this data (assuming we can structure, understand and analyze the data into new levels of information)?

How Are Small Businesses Currently Applying IoT?

The application of IoT varies from one industry to another and from one opportunity to the next. The sectors of consumer electronics, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, energy, and financial services, are examples often given as opportunistic areas for the exploitation of IoT. However, small and medium-sized enterprises can also look at the opportunities which IoT presents.

1. Mobile Card Payment Reader
For little investment, small businesses have been adapting to cashless societies. All it is needed for transactions to be processed nowadays is a mobile card reader and the so-called mobile point-of-sale systems (mPOS) running on smartphones or tablets. There are devices that can accept both chip cards and contactless payments. Square’s minuscule offer has become a household name. It will be interesting to see how IoT sensors and applications evolve into the cashless payments ecosystem in the coming years.

2. Smart Locks
Not having to hire security guards or be concerned with security are very attractive features of smart locks. Through an easy installation process, business owners gain controlling access via the comfort of their homes. Many of these smart locks can be integrated into Alexa, HomeKit, Nest and Google Assistant. There’s a wide range of options these days offering more or less sophisticated models that allow for features such as the assignment of special privileges, voice activation, tamper alarm, touchpad, guest access, and geofencing.

3. Connected Cameras
Very often used with smart locks, connected cameras have been allowing business owners to remotely monitor their workspaces and save their footage in the cloud. Not needing anything but a power cable, their installation is also very straightforward. While a good internet connection is a must, that seems like a small price to pay for not having to depend on the costly security provided by a third-party. Cameras are becoming much more than just cameras when integrated with AI technologies such as Alexa, and when they contain additional IoT based sensors to report on other aspects of security.

4. HVAC & Lights Monitoring Technology
Managing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) remotely may seem to many like an unnecessary luxury. Managing HVAC at a sensor level that provides big data type analysis and intelligent, real-time, decision making is being advanced with IoT technologies, cloud-based services and advancements in AI and machine learning. 

AI-powered pumps deliver big ecological and economical benefits

“We aim to elevate the industry to a high plane.” These words were spoken in 1920 by Samuel Armstrong, founder of Armstrong Fluid Technology. Since that time, the company has taken pride in innovative contributions to engineering. They don’t simply create pumps, they develop intelligent, energy-saving systems. These systems are not only saving money for customers, but helping to protect the planet. Addressing the topic of sustainability, Armstrong’s Global Performance Management Services Manager, Tunji Asiwaju states, “Our goal, and the goal of many who rely upon our services, is energy sustainability. We’re using AI and advanced analytics from IBM to help organizations throughout the world to reduce their carbon footprint and achieve their net zero goals.”What is the importance of HVAC pumps in building management?

Each building has a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that ensures healthy air quality and thermal comfort. Many building HVAC systems are powered by pumps that continually move fluids throughout the facility. Pumps are the heart of an HVAC system. If they fail the building will not only become uncomfortable, but may also be unsafe. Armstrong creates intelligent pumps designed for key building operations.

Armstrong Tango Pump

This is not just a pump. It’s a performance optimizer.One small change can help a building save up to 87 percent on pump energy

Armstrong pumps are installed in buildings all over the world. The company’s most recent innovations include a line of intelligent pumps (referred to as Design Envelope), and a powerful performance and asset management app (called Pump Manager). Design Envelope pumps use onboard intelligence to modulate output and save energy. Pump Manager leverages the built in intelligence and connectivity to track performance and send out reports and alerts to operators. Working together, Design Envelope technology and Pump Manager can make a pump installation far more energy efficient.

Remarkably, one of the smallest elements of building operations can be altered to achieve an immediate and profound impact on operating costs. One installation using both Design Envelope pumps and Pump Manager was able to optimize pump operations to achieve annual pump energy savings of 87 percent. A university in China was able to reduce energy consumption by 78 percent. These results would not have been possible without our visionary use of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics.Net zero is now within sight

Organizations around the world have made a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint to protect our fragile planet. We are proud to be among them. And we are proud to work with companies like Armstrong to provide effective, affordable energy saving solutions for customers. Sustainability is at the core of Armstrong Fluid Technology and is a key driver for product innovations and day-to-day operations.

On the basis of this commitment to sustainability, Armstrong made a Net Zero Commitment earlier this year, pledging to operate at Net Zero carbon emissions by the year 2030. The Net Zero commitment builds on the 2 by 22 initiative that they launched in 2018. Armstrong has pledged to work with their existing customers to help them retrofit their installations. The resulting energy savings, and the reduced carbon footprint, will reduce carbon emissions among existing customers by two million tons, by the year 2022. That would be the equivalent of taking 600,000 cars off the road for one year. It offsets the average annual CO2 emissions generated by 100,000 people.Iron cast dreams of transformation

Samuel Armstrong did not consider himself a manufacturer of pumps and systems. His vision was for his company to provide a valuable engineering service. Armstrong Fluid Technology is on a continuous journey to transform expertise in the production of fluid flow products to the engineering and support of intelligent building energy technologies.

The services in Armstrong’s Performance Management Suite work at the equipment, sub-system or system level to eliminate costly energy drift and to maximize system uptime. They draw on data from a network of systems. Cloud analytics deliver actionable insights seamlessly into other building management systems. This allows building operators to make informed capital or operation decisions that drive better return on investments.IBM contributes AI expertise to revolutionize pump management

Pump Manager is an award winning cloud-based service that tracks pump performance and provides early diagnostic warnings, trends, analysis and automated reports. Armstrong worked with IBM to develop an AI-powered pump system that uses transmitted data to develop an accurate picture of conditions in real time. Over time, as it accumulates data, it knows when pump and HVAC system behaviors merit alarm.

Additionally, the information obtained through sensors and analytics assists in better decision making. Operating costs reduce while tenant comfort improves. And, importantly, the building owner and managers have visibility into energy savings and the impact on carbon footprint.

How to make work healthier: IoT for Health, Safety and Environment (HSE)

When the Twilight Zone first aired in 1959 — long before IoT and HSE — the show opening credits stated, “It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.”

Fast forward 70 years to the year 2019. Electronics are part of our everyday lives, electronics that assist us in our day-to- day tasks. Timers are set so we enjoy a cup of coffee as soon as we get out of bed. Machines make decision for us, answer phones, drive cars, and allow us to work more efficiently, smarter. Doors open automatically if you have the proper clearance captured on your badge. Machines connect to one another, interwoven like spider webs. Data streams to multiple locations for decisions almost instantaneously without human intervention. We put a degree of trust in these systems of interwoven electronics every day. We now live what was once seen as futuristic, during a time that could easily have been one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes.

“It may be said with a degree of assurance that not everything that meets the eye is as it appears.” – Rod Serling

Meet Phil Serge, a field service technician who typically begins his day being dispatched from his home to a remote site. Phil rarely goes into the office as he moves from site to site and works with minimal supervision. He completes his service orders on time. He never has any issues. And he shows up to work every day. The company assigns the most difficult jobs to Phil with confidence that his skills and expertise will get the job done. The company sees Phil as their most highly rated service technician. But do they treat him with the same value as they do their high priced equipment?

Over the years Phil has been exposed to many unknown risks. He’s exposed to moderate levels of noise, never too loud at any point in time to make him think he should have put on ear muffs. He knows the policies that noise levels above 85 to 90 decibels (dB) require ear muffs. He knows that if he’s standing arm distance apart from a colleague and he needs to shout to be heard, he ought to wear ear protection.

Phil’s work is 25 feet away from the power tools, though, and he will be there only a couple hours. Does he need hearing protection? He doesn’t like to use it. He also doesn’t know that a distance of 25 feet will decrease decibels by only about 28 dB.

Phil has entered a zone of unseen danger

Some power tools emit 120 dB, so Phil is potentially and unknowingly exposing himself to risk of hearing loss. Additionally, as he visits construction sites on a continuous basis, Phil is unaware that constant exposure to dust particles can be harmful.

As he walks through the sites, Phil doesn’t think he needs any personal protection equipment (PPE).  He doesn’t fully understand the health, safety, and environment (HSE) issues that await him. He’s there to address the HVAC. Is he wrong? A single stone paver cut releases enough silica for 29 years of exposure. Sure, Phil covers his mouth as he walks through the dust clouds. But as the cloud dissipates, how much silica remains in the air? He’s not that close to it, is he?

Phil is unaware of this invisible threat to his long term health.Worker with hardhat

Technicians are facing invisible health hazards that might cause long lasting damage such as hearing loss.

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

We can look into the future and predict how electronics, machines, and the connected worker all come together. But the future is now. That technology exists. And the youth of today is living in a world where technology is first, and information is provided near real time and on demand.

Today, sensors are embedded into machines, but technicians are limited by the rawness of the data provided. Fortunately, we’ve developed systems that can put context to the data, to communicate potential workplace hazards along with recommendations for preventing the hazard well before it even exists. With these systems, sensors are placed in the environment. And wearable sensors on the technician help companies keep employees safe. This protects them from the invisible dangers such as silica. Organizations that embrace the future will lead the charge for the future technician: one who is connected, protected, and efficient.

IBM is leading the way.IBM Maximo Worker Insights and Maximo HSE Manager provide IoT enabled health and safety insights

IBM Maximo Worker Insights and Maximo HSE Manager provide IoT enabled health and safety insights.

Imagine a world where everything is connected

The Internet of Things (IoT), in which machines talk to other machines, makes possible the connectivity of the technician. With IBM Maximo Worker Insights, IBM helps organizations add context from individual devices and sensors so that a higher degree of intelligence can be derived.

Utilizing sensors from partners, and the near-real-time and predictive analytics of Maximo Worker Insights, we can understand the decibels of the equipment. Additionally, we can determine:

  • What the dB level is as it relates to the individual technician
  • How long that technician endures that noise level, and
  • What impact it can have on the technician over minutes, hours, days or even years.

Is the employee wearing proper personal protective equipment? And is that PPE functioning properly? We can take that information and apply it to the individual employee’s current hearing capacity.

Organizations can now utilize information to modify their safety procedures and to ensure compliance to standards and regulations. That means preventative action initiates before an adverse event actually occurs. This minimizes the overall risk to the organization as well as to the technician.

Picture if you will a new way to protect your workers

IBM® Maximo® Worker Insights integrates with Maximo Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) Manager. Maximo HSE Manager supports many safety related processes including incident management and investigation. This solution includes a comprehensive set of applications that help govern the complete lifecycle for worker related incidents or near-miss events—from first detection to corrective action and statutory reporting.

Therefore as Maximo Worker Insights captures an event, Maximo HSE Manager determines if the event is an actual incident. If so, the incident management process automatically initiates. This process includes a set of standard pre-filled information concerning the incident. Near-real-time data is provided by Maximo Worker Insights concerning the incident to add context to the incident.

World premier: First plant-powered IoT sensor sends signal to space

Plant-e and Lacuna Space combine bio- and space technology for Internet of Things devices.

The first-ever plant-powered sensor has successfully transmitted to a satellite in space.

The pilot service, using plants as the energy source, has been developed by Plant-e and Lacuna Space. Because the sensor doesn’t need batteries, due to the internal storage in the system, it’ll reduce cost, maintenance requirements and environmental impact. As long as plants continue to grow, electricity will be produced.

Combining the innovative energy harvesting technology developed by Plant-e with the extremely power efficient devices from Lacuna Space, these devices are completely self-sustainable and operate independent from sunlight, day and night.

The Internet of Things (IoT) prototype device, developed by the two companies, uses the electricity generated by living plants to transmit LoRa messages about air humidity, soil moisture, temperature, cell voltage and electrode potential straight to Lacuna’s satellite. Future applications can be found in critical data gathering from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments without the need for any external energy sources. The pilot service is supported by the ARTES programme from the European Space Agency (ESA).

“At ESA we are very enthusiastic about this demonstration that combines biotechnology and space technology,” said Frank Zeppenfeldt who works on future satellite communication systems in ESA. “A number of new opportunities for satellite-based Internet-of-Things will be enabled by this.”

Plant-e, a start-up from Wageningen, the Netherlands, has developed a technology to harvest electrical energy from living plants and bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity. The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products.

Plant-e and Lacuna Space demo

“This collaboration shows how effective plant-electricity already is at its current state of development,” said Plant-e CEO Marjolein Helder. “We hope this inspires others to consider plant-electricity as a serious option for powering sensors.”

Lacuna, based in the UK and the Netherlands, is launching a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system that will provide a global Internet-of-Things service. The service allows collecting data from sensors even in remote areas with little or no connectivity. At the moment Lacuna Space is offering a pilot service with one satellite in orbit, and three more satellites are awaiting launch during the next few months.

“This opens up a new era in sustainable satellite communications,” said Rob Spurrett, CEO and co-founder of Lacuna Space.

“There are many regions in the world that are difficult to reach making regular maintenance expensive and the use of solar power impossible. Through this technology we can help people, communities and companies in those regions to improve their lives and businesses.”

World’s First NB-IoT-based Water Leak Detection Technology

Swiss company Gutermann AG, a global leader in leak detection solutions for the water industry, today announced the release of Zonescan NB-IoT, the world’s first water leak detecting noise logger based on Narrow-band Internet of Things (“NB-IoT”) for permanent monitoring of water distribution mains.

Gutermann will debut the technology December 4, which is the date of the inaugural World Water Loss Day and first day of the 2019 North America Water Loss Conference and Exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee. Successful pilot projects with the Zonescan NB-IoT have been concluded in France, the UK, and Australia. The projects reduced ramp-up time and lowered up-front investment for acoustic loggers used to monitor system wide water loss. In the U.S. alone, the EPA estimates the volume of water lost in distribution systems to be 1.7 trillion gallons at a cost of $2.6 billion.

Water Leakage

NB-IoT is a new cellular communication standard optimized for machine-to-machine data communication in smart cities. NB-IoT significantly outperforms conventional 3G and 4G technology used in earlier generations of acoustic loggers, while the new technology consumes five to ten times less power with significantly improved underground coverage. Telecom operators worldwide have announced plans for complete NB-IoT coverage and are in the process of activating their NB-IoT antennas throughout their networks, allowing Gutermann to advance its product offering.

The Zonescan NB-IoT logger is Gutermann’s first cellular logger. It complements the company’s radio frequency-based Zonescan Alpha system which has established itself as the leading fixed network technology around the world, with adoption in more than 300 cities globally including Miami, Florida, one of the largest water users in the U.S.

Zonescan NB-IoT is a correlating system which means that the cloud-based Zonescan Net software automatically compares the data of all neighboring sensors every day to identify even quiet leaks whose existence are not recognized by individual loggers. A correlation indicator provides information about the area in which the leak has been identified, neatly displayed on a Google Maps™ enabled user interface. Zonescan Net also lets users see and manage their leak detection infrastructure, perform advanced leak analysis, import and display their GIS data, and change settings such as recording times, alarm thresholds and more.

Save Water with IoT

“We are excited about the launch of this product because we see an enormous potential for it given the connectivity and power properties of the NB-IoT technology,” said Lucas Grolimund, CEO of Gutermann.

“We’re happy to once more lead the way in advanced fixed network leak monitoring solutions. Our hope is that the ZONESCAN NB-IoT logger will make permanent monitoring of networks more accessible to utilities due to its cost, ease of installation and compact design. It should therefore contribute to the rapid growth of technology-enabled smart water networks, helping to consistently reduce and maintain lower water loss levels.”

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