IoT technologies will be key to not just rebuilding our industries, economies, and societies from the pandemic—but making them better than ever before.
It’s well-known that disasters often lead to the biggest advancements. Innovations that would normally take years to receive the necessary funding and overcome legal hurdles can be deployed far more quickly during, and in the aftermath of, a crisis.
Governments and investors are looking for companies with technologies that can not only restore some normality but help us to “build back better”. IoT News’ list of innovative companies to watch in 2021 may provide some inspiration.
In alphabetical order:
General Electric’s roots trace back to Thomas Edison himself. The company’s subsidiary, GE Digital, aims to continue the legacy of one of the world’s most famous innovators.
GE Digital was launched in 2015 and focuses on IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) solutions to disrupt industries such as manufacturing, energy, telecommunications, and, of course, power generation.
“GE Digital offers the industry deep domain expertise and insights on customer problems. We use analytics and digital twin capabilities to allow us to extract usable business insights. This provides us with the ability to tie insights to business outcomes by automating workflows, by interfaces to customers, and integrating with the control system in a customer’s facility,” Colin Parris, senior vice president and CTO of GE Digital, tells IoT News.
The company has several notable projects and achievements under its belt over its relatively short life so far including:
Chery Jaguar Land Rover uses GE Digital’s Proficy MES in their engine manufacturing facility in Changshu to connect more than 100,000 integration points in real-time across 500 machines on the shop floor.
China’s SAGW (Shanghai Automobile Gear Works) uses GE Digital’s Proficy Plant Applications to create a “Process Digital Twin”. The use of a digital twin has improved equipment utilisation by 20 percent and reduced inspection costs by 40 percent.
WACKER Chemical Corporation uses APM from GE Digital to extend pressure vessel scheduled maintenance from every two years to a maximum of every 10 years, saving millions of dollars per year.
India’s power grid withstood a 31-gigawatt drop and recovery with support from the GE Digital Grid Software team and Advanced Energy Management System (AEMS) solutions after the country’s prime minister asked citizens to turn off their lights for nine minutes so show solidarity in the fight against COVID-19.
In March last year, GE Digital announced that its GE Digital Core Digital Twin Blueprint library had exceeded 300 types of industrial assets.
“In 2021, you will see us build out more use of data and remote capabilities in our solutions for customers. We will also be focusing on the expansion of new digital twin and industrial AI capabilities to use data more effectively.”
One of the largest cloud platforms is also one of the most important for the IoT. Google Cloud IoT provides fully-managed services which allow customers to connect, store, and analyse data in the cloud and at the edge.
“We know the IoT can be complicated for businesses to navigate. Google Cloud IoT Core takes away the headache of deploying and running connected devices and services,” says Ping Wu, senior engineering director at Google Cloud.
“Our high-performance, reliable infrastructure enables customers to not only develop products at record speed but scale their operations to meet growing demand. At the same time, our sophisticated AI/ML-driven data analytics and management products such as BigQuery helps businesses to derive tangible value from their data.”
Google’s vast and reliable infrastructure aims to give businesses the confidence they need for IoT deployments.
Google Cloud recently announced that it’s helping Ingersoll Rand – a provider of mission-critical flow creation and industrial solutions – to consolidate the multiple platforms which manage IoT devices across its brands into one cloud-based solution.
However, that’s not the only recent success story for Google Cloud’s IoT platform.
“Last month we announced that Signify, the creators of the highly successful Philips Hue line of smart light bulbs, selected Google Cloud as their preferred partner of choice to power millions of connected smart lighting devices.”
“Through a large fleet simulation using virtual devices and live field testing, Signify found that our Cloud IoT Core met and exceeded their scalability, performance and security expectations. This result proved that Cloud IoT Core and the associated architecture would support Signify today and in the future.”
Global 0G network provider Sigfox connects billions of IoT devices around the world with minimal power consumption—helping to save costs and the planet in one fell swoop.
“IoT has been around for a long time, initially named M2M, but Sigfox is definitely the pioneer of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) that brought IoT in a totally new dimension enabling to address new markets, new verticals, new use cases,” comments Franck Siegel, deputy chief executive officer at Sigfox.
“Since its creation in 2010, Sigfox has built the first and largest globally available end-to-end IoT platform – from device to API – dedicated to massive IoT,” adds Siegel. “Sigfox presents all of the attributes required for it to become a leading IoT platform services provider and we are focused on ultra-low-cost and ultra-low-power asset visibility and tracking.”
As of November 2020, Sigfox’s IoT network covers a total of 5.8 million square kilometres across 72 countries. The network uses the 868 MHz band in Europe and 902 MHz in the US and its signal passes easily through solid objects.
Predictably, given the versatility of its solution, Sigfox has a lot of interesting case studies. However, the company says its “sweet spot” is in low-cost, low-power asset visibility and tracking.
“We provide tracking and monitoring assets that are battery-powered and must be very cost-effective in order to provide the right ROI to customers for whom condition monitoring information is required on top of the geolocation information such as temperature, pressure, lighting, [and] metering,” says Siegel.
Sigfox says it’s seeing particularly fast growth for tracking solutions in automotive, post, stolen vehicle recovery, and, interestingly, breweries.
In 2020, Sigfox was among the handful of companies that managed to continue thriving and gained significant momentum and achieved a 200 percent 3Y CAGR of messages processed on its network. This year, the company will be building further on that momentum.
“We have now created the momentum in the market which has started to mature.
2021 will leverage this momentum and see our connectivity and geolocation business grow significantly, in particular in the four markets mentioned above,” says Siegel.
“In terms of services portfolio, we will be expanding our geolocation services, adding up short-range offerings to our already dense long-range ones. 2021 will also be the year where we will expand the portfolio of our strategic partners. We will announce a few but significant global partnerships in the chipset, device, network, and data areas.”
VADE is an example of the many IoT startups using emerging technologies to help tackle the inefficiencies of legacy systems in our cities.
The company uses a combination of IoT hardware and computer vision technologies for “last mile” mobility solutions. Real-time information about curb space availability gives cities more data to understand where problems occur while guiding drivers to free spaces—reducing frustration, congestion, and emissions.
“We are hyper-focused on removing the barriers to adoption to real-time curb data, which manifests in all parts of our business: our proprietary solar cameras don’t need power or network wiring, our subscription pricing is simple and affordable, and our Data-as-a-Service model reduces switching costs by making it easy for vendors to integrate and improve existing operations,” explains Matty Schaefer, CEO and co-founder of VADE.
One of the most interesting deployments VADE is working on at the moment is in Sarasota, Florida.
“We’re working with Walker Consultants to analyse commercial loading activity across alleyways, curbsides, and on-street parking spaces in a core part of downtown,” says Schaefer. “Commercial vehicles have been using curbsides and parking spaces instead of alleyways, sometimes blocking multiple angled parking spaces for extended periods of time.
“By measuring the utilisation of curb space by the type of vehicle – like delivery vans, freight trucks, and TNCs – we are building a source of truth for the demand that will help inform future curb management plans and policies.”
VADE is excited about how the data collected through its deployments can help to inform future decisions.
“We’re thrilled with the results to our original hypothesis that accessibility is the bottleneck to the adoption of real-time data, and now we’re excited to push the boundaries of what can be done with that data today, in five years, and in 50 years,” says Schaefer.
Throughout the rest of 2021, we can expect further cities to start using VADE, more integrations, and Schaefer teases us with “more products”.
The Zigbee Alliance aims to make the protocol the “standard-bearer of the open IoT” and has solidified its place as one of the leading standards with support from the likes of Signify (Hue), Hive, Bosch, ASSA ABLOY (Yale), Belkin, Resideo (Honeywell Home), Schneider Electric, and many, many more.
“On the enterprise side, what enables success for anyone looking to build their business around IoT devices is, probably, four key things – ability to scale, cost to develop, time to market and customer value,” says Michelle Mindala-Freeman, head of marketing at the Zigbee Alliance.
“We are one of the few, if not the only, organisations who have brought all the major IoT ecosystem providers to one table to develop together a single, interoperable, IP-based IoT protocol standard.”
For the techies, Zigbee uses the IEEE’s 802.15.4 personal-area network spec which provides a clear line-of-sight range of 300+ meters, or around 75-100 meters indoors. The exciting part about Zigbee is that it creates a mesh where each interoperable device is able to communicate with the next device. Zigbee can handle around 65,000 devices.
“With our new open-source approach, we’re not just creating specs; but members are contributing code, currently to GitHub, that can be leveraged to speed up the development process and also lower development costs,” adds Mindala-Freeman.
One of the projects Mindala-Freeman is most excited about is Project CHIP (Project Connected Home over IP).
“Project CHIP is an ambitious project to develop a fully IP-based common protocol stack for IoT in record time. Unlike your traditional people-in-a-room creating documentation, we have taken a radically different approach for Project CHIP.
“Our members still do the typical prepare use cases and develop those into standards ‘specs,’ but they are also creating demo code and putting that into GitHub for developers. So, as we get to releasable standards, folks will have access to actual code—to use for tech demonstrations, training, or to accelerate development.”
Mindala-Freeman says 2021 will be “historic” for Zigbee and teases big news will be coming from the Alliance in the coming months.
Aside from that news, which you can be assured IoT News will have for you as soon as possible, the Zigbee Alliance will double-down on increasing device certifications (not content with a record 32% increase last year!) and working hard on advancing Project CHIP alongside 160+ participants including Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and others.
Competition is healthy, and there’s room for more than one standard in a space as vast and growing as the IoT.
Z-Wave is an open, internationally-recognised ITU standard (G.9959) and the most widely-adopted in wireless home control with over 3000 certified interoperable products worldwide from more than 700 companies including the likes of ADT, LG, and SmartThings.
“Z-Wave technology stands out for a few reasons – our legacy in the industry (this year is Z-Wave’s 20-year anniversary), robust interoperable product ecosystem, technology benefits such as low-power consumption and backwards compatibility, and a commitment to security and innovation in the market,” says Mitch Klein, executive director at the Z-Wave Alliance.
Z-Wave is much lower power than Wi-Fi but with a far greater range than Bluetooth. While it has a slower data transmission rate than Zigbee, the latter operates on the Wi-Fi standard frequency of 2.4GHz. By avoiding this busy frequency, Z-Wave avoids noise and increases coverage.
“We are always looking to make improvements to Z-Wave technology so that it fits the needs of manufacturers, integrators, and consumers alike, as new opportunities and pain points emerge,” says Klein.
“For example, the Z-Wave Security 2 (S2) security framework was created a few years ago to address the growing concerns around device security. Mandatory in all devices certified after April 2017, it was developed in conjunction with the cybersecurity expert community and offers the already secure Z-Wave new levels of impenetrability.
“The recent Z-Wave Long Range specification was also developed to suit the changing needs of the market – it supports larger networks and increased range, which provides support and scalability that growing vertical industries such as MDU and hospitality require.”
Property-wide IoT network specialists STRATIS recently fitted 203 apartments – spanning three buildings – with JASCO Z-Wave Smart Lighting Dimmers and Switches, Schlage Smart BLE Locks, Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostats, ButterflyMX Guest Access Control, and Alexa Voice Control. The deployment is a testament to Z-Wave’s strengths in range and interoperability.
“The property-wide Z-Wave and Wi-Fi network provides a secure, constant connection for all devices. Because of the advantages of the network installation, the portfolio is recovering 100 percent of its investment in less than two years, as well as benefiting from the increased property value.”
Last year, the Z-Wave Alliance became a solely independent and non-profit organisation that new oversees standard development which gave the alliance “new capabilities to both define and execute on the changes we want to see in the market – both from a technology and market development standpoint.”
In 2021, the Z-Wave Alliance will be taking advantage of those new capabilities to develop new projects and initiatives to address evolving industry needs, issue new technical updates, and recruit new members to further develop the standard.
Klein says the alliance will also have more to share soon on its Z-Wave Long Range certification program. IoT News will keep you posted.