Steve Chien, NASA: On how automation helps monitor natural hazards and the future of AI

Remember the volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, back in 2010? Those whose flights were cancelled in the chaos probably retain a mild annoyance. Those in the industry caught in the crossfire, on the other hand, may well break out in a cold sweat to this day just thinking about it.

Why? The industry simply wasn’t ready for the disruption. The resultant six-day travel ban from Eyjafjallajökull’s emissions led to the following: more than 95,000 cancelled flights; approximately 10 million passengers caught up; and an estimated total loss for the airline industry of $ 1.7 billion (£1.1bn).

Today, there are now global networks of sensors on volcanoes, linked with satellites, producing relevant alerts to help organisations make the right decisions. The data generated by this, through seismic sensors, remote imaging, atmospheric modelling and more, goes into the terabits each day. As more processes become automated, through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, more can get done.

Yet this may just be the beginning. Steve Chien (left), head of the artificial intelligence group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), argues that while AI has been used to detect and track natural hazards for many years, the increase in sensor data has been more of a recent phenomenon.

“The explosion in available sensor data is revolutionising how science and applied science can be performed,” he says. “In the past, there was a lot of time to figure out how to best use the data, to interpret the data, often with a human in the loop. Now with the flood of data available, the challenge is to accurately leverage the immense amounts of data.

“As a consequence, automation must be everywhere – automated workflows to start, machine learning in some cases, and active sensing to close the loop.”

This leads to a wider discussion around AI hype. ‘AI hype has peaked – so what’s next?’ asked TechCrunch in September. Another article proclaims the AI hype train ‘is already off the rails.’ Gartner’s most recent Hype Cycle makes for interesting reading: while deep learning and machine learning are atop the peak hype sector, artificial general intelligence has more than 10 years left in its journey.

Chien puts it this way. “Recent successes in very specific focused tasks of image classification have certainly garnered significant attention of late,” he says. “While this has been great for a specific class of applications, the challenge is to maintain momentum on a broader front in the longer march towards greater proficiency in a wider range of cognitive tasks.”

The end goal for artificial intelligence, however, is another topic up for debate. Of course, this is a sphere in which some of the biggest names in technology are debating – and disagreeing. Elon Musk famously called Mark Zuckerberg’s knowledge of the field ‘limited’ a few months back, advocating the view that, if there is not appropriate regulation, AI could pose a ‘fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation.’

Chien gives a more nuanced view – and stresses that ignorance, in this issue, is more remiss than bliss. “One major concern is that specific achievements in classification have led to people not in the field to come to the conclusion that some sort of super-intelligent AI system will take over the world and lead to a dystopian future,” he explains.

“People within the field have a more nuanced view in which there is a better understanding that a dramatic increase in one specialised skill within AI does not mean that ‘general superintelligence’ is imminent.

“Importantly, policy and decision making regarding regulation of AI needs to be driven by people who understand the technology, which comes from sustained experience in working with the technology,” adds Chien. “If AI is poorly regulated or constrained, the immense promise of AI to enhance and improve life will be hampered or, even worse, squandered.”

Chien is speaking at the IoT Tech Expo event in Santa Clara on November 29-30 on how AI and the IoT can track volcanic activity, flooding and wildfires, and as for what the audience will come away with, the message is simple: AI is enhancing earth science, monitoring of natural hazards, and, more generally, space exploration.

“AI is here and now at JPL and NASA,” says Chien, adding that many of the technologies and lessons learned have commercial applications with spinoffs already occuring. “We have a sustained program in AI, and AI in the context of IoT, and this program has had a continuous stream of successes.”

Find out more about IoT Tech Expo North America, taking place at the Santa Clara Convention Center on November 29-30, by visiting here.

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Climbing the ranks in automation

The top three countries that are leaders in manufacturing have remained fairly similar over the last few decades. The US, China and Germany have continued evolving to export a large amount of products to the world. To remain high in the ranks, these countries have adopted automation, optimised their manufacturing processes and advanced production processes.

Strong economy and large populations suggest that these countries will remain leaders in manufacturing and automation for years to come. However, as the industry grows, smaller countries are beginning to emerge as competitors in the industry, says Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at EU Automation.

North and South America

Many countries in South America are driven by manufacturing. For example, in Chile, manufacturing contributes towards around 16% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and over 14% of the working population are employed in a manufacturing role.

States in Northern America are also looking south to improve their manufacturing sector. As the world’s eleventh largest economy, Mexico excels in a range of industries such as aerospace, automotive and food and beverage. The automation industry in Mexico is growing rapidly, with over 6,320 robotic units sold in 2015, tripling previous figures.

Mexico is also looking to greaten its presence in the global manufacturing industry by increasing company growth.The country is the first Spanish-speaking nation to partner with Germany at Hannover Messe 2018. At the trade show, Mexico intends to exhibit its new technologies and strengthen its international trade relations.

Central Europe

Western European countries such as the UK and Germany are regarded as the manufacturing leaders of Europe. However, some central European countries have rapidly growing economies due to their investment in manufacturing. Poland, for example, has seen its economy triple in the last decade.

Manufacturing exports contribute towards 33% of the GDP in Poland, compared to an average of 22% among other emerging nations. With a population of over 40 million, more jobs are created to meet the industry demand and support the growing economy.

Poland’s increasing presence in the manufacturing industry was highlighted when they were invited to be the partner country exhibiting at Hannover Messe 2017. As one of the fastest growing markets for automation, the country is now one of Germany’s most lucrative trading partners.

The Mighty-Five

The Asia Pacific region is one of the key players in automation, with Japan and China relying on automated factories to ensure a successful manufacturing industry. Smaller countries are beginning to invest in this technology to experience the benefits and grow their economies.

A group of countries known as the Mighty-Five are expected to rapidly evolve as manufacturing competitors over the next decade. Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam aim to invest in automation to offer the world low cost labour with high quality results.

The countries each excel in different areas of automation. India’s economy, for example, relies on the IT industry as the largest private employer in the country. Between 2013 and 2014, India exported over $ 167 billion(€143.44 billion) worth of IT and software services. The industry is expected to improve further as standard of living continues to improve in the country.

These countries still have a long way to go to compete with manufacturing giants, such as China or the US. Yet the rapid growth of automation in these countries suggests that the global manufacturing sector may look very […]

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Smart home automation startup Brilliant Tech closes $21M Series A

Brilliant Tech, a smart lighting and home automation company raised a $ 21M Series A round led by August Capital. Other investors that participated in the round include Miramar Ventures, The Box Group, and the Stanford-StartX Fund.

The Brilliant Control

Brilliant’s flagship product is a smart home control that comes in sizes of 1-4 switches. It operates as a ‘control hub’ for smart home devices via its elegant interface. It neatly integrates with smart home products like Nest thermostat, Sonos, Philips Hue, Ring, SmartThings, Wink bulbs, and Honeywell allowing users to control all devices/services through a single touchscreen gadget. The device is a 720×1280 resolution, 5-inch touchscreen having motion and voice control functionality.

The primary use case of the product is to replace traditional light switches with Brilliant’s touch-based smart light switch/panel, however, the product extends beyond this use case. It also operates as a ‘control’ or ‘hub’ to manage other popular smart home devices.

Control your Sonos, Nest, and other smart home devices directly from your wall

Brilliant’s main competitors are Lutron and Belkin, though Brilliant Control can be used to manage several 3rd party smart home devices also. Another key factor that differentiates the product is that if a user buys more than one Brilliant panel, it can operate as a video/voice intercom also. To make it convenient for users to control multiple lights through a single interface, Brilliant has added a functionality called ‘scenes’. Each scene may be a combination of different light settings, such as date night, an away mode, or a custom setting.

“Ambient computing is the next big technology trend, and the home will be the battleground. Support from investors of this caliber is a validation that a great experience is critical in the smart home of the future,” Aaron Emigh, CEO and Co-founder Brilliant Tech.

Brilliant Tech appears to be a relevant addition to an ever growing number of home automation products. The Postscapes Connected Products Framework can be used by upstart smart home companies as well as IoT analysts trying to navigate the complex network of interactions between technical components, user actions, and product service models.


Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things

IoT Home Automation startup gets $4.9M in new funding

Home automation startup Dwelo raised $ 4.9M in venture funding led by Peterson Ventures. The startup’s total equity funding to date has reached $ 9.7M.

Dwelo Smart Hub

The system consists of a Dwelo app and smart hub hardware that building owners can install. Smart locks, lights, and thermostats from different vendors can directly integrate into Dwelo hub. The hub, having eight ports is a small computer which is a little larger than a deck of cards. Having integrated to the hub, connected devices can then be controlled via Dwelo’s smartphone app.

“We’ve seen explosive demand for what we’ve brought to the market and are thrilled to provide renters as well as the operators of the rental real estate with access to the benefits of smart home technology.” Dwelo CEO Michael Rovito

Its primary target market is apartment building owners and property managers. Renters are provided Dwelo app that they can use for ongoing support.

Dwelo Android App

According to McKinsey, the number of connected homes in the US reached 29M in 2017. Yet, the ‘smart home’ is still far from the vision of seamlessly connected homes. This is where Dwelo seeks to gain a strong foothold in the market. It aims to simplify the end-user experience by providing a single interface that customers can use to access their home automation devices and gadgets.

Home automation startups continue to bank venture funding. Last week it was Brilliant Tech that raised north of $ 20M Series A. Before that, Comcast announced to buy Stringify, a home automation service for IoT products. Thus, acquisitions and new fundings are the ‘new normal’.

With so many startups and services being introduced in the market, it often gets difficult to navigate the home automation ecosystem of products, services, hardware and software. Use the Postscapes IoT Home Guide to quickly narrow the smart home products and systems based on use, price and available integrations.


Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things