Elon Musk makes case for eschewing LIDAR as Tesla reports latest results

Elon Musk has said that LIDAR is a ‘crutch’ and affirmed that Tesla will not be planning to use the system going forward.

LIDAR, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging’, helps measure distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses. While other companies are using the technology – it is a part of the alleged claims in the current Uber versus Waymo court case, for instance – Tesla will continue to only use cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to create autonomous vehicles.

Musk was responding to an analyst question on an earnings call, asking whether competitors are missing anything in their software stack that enabled Tesla to not use LIDAR, and whether regulation would come into place regarding use of the technology.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the road system is geared towards passive optical [image recognition],” said Musk, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “We have to solve passive optical image recognition extremely well in order to be able to drive in any given environment and the changing environment.

“At the point at which you have solved it extremely well, what is the point in having optical – meaning LIDAR – which cannot read signs,” he added. “In my view, it is a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very difficult to get out of.”

Regarding what the competition are doing, Musk added: “I find it quite puzzling that companies would choose to do an active proton system in the wrong wavelength. They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary… and I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

The company issued its fourth quarter and full year update for 2017, with revenue of $ 11.8 billion (£8.5bn) for 2017, up 55% year over year from organic growth. Tesla added that it expected 2018 revenue growth to ‘significantly exceed’ 2017 growth.

The focus for a lot of the message was on the long-awaited Model 3 – in more ways than one. Tesla delivered 1,542 Model 3 vehicles in the final quarter of 2017, with a Business Insider article saying that ‘production is on track, but it’s still a complete mess.’

“The launch of Model 3 [the most recent model] is what Tesla had been building towards from day one,” the company said. “We incorporated all the learnings from the development and production of Roadster, Model S, and Model X to create the world’s first mass market electric vehicle that is priced on par with its gasoline-powered equivalents – even without incentives.

“Now we are ramping up production significantly, and as we look ahead in 2018, we are on the cusp of a step change in the world’s transition to sustainability.”

Not everyone believes in the work Tesla is doing, however. A recent study from Navigant Research assessed the better part of 20 companies developing automated driving systems and put Tesla at the bottom of the pile.

You can read the full Tesla financial report here.

Postscript: While the vast majority of the focus was on Tesla, analysts could not resist comment on Musk’s successful SpaceX launch earlier this week. One told Musk the launch was ‘probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’

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Case Study: ‘Intelligence on tap’, inside Veolia Water’s smart grid for water services deployment

Inside Veolia Water’s utilisation of Actility’s ThingPark Energy to power a smart grid for water services

When someone talks about a smart grid, the first thing you’ll think of is electricity; if they talk about industrial IoT you’ll probably be imagining factory monitoring and automation. But in this case study, we’ll be taking a look at how combining sensing and remote control throughout a network with data analytics, process modelling and forecasting can make a giant of the water industry more efficient and open up new business opportunities. Welcome to Veolia’s Smart Water Network.

Veolia Water is a world’s largest supplier of water services, originally based in France but now operating on a large scale across Europe, in the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and APAC. The company provides managed fresh water and waste water services for municipal and industrial clients, handling every step in the water cycle, from capture to treatment, distribution, waste water recovery and processing and release back into the environment.

Energy consumption is involved throughout this cycle, pumping water through the treatment facilities and the pipes connecting them, to homes and then back through the waste water processing. Buying electricity is a significant cost for Veolia. More than 80% of that electricity is used for pumping and aeration. Typically, pumping stations buy electricity at fixed rates, with little price difference between peak and off-peak hours. However, prices in the wider electricity market vary much more significantly.

This creates opportunities for consumers like Veolia, with the flexibility to schedule their operations to an alternative timetable and react swiftly, to create additional business value from its extensive storage capacity – water tanks – and large number of electrical devices such as pumps, valves and aerators, which can be activated and shut down very quickly.

Encouraged by an increase in water production and tougher environmental challenges Veolia selected Actility’s ThingPark Energy platform to improve the efficiency of its pumping stations and treatment plants. Actility brings its tried and tested real-time optimisation algorithms to bear on modelling the complex water process. Realtime planning and scheduling is driven by the demands on the water network at any given time combined with live data on electricity pricing from the supplier market. Hundreds of electricity consuming devices are remotely controlled, taking into account fluctuating energy prices. The final operational plan is scheduled to minimise the overall cost of electricity whilst ensuring that operational demands on the network are always met.

Being flexible pays dividends Actility’s ThingPark Energy Platform makes use of high performance data analytics tools originally developed for demand-response tools to secure electricity supply grids against unusual peaks in energy usage. The predictive modelling capability enables the system to respond automatically with the best solution when faced with unplanned situations. The system learns and the operational plan is updated automatically, whilst continuing to respect the constraints of the underlying processes. The automated system provides significant levels of support to on call-operation teams, reducing workload and supporting good decision making. The same prediction capabilities, combining with operational monitoring of systems […]

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Case study: Energy transparent machines cut consumption by one-third

A few weeks ago the World Climate Conference was held to discuss sustainability targets for lower energy consumption and less pollution. Few organisations have embraced the goals but Festo, at its Scharnhausen Technology Plant in Germany, has already shown its support for them in the Industrie 4.0, energy efficient, IoT-enabled factory

Energy efficiency often starts from the ground up in manufacturing environments and, for Festo, a major decision was to develop an energy efficiency module that is a plug-and-work solution for the pneumatic circuit as a whole. The module is able to summarise, evaluate and analyse data by using artificial intelligence (AI). The data collected can therefore be pre-processed inside the unit and/or completely transferred into a cloud. A decentralised automation platform usually collects data from different Festo devices and combines them on a valve terminal with Codesys controller on board.

In the Festo Technology Plant at Scharnhausen, this type of installation has been retrofitted to all older machines since 2015 – and is a must for all new machines. The target was to make them energy transparent and to optimise air and current consumption by dedicated switching-on and off cycles depending on several criteria – thus avoiding that energy peaks are just added without any benefit, or leakage causing high extra cost. Data had been fed via object linking and embedding (OLE) for process control (OPC) unified architecture (UA) into the on-site manufacturing execution (ME) system from SAP by its plant connection module (PCo), and further to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with SAP HANA cloud. Now the new solutions allow – in conjunction with other actions taken like solar panels or re-use concepts for heat – saving of up to one-third of energy compared to the old plant. Amortisation is expected to be around two years.

In the latest use cases, the data from such energy efficiency modules is brought via OPC-UA and a Festo CPX-IoT Gateway to cloud or IoT platforms like Siemens MindSphere or Rockwell Factory Talk. Festo also provides its own cloud for deeper analytics of all its pneumatic and electric drive components and mechatronic sub-systems as a long-term target. Data is also fed into SAP HANA, Festo’s on-site option in the Scharnhausen factory.

The required apps are developed by Festo, and in the case of external cloud providers, are then installed in the MindSphere environment (using Siemens MindConnect LIB) or the Rockwell Device Analytics (via Shelby Appliance or Team ONE tools). The app for the Festo energy efficiency module inside these clouds or IoT environments allows easy visualisation, quicker set-up and parametrisation of the product and online visualisation during machine run-time. The data analytics support advanced diagnostic and condition monitoring concepts and could lead into predictive maintenance systems by combining data from different sources inside the cloud.

Today, a cloud based visualisation makes many things easier, but a high degree of expertise and IT knowledge is needed to make the devices communicate to clouds offered by the market today. In total, the Festo energy efficiency module reduces energy cost, and […]

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One size doesn’t fit all – for business case flexibility you need security and connectivity choices

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to mature, organisations are looking to select enabling technologies, services and solutions to turn their business ideas into reality. Among the many fundamental capabilities required, connectivity and security are among the most visible as Richard Stamvik, managing ecosystem and partnerships at MultiTech, discusses in this interview with IoT Now.

IoT Now: There are many decisions to be made to ensure optimal IoT deployments. What factors should organisations take into account when making connectivity decisions?

Richard Stamvik: There are several challenges for organisations: How large is the area they intend to operate in – is it a building or a country? What quality of service do they need and how much are they prepared to pay for that? What’s the acceptable energy consumption of the IoT solution as this relates to the cost of power from, for example, batteries? And what’s the amount of data to be transmitted and what are the related speed and latency requirements?

Different technologies have different pros and cons. For example, short range Bluetooth technology offers low energy consumption and high data rates. Similarly, you can roll-out low energy, long range low power wide area (LPWA) technologies such as LoRa or narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) but these won’t offer the high data rate of 3G or 4G.

A key learning here is that one size does not fit all.

IoT Now: Choosing between licensed and unlicensed spectrum is a core challenge. How can organisations judge the relative merits?

RS: The right to use licensed spectrum costs money, payable to the body managing the regional radio spectrum allocation. Here we find the 3GPP cellular ecosystem with operators offering worldwide network coverage and equipment providers with footprint across the globe. Licensed spectrum offers good quality of service, high reliability and low latency, and is suitable for critical or real-time control usecases.

Anyone can use unlicensed spectrum and this offers a quick route to market and cost advantages for infrastructure, devices and services which are all becoming widespread, with both private and public deployments across the world. Here we find LoRa and a several other technologies. Licensed and unlicensed spectrum both have their pros and cons and usecase requirements must govern which to select.

IoT Now: Among the wide range of unlicensed options, why are organisations choosing LoRa solutions?

RS: There has been a big uptake of LoRa solutions because other unlicensed technology alternatives are either immature, have small ecosystem and deployment footprint or unsuitable business proposition, and licensed technology alternatives such as cellular NB-IoT or LTE category M1 haven’t been widely available. Cellular options such as 3G and 4G were not really designed for low bandwidth and low energy consumption applications whereas LoRa would fit the requirements as well as offer an industry standard and a growing ecosystem of product and service providers.

There’s a massive diversity in use cases which means many different approaches are required. Consider the business case options; once you have bought your cellular devices you pay a recurring fee to an operator, whereas after your investment in unlicensed […]

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There’s a good case for Amazon to buy IFTTT: Data and a smarter platform

With the Amazon Echo Plus now available, Amazon finally has a hub of its own for the smart home. I’m still convinced the Echo Plus is really meant for folks that don’t already have a hub controlling devices in their house, mainly because Amazon opted not to include a Z-Wave radio in the hub. Folks who already have smart home hubs likely already have some Z-Wave products; my front door lock uses Z-Wave for example, as does the Go Control garage door sensor I recently purchased (stay tuned for the review on that).

Those of us with smart home hubs are also already likely familiar with IFTTT, the service that lets you easily create “recipes” for automating devices, communications and data. But folks who buy an Echo Plus as their first smart home hub probably haven’t heard of IFTTT. And that got me thinking: Perhaps Amazon buying IFTTT would be the perfect FIT, er…. fit.

Last I checked, much of IFTTT back end already runs on Amazon Web Services, so there wouldn’t be a large technical effort or change if such a deal were to happen. Here’s a diagram from the IFTTT engineering team back in 2015 illustrating all of the moving parts.

The thing is, Amazon today doesn’t get any of the data out of IFTTT’s AWS usage. At least not that I can tell from reading the AWS Data Privacy site, which says,”Customers maintain ownership of their customer content and select which AWS services process, store and host their customer content. We do not access or use customer content for any purpose other than as legally required and for maintaining the AWS services and providing them to our customers and their end users. We never use customer content or derive information from it for marketing or advertising.”

So any potential deal would provide Amazon ownership of the IFTTT data that’s flowing to connected devices, services, and notifications. That helps Amazon understand which “things” its customers are connecting.This could provide opportunities for Amazon to sell hardware or products that can assist with its customer’s home automation goals. Do we, as customers of IFTTT necessarily want that? Obviously, that’s debatable but for now I’m removing my “consumer” hat to think about this scenario.

And if I’m really doing that, I’m going to with a thought that the consumer me really doesn’t like, but here it goes: With a purchase of IFTTT, Amazon could make the service exclusive to its own devices. Again, that’s not something I’d want to hear as an IFTTT user but let’s think about it from Amazon’s standpoint.

This exclusivity could be the true third pillar of Amazon’s Echo plans as a platform, the first being Alexa Voice Services and the second being Alexa Skills. With a simple-for-the-masses tool to create unique automations, Amazon would have a powerful smart home ecosystem for both developers and everyday consumers. And that could be a huge advantage compared to Amazon’s rivals.

Would it be feasible for Amazon to purchase IFTTT from a financial standpoint? Absolutely. IFTTT has raised $ 33.8 million to date, and if the investors wanted a 10x return, as an example, it would only cost Amazon $ 338 million for the purchase. Amazon ended its last financial quarter with $ 12.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents, so the investment wouldn’t be held back by the balance sheet.

I’m betting someone buys IFTTT at some point, although the company could always go public before that happens. Regardless, Amazon would be well served to grab IFTTT before a competitor does, helping to keep building up on the momentum Amazon has in our smart homes.

 

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