How Digital Twins foster innovation in IoT-enabled environments

Dynamic digital representations, or Digital Twins, are rapidly changing the way industries design, build and operate their products and processes. Gartner predicts, “by 2021, half of large industrial companies will use Digital Twins, resulting in those organizations gaining a 10 percent improvement in effectiveness.”

Powered by the Cloud, IoT, and AI, Digital Twins enrich complex systems like cars, wind turbines and buildings across their entire life cycles. A Digital Twin combines design, production and operational data. It allows assets to be tested before, during and after production, and across a wide range of environments.

IBM Research – Ireland is developing different Digital Twin technologies. These include:

  • A virtual platform for testing of complex IoT systems with live and simulated data.
  • Forming a knowledge graph for IoT that combines reasoning with machine learning to allow the system to autonomously analyze and understand life cycle data.

Utilizing a virtual testing platform for IoT systems

In order to test complex IoT Systems, our researchers are using a virtual platform. This allows designers and developers of transportation services to investigate large-scale connected car services. They achieve this by merging simulations of large-scale automotive IoT deployments with proof-of-concept capabilities provided from real world vehicles. This platform is helping automotive partners design their services at scale while accelerating time to market.

The platform also allows drivers of actual vehicles to experience a large-scale connected scenario first hand. This combination of simulated and real-world data generates valuable insights. These insights are critical to user-centric development, resulting in reliable systems that are ready for the market. By embedding the data from actual vehicles into the digital environment, we can test the effects of assisted and autonomous driving in large-scale traffic simulations, in real time.

For example …

In collaboration with University College Dublin (UCD), we are using our virtual testing platform to evaluate a number of new mobility concepts. For example, we are testing a new car sharing mobility service that dynamically adapts to user preferences. This then allows a group of users to meet based on changeable traffic conditions and their variable pick-up time arrangements.

We are also investigating using IoT services to maximize air quality intake for pedestrians and cyclists by reducing their exposure to pollution. Imagine an electric bike using IoT devices, such as mobile phones and sensors. These IoT devices detect and automatically assist the cyclists when traveling through areas of high pollution. In those areas, the engine of the e-bike would be automatically triggered into operation. When that happens, it reduces the cyclist’s pedaling effort, resulting in a lower breathing rate and lower pollution intake. The virtual testing platform can also be used to connect to the e-bike and monitor how the cyclist would actually react to this new service, investigating the interactions between the cyclist and the bike.

Another service solution we are evaluating would reduce a pedestrian’s exposure to car exhaust pollution. How? The AI controls of a hybrid car to automatically switch between combustion and electric mode when the vehicle is in close proximity to pedestrians and cyclists.

These examples illustrate how a virtual testing platform can help accelerate the development of new services. At the same time, it also helps the transportation industry respond to the ever-increasing demands for environmental accountability.

Automating Insights with a knowledge graph for IoT

At IBM Research – Ireland, we are developing AI technologies to connect and understand IoT data in new ways. We’re combining machine learning with knowledge graph reasoning to enhance data being extracted from an IoT network. And we’re also adding layers of semantic meaning to create new insights within the network. This technology is the Digital Thread at the core of each Digital Twin. It connects information along the lifecycle stages into a knowledge graph. This graph then enables new informed decisions and automation of processes.

By using a knowledge graph, we are able to organize data and its variables being extracted into groups and establish the relationships between the data sets and their variables. The knowledge graph provides a shared vocabulary of information that can be used to create a model of a domain, the types of data within it, their properties and the relationships between the data–and we are using natural language to do all of this.

As a result, our AI solution understands the meaning and the relationships between the different types of data within a network or system. This gives our research teams new ways to derive innovative insights from an IoT system and present them as new knowledge and information to end users.

Self-diagnosing problems

For example, take an IoT temperature sensor in a building. The temperature sensor has data readings, the type of data that it is recording and its location. Our AI system understands general concepts of physics and how temperature is influenced by heating or cooling, such as environmental factors, heat system controls and so on. This allows our system to form a knowledge graph to understand the temperature settings within the building and the multiple factors that impact the temperature within its operating environment. This allows for the self-diagnosis of problems within the system while enabling it to learn and understand this relationship over time. It is also scalable and works across industries such as retail and automotive.

Our virtual testing platform and knowledge graph for IoT demonstrate the value of Digital Twin. We’re enabling industries to create better informed designs, optimize production, and manage efficient operation. The virtual testing platform can simulate these large-scale environments and networks while providing a way to perform controlled user-acceptance tests.

This combination of simulated and real-world data generates valuable insights that are critical to systems development. Our knowledge graph for IoT is a scalable solution that enables IoT to learn system behaviors, to understand management operations and to self­-diagnose problems. And all while making human­-machine interaction more natural and intuitive.

We will demonstrate the knowledge graph for IoT at the IEEE flagship IoT conference World Forum IoT, February 5-8th in Singapore.  A prototype of the virtual testing platform will be shown at the ENABLE-S3 consortium General Assembly, Review and Marketplace event. This is scheduled at our Research lab in Dublin on July 4, 2018.

For deeper research on Digital Twins and related topics, see:

Joern Ploennigs, Amadou Ba, Michael Barry, Materializing the Promises of Cognitive IoT: How Cognitive Buildings are Shaping the Way,  IEEE Internet of Things Journal, 2017

Wynita Griggs, Giovanni Russo, Robert Shorten, “Leader and Leaderless Multi-Layer Consensus With State Obfuscation: An Application to Distributed Speed Advisory Systems”,  IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, 2017

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How IoT-equipped offices foster better employee wellbeing

Benjamin Franklin once said an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. The wisdom of that axiom still holds today at a time when new technologies have brought us to the brink of fundamental changes in how we lead our daily lives, which can be combined with lasting truths to improve our lives.

The real estate and facility management industry is now implementing Industry 4.0 principles that can improve the health and wellbeing of workers in various facilities. Using elements that utilise the Internet of Things (IoT), new building management and security systems analyse enormous amounts of data and allow us to monitor and control our homes and offices in ways never before possible, allowing us to be healthier, happier, and more productive.

There is a strong link between better physical and psychological health and better performance and communication in the workplace, according to research by Business in the Community (BITC) and Ipsos Mori. Improving employee well-being thus needs to become a strategic directive within firms to foster better results. Smart buildings equipped with IoT-enabled sensors enable maintaining ideal working conditions within buildings while also providing corporate stakeholders with hard data that will help them make decisions about facility management, HR, IT, and marketing.

Over the next decade, employee wellness programs will grow in their importance and scope, according to a report by Cushman & Wakefield. Measurement of personal health data is becoming more commonplace with the increase in popularity of devices like the Fitbit and Apple Watch. Aggregation and analysis of this data could help predict sick leaves and manage human resources.

Some of those ideas are already being put into practice. Investment firm British Land refurbished its London HQ with sensors to monitor humidity, lighting, noise, pressure, temperature and volatile organic compounds. The data collected can help the fund’s managers analyse how the office environment affects staff turnover, discomfort, medical costs, and sick days.

An excellent example of how IoT elements can discover new sources of productivity and create a better environment comes from research performed by MIT computer scientist Sandy Pentland. He equipped call centre operators with smart badges that measured more than 100 data points up to and including face-to-face interactions and tone of voice.

The team discovered that a simple adjustment to daily routine could have a profound effect on business. If the operators had lunch together instead of their regular staggered pattern, there was an 18% increase in employee communication, a 19% drop in stress as measured by tone of voice, and the call completion metric surged a whopping 23%. Hitachi is one firm that knows the value of this kind of data and implemented smart badges a few years ago.

Furthermore, Deloitte said 40% of employees spend up to 30 minutes each working day searching for things, places, or people. An internal IoT-enabled building navigations system, like the solution made by Spaceti, can reduce those losses and keep people focused on their jobs.

IoT can also slash operating costs significantly. UPS implemented sensors that monitor speed, braking, and other aspects of driving and delivery. With the addition of planning software that optimizes routes and helps eliminate idling, left turns, and calls for maintenance only when necessary. The results were astounding: in one year UPS cut idling time by 15.4 million minutes, delivery routes were 1.7 million miles shorter, and nearly 200,000 gallons of fuel were conserved.

Cushman & Wakefield’s report cited research saying well-ventilated offices can double cognitive abilities, while environments with substandard ventilation have the opposite effect, among other negative aspects. Access to light and windows helps employee sleep cycles, their mood, and lower blood pressure, while a lack of natural light is associated with negative moods and feelings. All of these influences can be easily monitored and adjusted with the use of an IoT building management solution.

Naturally, the collection of all this data sparks concerns about data protection and security. Organizations and administrators needs to implement steps to anonymise and aggregate the data. Employees, as the greatest security risk in any organisation, need to be adequately trained and educated about the importance of data protection and how to avoid data breaches.

Despite concerns about security, the use of IoT in facility management is poised for significant growth. Navigant Research estimated the worldwide smart building market will exceed the $ 22 billion mark by 2026, up from an estimated $ 6.3 billion this year. That type of growth will be compounded by spending on the wellbeing industry, which grew 10.6% in 2013-2015 and research firm Technavio predicts global spending on health and wellness will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6% until 2020.

The trend here is clear. IoT-equipped smart buildings will not only improve the lives of the people that live and work inside, but will also cut operating and facility management costs. This revolution in how we live and work is set to coincide with larger technological trends that are shaping and will transform the world we inhabit in just a few short years. Latest from the homepage

How The Internet Of Things Can Foster Social Collaboration And Knowledge Sharing In Professional Services Firms

The professional services sector’s key assets are expertise and knowledge, typically delivered by highly skilled professionals and, to some extent, by algorithms or knowledge-based systems. The Internet of Things (IoT), which consists of invisible sensors that interact seamlessly, is not traditionally associated with professional services, apart from the managed-services sector where sensors are used to monitor facilities management such as cleaning, heating, and lighting. However, we are seeing an emerging trend to promote collaboration and expertise sharing in the digital workplace among professionals, using a combination of IoT-based technology, mobile technology, and Big Data.

The dynamics of the workplace are changing fast, with digital technologies enabling remote work, talent networks, greater collaboration, and mobility. Companies providing high levels of expertise, such as consultancies, audit, and legal firms, are rethinking workplace dynamics and, in some cases, promoting social collaboration and knowledge sharing by introducing IoT-based and Big Data technologies into their workplaces.

One example is Deloitte in the United States, which uses an award-winning internal application to offer services to consultants when they are in the office, such as hoteling or workspace reservations, highlighting proximity to customers, connecting consultants with other team members, and providing travel concierge services. Consultants receive push notifications on mobile devices and can be alerted, along with a precise location, when someone they want to interact with arrives at the office or if other colleagues are at the airport.

The application can recommend a coffee shop to them on their itinerary and also send push alerts in real-time in response to external events such as a change in weather or traffic conditions. A user profile is built up over time, based on preferences and a history of interactions, to enable predictive capabilities and more personalized recommendations for the next visit to the office.

The company benefits from greater productivity, optimal use of space, and optimal utilization of consultants’ time and expertise.

biometric badgeWe are also seeing the emergence of a field called People Analytics, embodied by an offshoot of MIT Media Labs, Humanyze, which has devised a sociometric badge. The badge incorporates sensors that can be used to track an employee’s social interactions within an organization. This badge is somewhat more intrusive than the hoteling app mentioned above, as it is the size of a smartphone and is worn on a lanyard by the employee at the workplace. Of course, employees have to opt-in to wear the badge, which raises data-privacy questions, but using aggregated and anonymized data will help allay fears of Big Brother-style tracking.

Sociometric badge

Deloitte in Canada was redesigning its St. John’s, Newfoundland, office in 2015 and brought in Humanyze to analyze whether the new office layout was accomplishing its goals. The sociometric badge tracks movements around the office and social interactions through a microphone. The microphone does not record conversations, but tracks how much the employee is speaking and how much they are listening. By comparing activities before and after the office redesign, the company was able to detect popular common areas and lesser used areas, useful insights for future office redesigns.

The IoT delivers value through the insights it gives us into potential business outcomes. By analyzing employee interactions and behavior through IoT and Big Data technology, companies can derive insights to help them operate more efficiently. By fostering social collaboration and maximizing proximity in an increasingly unaggregated world, professional services companies can also improve employee engagement and retention of their most valuable assets.

Learn more about Live Business: The Importance of the Internet of Things.

Internet of Things – Digitalist Magazine