Digitalisation-not just for big business

When cellphones were first released in the mid-1980s, a handset would set you back $ 4000 (€3378.98) — the equivalent of almost $ 10,000 (€8447.45) today. Here, Markus Brettschneider, group senior vice president and general manager for global food & beverage applications for ABB, explains how smaller food manufacturers can take advantage of low-cost digital technology.

When the first cellphone was released in 1983, this breakthrough technology was reserved for high-ranking business people and the social elite. Yet, decreasing technological costs have led to cellphones becoming arguably the most common technology available today. In fact, the UN’s 2014 telecommunications figures revealed that there are almost as many cellphone subscriptions as there are people on Earth.

This is indicative of a technological trend known as quality-adjusted price, which ties closely into the concept of Moore’s law. As technology rapidly develops at a pace that leads to significant performance increases year on year, the cost of that technology decreases at a similar pace.

This presents an important opportunity for smaller businesses to take advantage of newer technologies that were previously only accessible to large companies. In the food production industry, for example, there has been a significant increase in the adoption of digital technologies and software among larger businesses.Yet, food manufacturing companies of all sizes can tap into the productivity and efficiency benefits offered by digitalisation.

Markus Brettschneider

The digital food plant

While equipment and robotics have been the key drivers of plant improvement in past decades, the rise of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) has placed greater importance on software and insight. In particular, many plant managers now use digital solutions to monitor the status of equipment to mitigate performance problems.

For example, most food processing plants will have automated at least one part of the production line with a conveyor system. As with any piece of equipment, parts of this system will gradually wear down from repeated use over time. For critical components such as the motor, this leads to a slow decline in performance and risks downtime due to breakage.

Plant managers must therefore undertake predictive maintenance to address any issues before they become problems. To do this effectively, plant managers must have accurate performance data from the conveyor’s low-voltage motors.

Rather than invest in new systems that feature IIoT functionality, businesses can install multi-function sensors to collect and analyse performance data.

For example, the ABB Ability Smart Sensor for motors allows engineers to digitalise food production plants with minimal expenditure. These sensors fit directly onto the motor’s frame and monitor key performance factors such as temperature and vibration. This data is transmitted to the cloud, where it is analysed and reports are generated for plant engineers.

What the data provides is new insight into the health of motors used in production, enabling a shift from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance. With a simple “stop light” system of green, yellow and red lights, fleet motor status is simple to assess.

Just as cellphones are no longer exclusive to the likes of CEOs of listed companies, digitalisation is not reserved for large food […]

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Taoglas 2018 Predictions

Size matters, today more than ever.

As IoT and other consumer devices such as wearables shrink to meet a “right sized” form factor for a variety of applications, the size of the components that go inside increasingly becoming an issue for device manufacturers. Without sacrificing performance and spectral efficiency, antennas for these devices need to see a big leap forward to help meet the demand of next-generation devices.

Laser Directed Structuring (LDS) technologies have started to make their way into wearable devices and consumer electronics. This technology allows antenna design to be molded or printed directly onto a 3D surface, thus virtually eliminating size requirements, in some cases, for antenna installation. We are starting to see leading wearable companies, and those looking to move into the wearable space, adopting LDS technologies to bring the type of unobtrusiveness and design aesthetic that has been historically limited by technical constraints, says Dermot O’Shea, Co-CEO of Taoglas.

5G quality will live or die by interference mitigation.

As mobile operators forge ahead with their 5G plans, the difference in their levels of service is going to come down to the quality of something no bigger than your fingertip. As the world goes increasingly connected—and connected over the same frequencies of spectrum—interference will grow as volume of devices grow. 5G antennas are powerful, but fickle in terms of being able to propagate a signal more than a few hundred feet, in the best of conditions.

Throw in buildings, vehicles and people, and the distance is shortened drastically, and the number of base stations needed to serve an area will need to grow. A lot of this real-time, high-accuracy promise gets washed away by poor antenna design. High-quality antennas are only half the battle—their oft-overlooked partners, high-quality filters, will better mitigate interference and differentiate carrier quality.

2G and 3G will finally die out

When it comes to IoT, at least. 2018 will be the year Cat-M1 gets to scale, with a series of deployments being announced by mobile operators worldwide. Verizon, for example, now won’t allow devices to connect to anything but LTE, so any new deployments have to be LTE-based.

Smart cities will mature in 2018.

Smart cities will continue to benefit from a host of technologies, including high-precision location accuracy, autonomous technology and IoT. As infrastructure becomes more connected, citizens will reap the rewards. Service calls will be made with high degrees of accuracy; lighting systems will aid safety efforts, parking systems will come of age.

The cities with the cutting-edge technology and infrastructure will attract both people and big businesses. It was the likes of Google, Amazon and Bill Gates creating a buzz in 2017, but we will continue to see big players and up-and-coming innovators join the Smart City bandwagon in 2018.

The author of this blog is Dermot O’Shea, Co-CEO, Taoglas

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Riot starts with a claim to industry’s lowest power NB-IoT and eMTC baseband chip

Internet of Things (IoT) newcomer, Riot Micro is claiming that a radical design approach applying BLE/Wi-Fi architecture has delivered a new cellular IoT solution with cost/power levels that are characteristic of short-range wireless systems. Here Peter Wong, CEO, tells  Jeremy Cowan how Riot has reinvented itself as an IoT chipset maker.

Semiconductor start-ups are rare things these days. But Vancouver, Canada-based Riot Micro has made its IoT market debut with what it claims is the industry’s lowest power baseband modem chip for cellular IoT.

The company began life a decade ago working on LTE IP technology to licence to the general market. Then three years ago, in search of faster growth Riot changed direction and brought in Peter Wong as CEO. “We retooled and refinanced,” he tells IoT Now, “grew to about 30 people, and developed a chip for cellular IoT, based on LTE NB1 and eMTC specifications.”

Peter Wong, Riot Micro’s CEO

“Why IoT?” we ask.

“Because that’s where the majority of growth was. If you look at other cellular technologies – you know Cat 3, 4 , 5, 6 – as you go higher and higher for the smartphones and tablets of the world it gets harder and harder for a start-up to compete realistically. The key differentiators are integration and powerful processors with Snapdragons etc., and going up against the Qualcomms of the world didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” says Wong.

“When the standards started to evolve for M2M (machine-to-machine communications) it looked like there could be a significant inflexion point where the requirements changed significantly and where processor technology was not the King of the Game. It was about optimising for more performance and lower power, and of course much, much lower cost.”

“Cost being a huge factor in services with low ARPUs (average revenues per user),” IoT Now suggests.

“Exactly. That drove why we formed the team that we did. LTE is a relatively sophisticated protocol and technology relative to other wireless technologies like BLE and WiFi. But when you break it right down and look at NB1 and eMTC we felt there was a ton of simplification you could do technically and implementatikon-wise and speed-wise. When you’re driving 200kbps or even 1Mb you can take certain design approaches that are extremely power-efficient and really help drive the cost down. The memory is an example. We optimised the LTE protocol stack so that it only does NB1 and MTC. We could minimise the amount of memory required. Our protocol stack operates entirely within the memory within our chip.”

So the Riot Micro RM1000 has been built using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi architecture techniques to deliver a cellular IoT solution with the low power and cost levels of short-range wireless systems. The RM1000 is now being offered to module manufacturers and OEMs designing narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and eMTC systems that can include automotive, asset management, home automation, industrial, point-of-sale, smart energy, and vending applications.

Asked who the company sees as its key rivals, Peter Wong tells IoT Now it would be […]

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Why energy control room operators should travel back in time: Substation control with the energy time machine

When Britain’s energy infrastructure was first established, no one could have anticipated the increased demand for power that the future would bring. To measure the performance of today’s energy supply, power distributors largely rely on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software to gather insights from each substation.

Substations generate a plethora of data, from information on energy effectiveness to the lifespan and performance of machinery inside the facility. However, the majority are unmanned. Therefore, when power supply companies identify an anomaly in data, they will send a maintenance engineer to export and analyse the information manually. However, without witnessing an error occurring in real-time, pinpointing the cause of a problem in a substation can be tedious and time-consuming, says Jürgen Resch, industry manager for energy at COPA-DATA.

Travelling back in time

Hiring an engineer to supervise the substation full-time is not a feasible option. As an alternative, energy distributors should invest in substation automation software with process recording capabilities. Process recording can serve as a time machine for maintenance engineers, allowing the software to automatically record every process that occurs in the substation. Maintenance engineers can then replay the processes at a future date.

COPA-DATA’s industrial automation software, zenon, includes a Process Recorder module designed for this purpose. The module can help engineers identify errors in data and provide diagnostics. As standard, the module continuously records all processes and saves the recordings automatically. The recorded data can then be played back in detail in zenon’s simulation mode — in a similar format to a standard media player.

In an ideal environment, process recording would be provided as standard with any SCADA or automation software used in substations. Using process recording, maintenance engineers can review every single process in the substation. Therefore, when attempting to identify an anomaly in data, engineers can use the recordings to isolate the exact moment the problem occurred.

Consider this: an energy supplier has spotted an irregularity in the data from one of its substations. Using zenon’s Process Recorder, an engineer can replay the process in which the irregularity occurred. Let’s say that the process recording software determined that the change in data coincided with a power surge in the substation. With this knowledge, the engineer can investigate the problem with a more informed approach.

Jürgen Resch

In this instance, the engineer can find the cause of the power surge. For example, a piece of operational machinery overheating would cause the cooling fan to kick in unexpectedly, creating a spike in power. Considering the ageing equipment in some substations, this wouldn’t be an unlikely occurrence. With this insight, the engineer can provide necessary maintenance to the equipment before the problem escalates, potentially preventing the machinery from failing completely in the future.

Since it was first established in the late 1800s, Britain’s energy network has endured rapid industrialisation and a colossal rise in the nation’s demands for power. The infrastructure may be ageing, but new technologies are available to ensure that the existing network can cope with new challenges.

Energy distributors have already invested in SCADA software to better […]

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Face authentication and the future of security

Apple’s iPhone X has given us a glimpse into the future of personal data security. By 2020 we’ll see billions of smart devices being used as mobile face authentication systems, albeit with varying degrees of security. The stuff of science fiction for years, face recognition will surpass other legacy biometric login solutions,such as fingerprint and iris scans, because of a new generation of AI-driven algorithms, says Kevin Alan Tussy, CEO of FaceTec.

The face recognition space had never received more attention than after the launch of Face ID, but with the internet now home to dozens of spoof videos fooling Face ID with twins, relatives and even olives for eyes, the expensive hardware solution has left many questioning if this is just another missed opportunity to replace passwords.

Face Recognition is a biometric method of identifying an authorised user by comparing the user’s face to the biometric data stored in the original enrolment. Once a positive match is made and the user’s liveness is confirmed the system grants account access.

A step up in security, Face Authentication (Identification + Liveness Detection), offers important and distinct security benefits: no PIN or password memorisation is required, there is no shared secret that can be stolen from a server, and the certainty the correct user is logging in is very high.

Apple’s embrace of Face ID has elevated face recognition into the public consciousness, and when compared to mobile fingerprint recognition, face recognition is far superior in terms of accuracy. According to Apple, their new face scanning technology is 20-times more secure than the fingerprint recognition currently used in the iPhone 8 (Touch ID) and Samsung S8. Using your face to unlock your phone is, of course, a great step forward, but is that all a face biometric can do? Not by a long shot.

While the goal of every new biometric has been to replace passwords, none have succeeded because most rely on special hardware that lacks liveness detection. Liveness detection, the key attribute of Authentication, verifies the correct user is actually present and alive at the time of login.

True 3D face authentication requires: identity verification plus depth sensing plus liveness detection. This means photos or videos cannot spoof the system, nor animated images like those created by CrazyTalk; and even 3D representations of a user like projections on foam heads, custom masks, and wax figures are rebuffed.

With the average price of a smartphone hovering around £150 (€170.58), expensive hardware-based solutions, no matter how good they get, won’t ever see widespread adoption. For a face authentication solution to be universally adopted it must be a 100% software solution that runs on the billions of devices with standard cameras that are already in use, and it must be be more secure than current legacy options (like fingerprint and 2D face).

A software solution like ZoOm from FaceTec can be quickly and easily integrated into nearly any app on just about any existing smart device. ZoOm can be deployed to millions of mobile users literally overnight, and provides […]

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