The technological advances inherent in the Internet of Things (IoT) are providing researchers, town planners, ecologists and scientists with new ways to not only prevent, but also solve, environmental problems — from toxic water supplies to reducing climate change in rural areas. Here are some of ways IoT is bringing sustainability:
#1. Reducing e-waste
The problem of e-waste is familiar to anyone with old devices. Once a device becomes obsolete or beyond repair, it invariably ends up in landfill, often in another country. While there have been schemes to refurnish phones and computers, the sheer scale of e-waste is a complex problem. Many sustainability experts have suggested that the tech industry should take some responsibility as the enablers of the problem in the first place, and through this process, the notion of the circular economy has grown. A circular economy is characterized as one that “is restorative and regenerative by design and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.”
Project Mainstream is global project targeting areas of sustainability thwarted by complexities such as e-waste, using a circular economy model. As connected devices are embedded with chips and sensors, they can be tracked throughout their life cycles. In the future, this means that consumers will be notified when older products can be repaired or refurbished. If a device is returned to the manufacturer – as an alternative to disposal – the sensors will signal which components can be repurposed or reused. One example, IBM is working to keep industrial products in continuous loops to maximize residual value and ensure that end-of-lease and client-owned IT equipment is refurbished, resold, disassembled or sold as parts, to be used for repair and maintenance work.
#2. Tracking endangered species
IoT technology has enabled scientists, conservationists and citizen scientists to track and quantify endangered species through an increased ability to collect, transmit, store and share data. In the Phillipines, dugongs are photographed by local fishermen then uploaded to a central database. The fishermen, many of whom are unable to read or write, are being trained to use the smartphones and are being provided with local charging facilities. The tracking enables conservationists to lobby for appropriate sea protections where dugongs are situated.
In Australia honey bees are fitted with tiny micro censors by the CSIRO to monitor bee movements. The research is being led by CSIRO and aims to improve honey bee pollination and productivity on farms, as well as help understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide. The sensors are tiny radio frequency identification sensors that work in a similar way to a vehicle’s e-tag, recording when the insect passes a particular checkpoint. The information is then sent remotely to a central location to help scientists increase their knowledge of bee migration. The censors have also been trialled in Brazil and are predicted to work well in remote locations, particularly when the sensors will be able to generate power from insect movement and store energy in batteries.
#3. Fighting deforestation
The use of drones to monitor deforestation is nothing new, but U.K.-based company BioCarbon Engineering is working to use drones in the fight against deforestation. In an effort to plant a billion trees a year, drones take detailed 3D images of the landscape to determine the nutrients, biodiversity and topology. This is followed by a precision planting pattern where the drone fires a biodegradable seed pod at each position, each containing nutrients for healthy tree growth. While the program is still in planning stages, it has potential to provide fast and accurate reforestation.
In many tropical countries, there’s a thriving black market for illegally cut timber. Earth Observation, a provider of forest and marine monitoring solutions, has developed an infrared and GPS-based system that creates a unique biometric record of individual trees that have been legally authorized for harvest and uses a smartphone app to transmit data to a tracking system. The system is designed to circumvent opportunities for bribes and falsification of data that allow the trade in illegally cut timber to flourish. Using proprietary algorithms, TreeTAG generates a one-time code that captures precise data on the potential maximum yield of each tree, as well as the species, time, date, and exact location where each tree is felled. If a tree is cut outside of a government-authorized logging concession, the system will not generate a “tag.”
#4. Monitoring the oceans
Where you start thinking about the internet in the ocean you know the possibilities of technology are getting very big. Catalina Sea Ranch is an America’s first off shore shellfish ranch. Besides fishing, they are also working on creating a wireless data capturing system for the ocean.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS) provided a NOMAD buoy that will be anchored at our ranch and equipped numerous marine embedded sensors at strategic positions in the horizontal and vertical water plane. The wireless sensor network will help generate continuous real-time data, which will be transmitted to the cloud for remote and independent analysis by research institutions and to offer insights for offshore aquaculture operations.”
In Italy, researchers at SUNRISE are also working to enable seas, lakes and rivers to be digital highways for data transfer from sensors, robots, and underwater vehicles capable of performing tasks too dangerous for humans. These include environmental monitoring – both shallow and deep water – as well as border control and protection of offshore critical infrastructures, de-mining, surveillance and protection of submerged archaeological sites. Efforts include an underwater communication system based on acoustic waves, which can travel tens of kilometres under water. It’s a long-term, complex and cross-collaborative protect that, if successful, will revolutionize our understanding of the ocean as we know it.
Autonomous cars are rife with benefits, but a new research study suggests that congestion and cars on the road will get higher, as we seed control to the computers.
More people will be allowed on the road as regulations are relaxed, allowing old, disabled, and youth to drive a car. That will not only lead to more cars on the road, but a reduction of car idleness in parking lots or garages, as everyone in the family can summon the autonomous car.
Accounting firm KPMG sees this as a potential congestion crisis, which could see miles driven in a year shoot up from 3.1 trillion currently to 8 trillion, if regulations allow people to drive a car without qualifications.
Most experts see three parts to the autonomous vehicle rollout: human-AI interaction in the next two to five years, fully autonomous travel with regulations in the next five to 10 years, and fully autonomous travel for any human in the next 10 to 20 years.
KPMG still sees autonomous vehicles as indispensable
“It will be indispensable to your life,” Gary Silberg, an auto industry expert at KPMG, said. “It will be all sorts of things we can’t even think of today.”
Automotive-as-a-service could be a potential new market for app developers, creating systems on top of the autonomous architecture. Instead of waiting three days for Amazon to deliver a package, you send your car to a fulfillment center to pick it up; don’t need your car for a few hours? Connect it to Uber and make money while at work.
We might even see a day where cars are public transport, the same as trains and buses, ordered on an app whenever you need one. We assume some people will keep a car on hand, just in-case the Uber app (or whatever future autonomous app is around) fails, but for students and people saving money that might be a viable option.
The Copenhagen data exchange is a technology platform that will make private and public data accessible in an effort to drive innovation in the city, improve citizens’ lives and boost the local economy. The initiative also supports Copenhagen’s push to become carbon neutral by 2025.
“Data is the fuel powering our digital world, but in most cities it is unused,” said Hans Lindeman, Senior Vice President, Hitachi Insight Group, EMEA. “With the City Data Exchange, Hitachi does all the heavy lifting: we are the connection between organizations holding the data and the people who urgently need them to help the citizens of Copenhagen.”
All of Copenhagen’s data in one place
The City Data Exchange stitches together a previously fragmented data landscape of information from private and public data providers into a one-stop-shop for data in the Copenhagen region.
“Smart Cities need smart insights, and that’s only possible if everybody has all the facts at their disposal,” said Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen. “The City Data Exchange makes that possible; it’s the solution that will help us all to create better public spaces and – for companies in Copenhagen – to offer better services and create jobs.”
Hitachi said that security and privacy are paramount in Copenhagen’s City Data Exchange, with the data format guidelines only permitting data that has been fully anonymized. This will allow propriety data, once it is stripped of its identifiable information, to become a business resource that can be monetized outside of the source company or organization.
Hitachi said the stringent security and privacy guidelines will enable many datasets to become accessible to the public for the first time.
The City Data Exchange will start off by offering customers raw data but will add analytical tools later this year. The business model for the data exchange will allow data processing and gathering costs to be recovered by subscription and service fees. Hitachi says the fees will likely be considerably lower than a company would pay to gather and integrate the data itself.
Wearables have the ability to improve health and give us insights into our mental state — all we need are the apps that can analyze and quantify the data.
Missouri startup Mindset, created by engineering students at Washington University of St. Louis, has launched an app aimed at stress management. It uses wearable data to indicate rising stress levels and a mobile app to for users to lower stress levels and give feedback.
Mindset alerts the user with a smartphone ping, if they see rising stress levels. The main indicator will be from an increase in heart rate and from there users tell the mobile app what is bothering them.
Mindset gives you chill options
Different types of meditation and exercises are provided on the app. A message board is available for users to update with positive vibes reports; we’re not sure if moderators will remove negative status updates.
The developers believe that controlling emotions at critical times is the best way to lower stress. The goal is not to remove all stress at once, an impossible task for some, but to lower the amount of time stressed.
Multiple studies have shown that a stressful environment could knock a few years off your life, so it is very important that we have apps like Mindset available.
And since the workplace is one huge source of our stress, Mindset may find a ready market in the enterprise sector.
A recent report by market intelligence firm Tractica says wearables will be a big deal with enterprise users in the near future, perhaps to the point of replacing your gym membership with a Fitbit streaming back to your HR department…which may stress you out even further.
iOS and Android users can pick up Mindset today for free, but it does require a wearable to work properly. On the startup’s website, it recommends three wearables from Mio, but we assume Fitbit and other wearables support the app.
“Connected consumer and business products have begun flooding the market, but security has been an afterthought. The world now has to figure out how to secure the multitude of things that have recently become connected,” said Lux Research Vice President, Mark Bünger.
Security for IoT systems is critical, especially in situations where an entire grid of devices could be turned offline. Security services are cropping up all across the globe to tackle the issues raised from IoT and a growing reliance on computers handling product management and logistics.
Most of the startups want to create a horizontal platform, capable of securing multiple IoT devices within a network. Behavioral analysis and IoT authentication are also high up there on the list of priorities for the security startups mentioned, to make environments safer for customers and companies.
Lux calls better cybersecurity “a necessity”
Lux Research notes that most of the security startups are headquartered in the United States, though a third are based in Israel. Over $800 million has been raised since 2000 for the 77 startups assessed in research and advisory firm’s report.
Better security is a necessity as we move toward a connected age, where our cars, homes, and money are all controlled by computers. The stakes are much higher, as hackers will be able to attack not just our PayPal and Facebook accounts but our cars and homes.
Analysts suspect on the hacker’s side that ransomware, a hacker’s favorite that invades your system and forces you to pay to take back control, might become more prevalent as hackers attempt to hack your electricity or smart car.
Researchers have developed a new solar powered battery, capable of changing its shape to fit various flexible forms.
The University of Illinois, Northwest University, and researchers in South Korea and China developed the battery. The team says the battery could transform the wearables market by lowering the space required for a battery, a big benefit for e-skin and e-clothes products.
“The components are electronically connected via flexible copper-polymer interconnects, mounted on a highly elastic silicone core, and enclosed within a silicone shell,” the team said. “The resulting system could stretch up to 30 percent without detectable loss in solar power generation.”
While we have heard of battery breakthroughs in the past that have led to nothing, this team seems confident that companies in the wearable market will look into the new flexible battery.
“The authors demonstrated the use of these systems for continual logging and wireless transmission of body temperature data in a variety of realistic scenarios, such as monitoring skin temperature during physical exercise and bathing, and measuring temperature changes during breathing.”
Battery to aid discreet health wearables the most?
Inconspicuous wearables could be a major benefit in the health market. Products like a smart t-shirt or trousers may provide more information on your health and fitness than a wearable only able to check your pulse.
The big step is making those wearables blend into normal clothes, something the e-clothes industry has been unable to do so far. The battery may also be a welcome addition to the e-skin market, with researchers recently creating a much longer lasting tattoo that changes color and can even track things like UV rays and heart-rate.
Autonomous car manufacturers might start to look at the United Kingdom as a viable alternative to Europe or the U.S., thanks to proposed new reforms on insurance legislation that now covering autonomous cars.
Announced in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament earlier today, the reforms allow autonomous cars to be tested and purchased in the U.K. When passed by Parliament, it will be the first legislation of its kind to cover an entire country.
We don’t think this means fully autonomous cars are purchasable, but autonomous features will be allowed inside U.K. cars. This means things like Tesla’s Model S autonomous lane switching or Ford’s self-parking should be available in the next few years.
Nissan, a major automotive supplier in the U.K., plans to add autonomous features to its Qashqai cars in 2017.
Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover are testing autonomous cars in the U.K. already, in project cities like London and Milton Keynes, and will now be able to test the cars across the country. Volvo has also chosen the U.K. as its headquarters for autonomous car development.
U.K. to be a self-driving hotspot?
We suspect other European-based automotive companies may look at the U.K., which is less restrictive than other European countries on autonomous cars. Take France, for example, only one automotive company is allowed to test cars in the country, the PSA Group.
Germany is another country behind the times with autonomous cars, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she’ll address the situation. Italy and Spain have also only had tests in the country; no meaningful legislation to legalize autonomous cars has been implemented in the countries.
It is not just autonomous cars where the U.K. is racing ahead, the country has been praised for its relaxed drone laws. The British government has invested millions into IoT and big data developments, in an effort to make the U.K. (and more specifically London) a tech center equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Getting into the smart home hardware business, today Google debuted Google Home, a voice-activated home automation system, at the firm’s annual developer’s conference, Google I/O 2016.
We’ve had a few teasers over the last few months and Recode previously reported that Google has been working on a portable speaker containing a built-in voice-activated assistant for the whole family in a prototype called “Chirp.”
Mario Queiroz, VP of product management, introduced Google Home, stating that it “lets you enjoy music and entertainment, manage every day tasks and Ask Google what you what to do, via a voice assistant.” It’s preceded by the firm’s Chromecast product, one that enables consumers to play music videos and movies from a small device to the big screen.
Home automation space getting crowded
Google home is also Wi-Fi speaker that streams music directly from the cloud for clear playback via verbal request or through Google. Consumers will be able to request music in specific rooms or request multi-room playback.
Queiroz unveiled a video displaying the possibilities of using Google Home for requests like checking for flight delays to rebooking restaurants to answering homework questions, demonstrating the growing reality that there’s no need for kids to talk to their parents ever again.
It’ll not only answer your queries and organize your life, Google Home promises to connect your other smart home devices: lights, thermostat, switches and – of course – Google’s own Nest devices, with Querioz predicting that in the future it will control things beyond the home, via the voice assistant function.
IoT developer Qiming Fang said Google Home looks familiar. “To be honest, from the demo, I don’t really see it as that different from (Amazon’s) Echo,” he said. “I think the developer community – and Google or Amazon’s ability to react quickly and revamp their APIs – will be the key to which product ends up taking off.”
He also noted that there was only a cursory mention of how Google Home will connect with products such as Nest:
“If Nest can detects something out of the ordinary, Google Home could potentially also be used as a warning system. Multiple devices cold also create a network of warning systems, like if one person’s kitchens lights on fire by accident, neighboring homes could be warned.”
This device will be a considerable competitor to Amazon’s Alexa, launched in 2015. Apple, Microsoft and Google all have voice-activated assistants, but up until now, they’ve been limited to mobile devices.
Google may be announcing the feature today to enable developers to start building apps and integrations for the platform before its physical launch. At any rate, it will be a key component of Google’s assistant ecosystem and evidence suggests there’s more to come.
With the proliferation of connected devices, comes the fear that our home and work environments will eventually become hopelessly entangled with endless power and data cables. Enter Energous, a maker of wire-free charging technology, which is moving into providing cordless juice for wearables and hearing aids.
The San Jose-based company announced that it is partnering with an unnamed “market-leading specialty battery company in the hearing devices and wearables market.” Energous says the deal will allow it to provide over-the-air contained power at a distance to mobile and IoT devices through its WattUp technology.
Energous President Stephen Rizzone said that the joint development and licensing agreement “represents our first foray into the rechargeable battery market which we believe holds great potential for Energous,”
He said that the deal with the medical devices company was made possible by Energous’ efforts to miniaturize its technology and to keep its price point low. He said the Miniature WattUp transmitter and the WattUp-enabled receiver are scheduled to ship either at the end of 2016 or early 2017.
The WattUp-enabled products will be able to access wire-free recharging at distance via stationary in-room transmitters as well as through small, portable WattUp transmitters.
Energous solution can power up multiple devices
Energous says that its technology’s advantage is that it delivers contained, useable power at a distance to multiple electronic devices. The wire-free charging replaces current charging systems that require users to plug devices into wired systems or to set them on top of a charging mat.
MedGadget recently reported that the worldwide medical wearables market is expected to increase from $2.73 billion in 2014 to $10.7 billion by 2023, amounting to a compound annual growth rate of 16.4% between 2015 and 2023.
More importantly Energous joins the ranks of connected devices that seek to capture a share of the huge global implantable medical devices market. Transparency Market Research found that the U.S. implantable medical devices market alone would grow from $25.2 billion in 2012 to $33.6 billion by 2019.
The mayor’s comments came after Pennsylvania’s governor Tom Wolf made a surprise pledge of $11 million in state funds toward implementation of Pittsburgh’s Smart City Challenge should the city win the competition.
Pittsburgh is currently in competition for the U.S. Department of Transport’s Smart Cities Challenge. The winning city will receive $50 million in funding from private and federal government sources for the introduction of new technologies that will improve mobility and transportation.
Peduto said the governor’s unexpected pledge follows earlier support by the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transport which assisted Pittsburgh in preparing its initial application for the Smart Cities Challenge.
“I think they saw this as a way to work to try and bring these kinds of opportunities to other cities throughout Pennsylvania,” Peduto said.
Pittsburgh to leverage public funds with private investors
He said that the $100 million smart city fund will include the $50 million from the Smart City Challenge, $11 million from the state as well as additional funding from corporate and foundation sources.
“The funding would support the city’s ambitious proposal to redesign its transportation and energy infrastructure,” said Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said of the $11 million state pledge. “The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has worked closely with the city regarding this proposal and has committed to provide additional state funding if the city’s proposal is successful.”
May 20 is the deadline for final application, and the government says it plans to announce the winning city at the end of June.