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Where’s my stuff? How location and IoT play well together

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Ever wondered how to track small, high-value devices where there might be varying strengths of Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell tower signal?

At its heart, the core value from IoT stems from data. A lot of people refer to data as the new gold but the reality is it’s the new oil. When oil comes out of the ground it has intrinsic value, yet it’s not much use to anyone in its raw form. The true value of data, like petrol and diesel, can only be realized after being refined. The data from IoT sensors is very raw – possibly consisting of a temperature, location, or pressure reading; and, because this raw data can come from many different sources, the key differentiator for IoT is the ability to aggregate data stemming from different places using analytics capabilities. IoT data insights developed by Watson IoT Platform allow organizations to tap into knowledge they’ve never had access to before – an incredibly powerful capability. Once refined, the data can come together to be fed into applications and solutions, turned into insight, and applied as knowledge that among other things can help to grow or expand a business.

Data can be derived from any number of IoT devices such as sensors and actuators. The data may come in any manner of shape and form ranging from temperature, pressure, motion, and distance. Typically sensors connect through a gateway because they cannot communicate directly over the internet. Getting the connector to communicate over the wide area network or the internet requires connecting in an open interoperable, scalable and secure manner. On the web, when people talk through services they are using a single protocol, HTTP – which is open and interoperable. In the same way, IoT devices need to be connected in an open, a scalable manner, where everything is interoperable and secure.

The advent of a new generation of billions of sensors being deployed and retrofitted to existing systems, some of which could be 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years old, has given organizations the ability to access and collect data derived from multiple, often siloed systems. For example, a facilities management system might include sensors for managing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. In parallel, the assets in the building are connected to an asset management system. Historically the two systems were only linked indirectly through individuals who used the phone (another system) to raise a problem, or, to manually type in a meter reading. Watson IoT Platform makes it possible to bridge disparate systems, enabling not only the integration and aggregation of different data sources from each system, but also allowing the inclusion of new data sources, such as weather and location to be added to the mix.

How IoT and location fit together

IoT is important from two perspectives. From the point of view of technology, IoT is a fantastic driver of innovation; on the business side IoT is an enabler for business transformation and business disruption. An IoT solution can help organizations to improve their existing business. In fact, location data combined with timestamps gives organizations the capability to know when and where something is, or where it was; It also enables trend mapping which can be used to optimize processes.

Depending on the type of business or operating model, business optimization can be achieved through streamlining costs, improving efficiency, increasing yield, ensuring or improving quality, reducing cycle times, etc.

IoT in general is a huge creator of data, and has created many opportunities for big data analysis. Location is a key element in a comprehensive IoT solution, one that can enable companies to both increase revenue and decrease costs. Adding location data as another data point for input into data analysis enables an organization to derive valuable insights which can lead to more informed decision making. For example, including variables such as traffic patterns and usage density can be very important to decisions ranging from city planning, to placement of a new store location, to where a company’s next manufacturing plant might be located. There are many good examples where using location services can help achieve results:

  • Optimizing routes – reducing time wasted via traffic or inefficient dispatch.
  • Providing status or feedback when a machine is down- identify what the problem is?
  • Reducing theft and loss by being able to track assets accurately, and receive alerts if they venture from a known area or route.
  • Enhancing customer loyalty and engagement through preemptive service calls and quick response to issues.
  • Validating contractual obligations – using blockchains with location to validate where a ‘thing’ is, where it was, or when it got to, or, if it was left at certain location.

A simple way to understand how location can affect a business

A commercial waste collection company collects bins every day from any number of industrial units or commercial properties. The traditional system of collection is based on a rotation where sites A, B, C are visited on a Monday; Tuesday, the route includes sites D, E and F. Regardless of whether the bins are full and overflowing or whether they’re empty, the site visits occur.

But, what happens if the same site visits could be correlated to the level of waste in the bin? If the level of the waste in the bins is known at the end or beginning of every day, a planner can optimize the route for its waste trucks. If an organization can make sure its valuable assets– in this case the collection vehicles– are used optimally, it becomes more efficient by saving time, fuel, labor, and wear and tear on its fleet of vehicles. Instead of wasted trips collecting half full, or empty bins, the application of IoT technology enables a route planner to dynamically optimize routes, collecting only the bins that will be full by end of day. More importantly, using route optimization frees up previously wasted capacity, increasing the organization’s bandwidth to service more accounts in the same amount of item. All this is achieved without compromising the quality of service, and without incurring any additional costs associated with bringing in new manpower, or purchasing more vehicles. The company is able to expand its business without incremental cost simply by making better use of its available assets and capacity.

Common use cases where location and IoT can be applied

A common use case for location in the IoT space is tracking and tracing industrial tools and expensive equipment often located on larger sites. For an organization with an extensive warehouse that extends for miles containing expensive pieces of equipment, it is very inefficient if a piece of machinery or a tool cannot be located quickly when needed. Using a combination of indoor location technology and Watson IoT these assets can be easily tracked.

Supply chain and logistics is another use case where understanding the location of assets at any time is central to preventing theft, misplacement or malfunction. Product intelligence allows an organization to increase efficiencies and track assets or items on their journey from plant to store to final location. Using location tracking provides a much better understanding of where products end up, particularly when dealing with distribution networks where the producer of a product is not selling directly to the end user. Being able to track location close to sale helps organizations have a clearer picture of exactly who their end of the line customer really is.

A deeper dive into the asset management use case

Managing costs while improving efficiency are key imperatives for any organization – especially health-care facilities. Reducing critical operating costs, logging operational hours of high-value machinery, increasing the use of an asset, and minimizing unplanned downtime can go a long way to reducing costs and improving operational efficiency. When combined with preventative and predictive maintenance initiatives, further strides can be made towards increasing expensive hospital equipment return on investment.

Preventative maintenance is an area well-suited to the application of IoT capabilities because it is critical that high-value, or high-demand assets are functioning optimally, and available without unplanned disruption due to break-downs. Sensors placed on valuable, high-demand equipment can provide insight into asset use, location, status, and maintenance. For example, a large medical campus or facility might have several dialysis machines which are in constant use. By installing sensors on dialysis machines, a hospital can monitor the health of the machine and know when maintenance is due. In addition, an organization can switch from time-based maintenance (where maintenance is schedule and performed whether it’s needed or not), to condition based maintenance, where care is provided when it is needed. This way, machinery is maintained when it is required, saving time and resources

Using the same scenario, a hospital also needs to know where each dialysis machine is at any given moment – for both patient use, and, technician service. If a technician is dispatched to fix the machine or a member of staff is dispatched to use the machine with patients, locating that machine quickly is essential to ensuring the machine can serve more patients in a shorter period of time. Maximizing the use of an expensive piece of equipment such as a dialysis or MRI machine is not only good for the health of patients, it also improves the efficiency of the hospital.

Applying hybrid locations in IoT opens up new realms of opportunity

How is it possible to track small, high-value devices where there might be varying strengths of Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell tower signal? There are many reasons why tracking device location is difficult: devices are getting smaller, using lower amounts of memory, have tiny batteries, and offer little data bandwidth for transmitting back and forth. With literally millions of devices available, controlling the cost per unit is an important factor. Typically, from a battery power perspective, relying on GPS can be expensive to deliver location in a small connected device. Lastly, there are many places on earth where traditional location tracking technologies such as GPS can’t reach or reach accurately (urban canyons, high rises, etc.).

Skyhook Wireless is a mobile location services company specializing in location positioning, context and intelligence. In 2003, Skyhook pre-empted the mass adoption and proliferation of mobile technology that could be used in any device, large or small. Initially collecting the locations of billions of Wi-Fi access points worldwide, Skyhook developed an innovative way to obtain location using Wi-Fi signals which are faster, more precise and battery-friendly than GPS and cell-towers alone. This capability is important especially in locations like urban canyons, high rises, and campus where Wi-Fi is becoming ubiquitous because Skyhook doesn’t require authentication to Wi-Fi devices, it determines location based on the Wi-Fi signal.

Making location faster, more precise and practical

Although there are different services available that can deliver a location coordinate, a latitude and a longitude onto a device whether it be a smartphone or something else, Wi-Fi solutions need to work in many different scenarios. On the one hand, a location needs to be fixed- even when nowhere near any major infrastructure; likewise, they’re expected to work in urban environments among urban canyons created by tall buildings, narrow streets and alleys.

Whether its industrial equipment, commercial vehicles, hazardous waste, perishable medical supplies– such as vaccinations, blood or organ donations, vital healthcare equipment, luxury items scheduled for delivery, or financial documents being transferred from institutions or private investors (stock certificates), precise location data is essential. In any of these instances, using the role of location and IoT to track assets indoors or outdoors, through large facilities or campus-like environments, using a combination of Wi-Fi, GPS and cell tower locations (fundamentally triangulation with a twist) provides organizations with the practical ability to use the right signal at the right time to get the most efficient and accurate location for a device.

Boasting customers such as Apple, Samsung, Sony and MapQuest, Skyhook’s global network powers billions of location requests in all the places as they happen. For example, Skyhook’s Context Accelerator radically simplifies harnessing the full power of a user’s location data to deliver frictionless, vital mobile experiences or the most relevant content. Context Accelerator is highly respectful of privacy and fits easily into almost any development stack.

Learn more about using location and IoT solutions

Here are two ways you can learn more about Skyhook location innovation:

  • Webinar: Please join Skyhook and IBM to learn how Watson IoT Platform and Skyhook solutions are being used to track small, high-value, low-power ‘things’ everywhere. ​In this webinar session, hear how Skyhook solutions use Watson IoT Platform to enable the tracking of high-value assets using indoor location, geofencing and asset management for high value equipment. Topics covered will include using location awareness to increase efficiency and reduce loss due to theft, misplacement, or malfunction; determining where devices go after they leave the manufacturing plant; tracking from plant to store to final location; and deriving insights about traffic patterns and usage density. Register now.
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