Interview

Tracking the real-life IoT solution SensAround from concept to market

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SensAround smart travel app – part 1

Follow the footsteps of Vimalkumar Kumaresan and his team as they bring their IoT solution to market. The SensAround solution is a new concept in improving the everyday lives of commuters and travellers based on environmental pollutant data. We’re tracking the process of a new IoT app being brought to market by a team of researchers working on advanced degrees from Anna University in India.

Today we sat down with Vimalkumar Kumaresan, a Ph.D candidate.  Vimalkumar is currently working toward his Ph.D., after completing a B.E. in Computer Science and Engineering from Madras University, 2002. He has 8+ years of industrial and academic research experience, has worked in LG R&D Center, South Korea; Tata Elxsi, India, and other organizations.

Vimalkumar’s research experience spans Industrial Consultancy Sponsored Research at IIT Madras where he developed prototypes for Thales and CDAC, and was a visiting researcher at the University Of Trento, Italy, Vimalkumar has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants including ITPAR fellowship by DST in 2010-2012,  Microsoft Azure Research fellowship, 2015-2016, in addition to receiving funding towards his smart city project from research proposal fom IBM, DST-PURSE, and Analog Devices.

Vimalkumar is currently receiving the ACRF fellowship from Anna University which is issued to top research scholars. He is a student member of IEEE and ACM with published papers in top conferences. Vimalkumar’s areas of expertise include Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics, HPC and Internet of Things.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your current research project, describing the initiative and your team’s efforts to bring the solution to market?

The proposed SensAround project is a part of my Ph.D. research, working under the supervision of Dr.R.Baskaran (Associate Professor), Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, Anna University, on a small team of six people. In this capacity, my role includes the identification of research problems, setup of the experimental setting (test bed), writing research papers, designing overall and detailed architecture, implementing data pipeline (from setting On-premise OpenStack private cloud to the mobile app) , device level programming, as well as mentoring my team.

SensAround is an ingenious travel solution offering people better alternatives leading to an eco-friendly travel environment. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the major cause of death in India is due to some form of pollution (approx. 60%)[1]. Developing and developed countries like China are facing the similar problem. Hence, pollution plays major in smart city development. Current research show that up to 70 percent of commuting time is ‘buffer time’—the extra time between when the rider arrives at a stop or station and when the bus or train actually leaves[2].

In this context, the SensAround smart travel solution can improve safety, shorten a traveler’s journey, and help provide an optimal eco-friendly environment during the travel. Specifically, the SensAround solution can ensure a person’s journey is optimized to reduce the level of pollution exposure which can result in improving the health of travellers during their journey, and perhaps long afterwards.

The SensAround team is developing an IoT gateway with edge processing (analytics) capability. The primary objective of designing the gateway is to create a collaborative, participatory sensing platform, in order to provide a smart eco-friendly environment. The edge device can perform near real-time processing.

Question: Can you describe how your approach addresses the challenges going on in the travel and environment sector today?

The proposed approaches consider travel and environment as separate problems. These problems are highly inter-connected and have impact on the society, more specifically, on health. We believe that, if travel and environmental (pollution) factors are optimized, it can create smarter and eco-friendly planet which can eventually minimize the healthcare spending. In addition, we can provide better recommendations to users, for their well-being.

Question: Can you discuss how using technology and IoT together can help to alleviate some of the challenges in the travel and environment industry?

We can improve the quality of life of the common people by using analytics, cloud, and IoT. IoT plays a major role in converting the physical signal (data) to the human measurable quantity (or unit), from the deployed environment. The collected data from the IoT sensors can be pushed to the cloud for performing analytics at the global scale. Based on the insight, we can provide the better recommendation to optimize those problems.

Question: What role does IBM Watson IoT Platform play in potential solutions to address the travel and environmental industry challenges?

In our context, Watson IoT Platform plays an important role. We use weather data or predictions, and cognitive API’s to process the Twitter or unstructured data (natural language) to gain better insight which can improve our prediction accuracy. In addition, the boilerplate codes can increase the speed of our application development.

Question: How are the attributes of the IBM solution components used within SensAround?

The use of Cognitive APIs is one of the best features, where personalization and the processing of unstructured data- has become a piece of cake. Personality Insight is used for personalization based on the social media data. Tradeoff Analytics can be used to make a better recommendation from the multiple options. In addition, Natural Language Processing can provide value-added features to our solution.

Question: How can the combined solution – data, weather, Watson IoT – help developers build IoT apps? 

Yes, we use the weather information and prediction to develop our application. It provides a better value to our proposed solution.

Question: Can you tell us who the primary beneficiaries of the SensAround solution will be?

In our project, we propose a smart traffic eco-friendly solution, where we are optimizing the level of pollution exposed, buffer and commuting time. Our solution can recommend better strategy and the optimal time to travel based on their previous history. Our solution can be used to improve the travel experience of common people. It can also help government and policymakers – to plan for better traffic safety and road infrastructures and, mitigate the pollution level in the city.

Question: What inspired you to create the SensAround solution?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the major cause of death in India, is due to some form of pollution and its related effects (approx. 60%). Environmental pollution has huge impact on global warming (weather), food and life cycle. One survey from Delhi [3] says that kids in the school areas are exposed to 300% (or 3 times higher than max limit) of the pollution. The pollution data from Chennai US Consulate (Figure below), shows the unhealthy level of pollution for certain groups. The question is, who are they?, What happen if it exceeds the threshold ?, and how to help those groups of people?

Figure 1: Chennai pollution level

Figure 1: Chennai pollution level

Similarly, we used to commute by using motor-bike in India. As such, we have been exposed to lot of pollution which make our travel unpleasant. The future of any country depends on the younger generation. Based on our scenario, the pollution is a factor that has more impact on their life. Hence, these problems motivated us to develop this solution.

Question: How does SensAround address or solve real problems or challenges for your intended audience?

We create a participatory sensing platform as part of the application where people can contribute their data points – allowing a lot of data to be rolled up and aggregated, analysed, looked at for patterns which can lead to suggested courses of action.  The complete deployment of the infrastructure is expensive and it can take the time to deploy every part of the country. Hence, we go for the participatory sensing approach. In this approach, citizens play the major role in curbing those problems. Our solution provides awareness and better recommendations for their well-being.

Question: What are the tangible benefits for the constituents who would be interested in this solution – individual travellers, government, planners – can you elaborate?

The proposed solution can be used by travellers (common people). We can collect their data which can be used by the government for future city planning or extension. In addition, it helps government and people to mitigate the pollution. From a business stand point, our product can fall under B2C and B2G category. By using our solution, we can answer questions like

  • When to travel based on the personalized preference?
  • Prediction of traffic and pollution for next 5 years.
  • Quantified self – based on the level of pollution exposed.

Question: What’s unique about the SensAround solution that makes it interesting to the individuals using it?

You can profile yourself and sense our environment and optimize your life. You can find – What is the optimal time for our travel based on the personalized preferences?. More importantly, our cloud data platform can provide insights based on your profile data to provide personalized recommendations.

Question: Does the availability of this solution create new opportunity that a business person (what kind of contact), or developer or larger organization can now capitalise on, that wasn’t possible before? (new market opportunity, new way of doing something?)

Yes, it can create the new business model. Our solution can approach the traffic problem in an eco-friendly manner. In near future, pollution can play a major role in decision making. This research is progressing by considering this as one of the challenge.

Question: Who is really going to be interested in the solution(s) – and why?

Our solution can improve the traveling persons’ quality of life and experience. The Government and policymakers may get the better insight about the traffic Planning and Road safety. Business is around the Data in this juncture.

The reasons are:

  • Our solution assists them to live their life healthier and reduce the pain due to travel.
  • Our solution provides the secure and automated the traffic signalling based on the people counting. This enables us to create a better road safety and infrastructure.

Question: Why should a developer or technical manager care about this solution?

It is the community related project and this work is intended to bring upon a business model. In the 21st century, ‘Data = Oil’, it’s even more precious than oil, which can increase the life expectancy of the human being with minimal cost. Our solution can improve the quality of life.

Question: What is being done to help build these solutions more quickly, or make them more powerful and feature rich?

We are planning to integrate the sensors in a portable device. By using our participatory sensing platform, peoples’ can share their data points, to solve the common problem even in the remote and rural areas where the development may take years.

Question: Are these solutions scalable, affordable, secure, etc.?

Yes, our solution can be secure and scale well. We are yet to work on the pricing part. We believe the mass production can optimize the price. In first hand, people need the awareness about the problem.

Question: Any thoughts on what’s next for collaboration?

Once, the workable prototype and business model are ready. We are planning to approach investors to fund our startup. We are planning to showcase of product in government exhibition. In addition, our solution is selected as a finalist in the Anveshan-2016 IOT Competition, which is sponsored by Analog devices. All India IOT Competition enable our solution to reach the massive crowd through the media. During the event, we expect some investors may turn around.

Question: Will people be able to try your solution out before they buy it?

Yes, we can provide our solution to the developer before the initial product or solution is shipped to the market. They can validate our proposed solution. Please contact me if you would like to participate.

Question: Where can readers get more information about the solution?

We are working on some research problems. Once after successful completion of prototype and publishing the research papers, more details will be put-forth. Stay tuned for further resources and information.

Question: How can readers contact you with questions or input?

Yes, absolutely, I would like readers to contact us. We welcome business collaborations as well.
Twitter: @SensAroundU
Email: vimalkumar.kumaresan@gmail.com

Please stay tuned for an update to this story the SensAround solution.  We will be following along with Vimalkumar and his team, updating you with their progress, especially as they move closer to market.

If you are interested in sharing one of your projects or stories using Watson IoT Platform, don’t hesitate to complete the Tell your story form online. In the meantime, I encourage you to learn more about Watson IoT Platform.

If you’re ready for the next step on your IoT journey, consider registering for a complimentary 30 day test drive of Watson IoT Platform.  To help you along your path, there are hundreds of step-by-step recipes and tutorials available on the IBM developerWorks site.

You can explore cognitive capabilities using a variety of smart Watson Services , and find more Watson services in the Bluemix catalog. A complete list of Watson service and their details can be accessed on the Watson Developer Cloud portal.

End notes

[1]. World health Organization, “India: Who statistic profile”- http://www.who.int/en/

[2]. Mc Kinsey Company, “The internet of things:mapping the value beyond the hype,” MCKinsey Global Institute, 2015.

[3]. D. Pollution, “http://www.ndtv.com/delhi-news/even-indo or-air-in-delhi-is-risky-for-children-greenpeace-says-1250715” NDTV, 2015.

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