With 2020 in our rear-view mirror, we look ahead to 2021 in hopes that the new normal is a road far less uncharted than our last 12 months. In fact, we hope that the unknowns ahead will be positive in nature both for our families and work life. For most of us, advancements in cell phones, the internet, and technology remained positive and, in general, continued to surge. Thus, the new “buzz word” for 2020 in the cellular and Internet of Things (IoT) world was 5G. This evolution from 4G LTE shouldn’t be a surprise, given that we have been in the world of cellular evolution since the first-generation analog cell phone technology arrived in the mid-’80s. About every 10 years, another generation or “G” of cellular technology emerges. People have come to expect it. What isn’t known or expected is what that new technology brings and what it means to both the industry and the population.
Of course, many of the benefits of new technology can only be realized once paired with new applications and use cases. Thus, you may look at 5G connectivity and say, “it’s faster, so what?” But it’s much more than that; in fact, consumer handset data speed is only the tip of the iceberg. What lies below is an amazing array of complex network elements designed to produce connectivity as no one has ever seen before.
URLLC and mMTC
Two additional groundbreaking technology advancements have emerged from 5G connectivity that will complement the speed and provide the ability to launch applications and use cases that were not previously possible. These are Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). In fact, going back to May 2019, Forbes magazine published a 5G article titled, “Why 5G isn’t just faster 4G.” In it, Simon Rockman, former contributor of Forbes Consumer Tech, discusses these three primary factors that will push 5G beyond anything we have seen. To fully grasp these concepts, there needs to be a basic understanding of what’s going on in the background. It gets technical; however, the real-world examples are not.
Yes, 5G connectivity is faster. It’s much faster. It is called eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband or extreme Mobile Broadband). This is the result of very advanced engineering revolving around three intertwined components: antennas, base station radios, and software.
By incorporating a vast number of grouped antennas within a device (and the corresponding base station), one can create multiple data stream paths that are then combined to form super-highways of information. This is referred to as massive MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) and sets the stage for very high throughput. Before the MIMO technology, if a device received more than one signal from a tower, it was considered interference, would have the opposite effect (referred to as multipath propagation), and would severely decrease data throughput. By incorporating advanced antenna technology and highly computational signal processing, what was once considered “radio noise” is now used as an accelerator to give us 5G speeds.
These massive MIMO antenna groups are coupled with advanced radio technologies such as spectrum sharing, unlicensed Wi-Fi assist, and specialized channel coding software to give eMBB what users need to satisfy the demands of streaming HD/4K video, mobile Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, and high volume IoT data streams for industry verticals such as telemedicine. Interestingly enough, the components that contribute to the potential 50-100X speeds of 4G LTE also have a heavy effect on something else: latency.
To visualize what latency is, we need to understand how it relates to speed. If we think of speed as to how fast a car travels, latency is the “0-60”. It represents how long it takes for bits and bytes to arrive or the delay. Reducing the delay (lowering latency) allows new applications and technologies to emerge that were never before possible. For instance, an autonomous car can sense its environment and operate without human involvement. For that car to safely travel on the street alongside other vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic lights, there exists the need to interact with the environment around it. This requires them to be connected in some way, such as with a cellular network.
Until 5G connectivity came along with its extremely low latency, there was just too much delay in the cellular networks for those vehicles to react fast enough to create a safe environment. Any delay in this interaction can cause devastating effects. With 5G, low latency plays a major role in the ability for vehicles to quickly communicate to anything around it and safely provide the appropriate response. This is referred to as “Vehicle to Everything” (V2X) communications and will play a huge part in not only self-driving cars but transport trucks, rail/ship/air transport, or any machine that operates within the environment of others.
The University of Bristol organized a great demonstration of the low latency properties of 5G. Titled “Orchestrating the Orchestra,” Violinist Anneka Sutcliffe plays in Bristol, Professor Mischa Dohler at a piano in The Guildhall, London, and vocalist Noa Dohler and Violinist Rita Fernandes at Digital Catapult in Euston London performed from their remote locations over a 5G network. Synchronizing musicians over a mobile cellular link are exceptionally demanding, as the human ear is very good at picking up even the slightest delay. And yet, when they rehearsed the piece, the two violins sounded as one. The audience’s experience was the same as if the musicians were performing in the same venue.
The last, but certainly not least, of the three groundbreaking 5G advancements is the focus on the massive scale at which machines are being connected to the Internet. The capability for a 5G network to connect to millions of IoT devices within a small, focused area is called massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). The 5G specification calls out an mMTC requirement of 1 million connections per square km. This capability far exceeds the capacity of 4G and will allow the operation, monitoring, and control of many types of small sensor devices in large quantities.
A great example is the auto industry connecting their assembly robots and the many sensors they contain to a central “Condition Monitoring” software within the plant. Condition monitoring refers to the supervision of those robots and the condition of their inner workings (the state of the factory) to prevent unplanned defects. Recording condition characteristics along the production process enable continuous quality control of the products. Hundreds of wireless sensor nodes (e., g. cameras, sound detection, proximity sensors, temperature sensors) embedded in these machines are connected wirelessly through a 5G network. Without this wireless network, these machines would be subject to a wired network connection and restricted where they can be placed on the factory floor. This means the production setup can easily be changed and units moved around daily to maximize factory efficiency.
In summary, the obvious win for 5G connectivity and easiest to showcase is the incredible download speeds. But as we delve deeper, we see that there is so much more to this evolution. In fact, industry players that leverage the 5G wireless networks are just now realizing the vast, wide (and some yet undiscovered) opportunities that abound when you combine speed, reliability, and scale to a degree never seen before.
Can Smart Utility Infrastructure Be Safe?
The advent of new systems used to monitor and direct on-demand services via “smart” infrastructure has created a new level of convenience and reliability for both the providers and consumers of utilities. But while we’re in the middle of slapping automation into everything we use, has anyone asked whether this is a good idea at present?
Looking at the Vulnerabilities
On the surface, it almost always looks like a great idea to introduce software into systems that deliver services like water, electricity and gas to households. This is why we do it. Currently, there’s a worldwide movement to accelerate the provision of smart electric meters, water treatment automation suites, and several other innovations that help ease the burden of moving these things down the supply chain.
It makes sense and there appears to be no downside, but the writing is already on the wall that systems like these can be far more fragile than they seem.
Nothing illustrates this point better than an intrusion that happened in Oldsmar, Florida, on the 9th of February, 2021. A hacker breached the water treatment facility servicing this town of 15,000 residents and attempted to command the software to raise the level of sodium hydroxide (lye) in the outgoing water main to over 100 times the safe amount.
The only thing that stopped this incident from becoming a catastrophe with mass casualties was the fact that an operator was present the minute the breach was occurring.
The hacker was helped by the incompetence of the staff who used a TeamViewer password that was shared by everyone at the facility. This system in particular was straightforward, but what happens when we introduce greater levels of complexity that could present any number of vulnerabilities?
An analysis on smart electrical grids published on ScienceDirect by scientists from the UAE found several possible weaknesses in these infrastructures that could be compromised. Among them is, as they call it, “implicit trust between traditional power devices.”
Most smart grids are designed with the presumption that no foreign device will try to communicate with their receivers. This level of trust theoretically would allow anyone who can mimic the device “language” to spoof data and report false results to the facility from a remote location.
Beyond this, a lot of the hardware and software used by these grid operators can be easily bought and reverse-engineered, as they resemble what already is available to consumers. Because they’re also using the Internet, it wouldn’t be extraordinarily difficult to find a way to perform a large-scale distributed denial of service attack either.
Addressing the Challenges
The vulnerabilities present in the way smart infrastructure is implemented today can be broken down into two words: “human” and “design.”
The human aspect comes in the form of both the operators and end users receiving the services. Both – but especially the former – need to be educated on how to keep their systems and accounts safe. For instance:
- Change your password to something stronger than your birthday or anything that is simple to guess.
- Repeat the above process every few weeks or months.
- Don’t stick any foreign data device into a system that’s mission-critical.
- Avoid allowing systems that have data that doesn’t need to be on the Internet to connect to the Internet.
These four simple rules could have prevented the February intrusion in Florida, and they also shield from the majority of attacks.
As for the “design” aspect of smart infrastructure, companies providing essential services, such as utilities, must take into account how rigorously the devices they use have been tested. The primary concern must always be insulation. Can you send data to this receiver from a smartphone pretending to be a meter? If so, dump it. It’s better to be old-school than have new shiny systems that are built out of thin, rigid glass.
Do you have smart meters? What are your thoughts on potential intrusion by hackers on grid and water systems? Let’s discuss this below!
Internet of Trusted Things: Democratizing IoT
Who wins the Internet of Things? What company or demographic benefits most from that web of 30 odd billion devices that sit on dinner tables and cling to aircraft wings? Before we attempt an answer, let’s consider the stakes. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote that humans might be sensory organs through which a God perceives the world.
Each human is independent, but we also contribute to a collective consciousness—like bees in a hive. Connected devices are independent, but together they could serve as global sensor organs comprising a vast digital organism. The question of who wins IoT could be the question of who controls this near-omniscient creature. And if so, how powerful could this new digital organism become?
IoT: More Dolphin Than Human
By 2025 the world will have 86 billion devices. A near tripling in the device web likely isn’t shocking given the endless commentary on the exponential growth in computing power (doubling every two years per Moore’s Law). But consider that humans have 86 billion neurons, while dolphins have 36 billion. Intelligence’s correlation with neuron count is weak. Still, something special happens when 86 billion neurons connect in a so-far inscrutable pattern to produce a self-aware mind capable of abstract thinking and writing articles like this one. Nothing against dolphins, they are famous for their mimicking and complex range of emotion, but they are way dumber than humans.
Right now, the Internet of Things is more dolphin than human. Connections are disparate and clunky, and connecting devices does not create automatic value like connecting people. Intelligence has to be connected for the conjoining to add value. But IoT is becoming more intelligent by the day. Edge computing—where Moore’s law empowers each IoT sensor with the computing power to make artificially intelligent decisions without relying on a central cloud hub—creates this intelligence. In the words of Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility. So we return to the question: Who controls IoT? In a world with 86 billion devices, each equipped with on-the-edge intelligence, the answer to this question concerns the future of humanity.
IoT is notoriously fractured. Countless use cases require domain expertise. As a result, no analogous winner takes all to the internet where network effects anointed masters in search (Google) and social (Facebook). According to Statista, at the end of 2019, there were 620 IoT platforms, including tech behemoths Microsoft and Amazon. Amazon controls a vast swath of the consumer IoT market: with several hundred million sold, there’s a good chance you own an Alexa device or a Ring doorbell camera (or both). But even Amazon only controls a tiny fraction of IoT. And a collective device intelligence vastly greater than the sum of its parts is disrupted by this fractured landscape.
A central problem with IoT’s current architecture is that users are forced to trust platforms, making consumers—whether they are Alexa users or corporate customers—wary of privacy violations and the potential abuse of their data for advertising anti-competitive purposes. IBM published a report in 2014 called “Device Democracy,” calling for a decentralized IoT solution supporting trustless peer-to-peer messaging, secure distributed data sharing, and a robust and scalable form of device coordination. It calls for blockchain to verify transactions, register devices, authenticate users, and broker trustless device consensus.
The blockchain allows manufacturers to wash their hands of devices once produced, allowing them to live and execute contracts autonomously. This unlocks untold value by empowering people to trade access to devices and their corresponding data seamlessly without having to trust a central authority. A new paradigm of the supply chain, financial, and industrial businesses can run on this connected web of decentralized IoT.
In a perfect world, cleansed of selfish intent and violations of trust, IoT would be a unified web of sensors and algorithmic insights proliferating into an emergent, data-driven intelligence that improves life for everyone. But the current business models and technical architectures are not designed for a global device ecosystem that works for everyone. Business models based on short-term profit encourage manufacturers and platforms to look at consumer devices as data-extraction tools which they can use to run better ads, for example. Blockchain and token-based business models can help realign incentives towards a utilitarian end by accruing value to open-source communities.
A trusted IoT, or an Internet of Trusted Things, needs to be built private-by-design and with peer-to-peer, blockchain-based device identity and coordination built-in. Once each device is de-coupled from a central authority, broad, decentralized coordination becomes possible. The Internet of Trusted Things looks like the vast intelligence we introduced at the beginning of this article. A central authority owning IoT is a horribly dystopian idea, and the current fractured landscape represents a defense mechanism against this future. If we are to achieve a unified IoT, there is only be one answer to the question, “who owns this new digital organism?” And it is the same answer to the question of “who wins IoT.” The answer is: you do.
Smart Meters: User-Centered Multi-Utility Platforms and EMS
New opportunities within the business sector mean new prospects that require renewed efforts to be competitive. Consequently, the companies that offer high-end technologies, helping with the development of Smart Grids, must create a multi-utility, flexible monitoring framework based on systems that integrate many providers.
In addition, to provide more freedom to users who have become more aware of their energy consumption levels and renewed their participation to save more energy, companies will have to provide hardware and software devices able to interact directly with the user. A new business concept involves private citizens and business companies, allowing them to access energy consumption levels directly from a PC, Smartphone, and Tablet.
What Is a Smart Meter?
Recently, the active participation of consumers within the energy market has seen a notable increase, transforming the customers’ priorities into a key aspect that needs to be at the center of the ongoing development of a smart network. But, how do we keep the communication flowing? The solution is called Smart Meter. Lower costs are based on real consumption levels, allowing users to precisely know their consumption of gas, energy, and water. In addition, the Smart Meter allows managing waste levels in a straightforward way.
Smart Meters are a tool that, inside Smart Grids, guarantees constant communication between consumers and utilities. A useful system allows companies to contact the customer directly and, to the latter, send directly to the energy suppliers’ readings and data linked to their domestic appliances.
A Smart Meter is different from traditional meters because of its ability to register consumption levels at regular intervals, send information to both suppliers and consumers, and help with monitoring energy waste levels to create an almost real-time invoice procedure.
A single piece of equipment composed of different control devices: sensors to identify parameters and communication devices used to transfer data and control signals. Additionally, other problems that might happen during the energy consumption monitoring procedures, connected to the load or performance on the network itself, will be solved inside smart distribution networks.
But it doesn’t stop there. With the integration of devices inside systems managing domestic energy consumption, also known as home energy management systems, smart meters will provide, through communication protocols, information related to energy fluxes and costs.
When we’re talking about data and information monitoring activities, we’re talking about Smart Metering. An intelligent system collects information from the meter (be it a home or a company one), using digital technologies to generate, elaborate, and use those data.
Smart Metering uses survey and control tools that, thanks to an Internet connection (or IoT, if you prefer), can interact with one another to improve efficiency and transfer the acquired data in real-time. The result means quick and precise management of the information.
Smart Meter Advantages
More precise energy consumption levels evaluations and awareness on how much the bill is going to be. Thanks to smart meters and sensors, it’s possible to constantly monitor consumption levels.
- A decrease for reading costs and also for contract management (e.g., supplier switch, termination of contract, etc.) which are made automatically, more frequently, and without the need to have an operator there to help you;
- A drive for energy efficiency and for more rational use of resources;
- Better network management and improved identification of technical and commercial losses;
- The user is truly at the center of the process within the context of smart network management.
Different services within the same architecture show multi-utility platforms are gaining ground. Until recently, the utility sector aimed at companies that would manage different services (power, gas, or water) in different ways. Today, possibilities have changed, and now a conscious client, coupled with smart technologies like the Smart Meter, Big Data, or IoT, requires a different type of system. This is why it’s important to have a horizontal characterization that unites in one single frame, different services, almost as an identity made of more than a single element. With this kind of integration, utilities can: collect data on users’ consumption levels, understand their behaviors, address the issue, and discuss it directly with the user to create a custom-made service.
This new type of platform is based on Smart Metering, which allows for the aforementioned collection of data. However, in order to do that, some characteristics must be standard:
- A multi-service approach;
- Smart meters have to be used for electrical power, gas, water heating systems;
- They must include a building data concentrator, that is a conjunction between AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) and AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure);
- Use the NIALM technique (Non-Intrusive Appliances Load Monitoring) to analyze customer behavior;
- Include data-analysis tools;
- Have a software infrastructure that can collect miscellaneous data.
As you can see in the infographic above, there needs to be a complex multi-layered architecture to join together all different aspects. Seven different levels form this:
- Integration layer – allows operation among heterogeneous devices, ridding itself of certain technology by using web services/building data integrators;
- Machine to machine layer – allows the transferring of data between systems and improves their scalability option;
- Storage layer – collects data from Smart Meters and IoT devices;
- Application layer – a set of APIs and applications to manage the information coming from the previous layer;
- Security layer – oversees the devices’ and services’ security status;
- NIALM platform – used to outline the consumers’ energy consumption behaviors.
EMS: End-User Smart Grid Integration
Speed. Thanks to the incredible developments made by information technology and communication, the energy management inside Smart Grid has been transformed. Energy Management Systems have been strategically positioned inside the consumer’s sphere of the Smart Grid. This means that domestic appliances (like air conditioners, dishwashers, dryers, fridges, burners, and washing machines) provided with a smart meter can be monitored and controlled to improve power source wastes. The future is here!
A new branch of advanced measurement infrastructures has emerged, which can now monitor the use of electrical power in real-time.
Utility suppliers can now have bidirectional communication with the end-users and measure the power consumption data in detail whilst encouraging consumers to improve their energy waste behaviors. This is where HEMS – Home Energy Management System – comes into play. Thanks to this technology, users can keep track of the energy consumption levels with different available services to control reduce the waste of resources.
Summing up: data on energy consumption levels, registered by the user’s Smart Meter, can be monitored through an Energy Management System (EMS) and can be accessed, in a user-friendly format, directly on home PCs or even on cellphones. Therefore, the user is guaranteed to save money thanks to the EMS and its detailed energy consumption levels. To better explain the concept, we can say that: with an EMS, the user can verify what appliances have a low-energy or high-energy impact in real-time. In addition, the user can directly access the information using a PC, tablet or smartphone, and can see the energy consumption levels grow or decrease by simply turning the appliances on and off.
Oura Ring Looking to Add More Health Readings
Fitness bands and smartwatches are nearly a dime a dozen these days, though it will cost you “a bit more” than $0.10 for 12. The Oura Ring handles some of the same functions and is now raising $100 million to add more health readings.
Oura Ring’s Success
When the Oura Ring was first introduced, it was mainly a sleep tracker. It was with the health issues presented by the pandemic where it made more of a foray into health monitorin
To allow its athletes to play basketball last summer, the WNBA went into what was referred to as a” bubble” to keep them safe from virus concerns. The athletes, along with coaches and staff, were each given an Oura Ring. This measured heart rate and body temperatures to gauge their overall health – but it was also used to ensure no one contracted COVID-19.
Eventually, athletes in the WNBA, NASCAR, UFC, and more leagues were using the Ring. 2019 sales are listed at about $30 million and doubled the following year.
Like other wearables that collect health readings, the Oura Ring doesn’t have regulatory approval as a medical device. The company sees it more as a crossover product.
Our Ring Fundrraising
With the Ouro Ring’s delivering some health readings. the Finland-based company is fundraising again. It’s looking for $100 million Series C funding. The company is currently valued at $800 million, according to a source.
Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai has plans for the $100 million. He’d like to pour it into research, development, product, and marketing. He’s even open to acquisitions. This is all after the Ring started on Kickstarter with founders Kari Kivela, Markku Koskela, and Petteri Lahtela.
The Oura Ring exceeded its original fundraising goal and raised $5.3 million. Singh Rai, an electrical engineering major, was first a customer, then invested in the company and eventually became the CEO.
“I don’t think wearables can diagnose or treat yet, but the idea is of an early warning light to go see a medical professional if something is wrong,” explained Singh Rai. He’d like to use some of the funding to build an “insight engine,” comparing it to a
“personalized health coach.”
Singh Rai wants to first validate and prove the research, then “go ahead and see where the industry goes, and we anticipate it moving more towards medically-regulated devices.”
Joshua Hagen, an assistant professor and director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at West Virginia University tested four wearables against an ECG. The Oura Ring was the only device that sat on the finger – the others were strapped across the chest.
Hagen believed the devices across the chest would be more accurate but found the Ring had the second-highest accuracy. Another of his studies showed the Ring could identify early signs of COVID-19 three days ahead.
Singh Rai still sees the wearables market as small, with room for the Oura Ring and competitors. But he’ll need that funding to further compete.
Read on to learn how wearables may someday help relationships.
Image Credit: Meet Oura
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