From time to time, all of us take a serious look at our futures, where we’d like to be, where we think we’ll be, what we’d have to do to get there, etc. It’s no different in business – even those in the tech world, where advancements can roll out very quickly. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked recently about the future of the company, and he sees plenty of AR and VR.
Beyond Social Media
Facebook has been open recently about excitement for AR and VR. Last month the company admitted it had an interest in working with neural interfaces.
And, of course, Facebook isn’t just a social media platform anymore. Along with owning the platforms of WhatsApp and Instagram, it’s also branched out into hardware with the Portal devices and into gaming with the Oculus Quest headsets.
“In terms of what changed, I think the big piece here is that Quest 2 is doing quite well,” said Zuckerberg. “And I don’t want to overstate it because I think compared to, you know, platforms that are that are large, massive successes today, it’s still obviously on the small end.” Yet, the CEO also believes the Oculus Quest has “by far the best lineup of VR content.”
He doesn’t want to stop there. And with the challenges he’s now facing with the social media platform and advertising, going in another direction is only going to help.
“I believe that augmented and virtual reality are going to enable a deeper sense of presence and social connection than any existing platform,” said Zuckerberg. “And they’re going to be an important part of how we will interact with computers in the future. So we’re going to keep investing heavily in building out the best experiences here. And this accounts for a major part of our overall R&D budget growth.”
He’s making it clear where he sees not just his company going but tech overall. He sees VR and AR factoring in heavily and wants that for Facebook as well.
Zuckerberg gets some of that confidence from the recent performance of Facebook. It all played into the decisions to “increase our investments meaningfully” in both AR and V R. When commerce and supporting creators are taken into consideration as well, AR and VR “have the potential to change the trajectory of the company over the long term.”
Despite smart glasses struggling to be released and find a customer base, Zuckerberg wants to head in that direction specifically while also acknowledging entering that space is “one of the hardest technical challenges of the decade.”
He sees the difficulty of AR glasses as “fitting a supercomputer in the frame of glasses,” adding, “I find that a very exciting problem to work on. And I think that once that’s achievable, potential on that is going to be quite big.”
Will Facebook be the company that finds success with AR glasses? It could be, as at least Zuckerberg recognizes the challenges going into it.
Could smart contact lenses be even better than smart glasses? Read on to find out.
Argo AI Develops LiDAR to Advance Autonomous Delivery
The delays in getting autonomous cars on the road are mentioned often on this site. A “breakthrough” LiDAR technology developed by Argo AI could change all that. It means we could be seeing commercial autonomous vehicles on the road finally, making deliveries and offering side-sharing.
Argo LiDAR Technology
Argo AI introduced Argo LiDAR, which allows the technology to bypass the shortcomings that parked the ideas of autonomous delivery and ride-sharing until now.
Argo’s Self-Driving System (SDS) allows driverless cars to be aware of their surroundings – 360 degrees, day or night. Cars with Argo LiDAR are safe on city streets, suburban neighborhoods, and highways, according to the company’s blog post.
The breakthrough in the Argo AI LiDAR came about when Argo acquired a company developing long-range radar. The resulting LiDAR has a range of 400 meters. This allows dark objects to be detected, and ultra-high resolution perception allows for photorealistic imaging, which allows small objects to be identified.
“Argo Lidar takes us to a whole new level of self-driving technology, unlocking our ability to power both delivery and ride-hail services,” said Argo AI CEO and founder Bryan Salesky. “The Argo Self-Driving System delivers the safety, scale, and service experience that businesses want and their customers demand, especially coming out of the pandemic.”
Applications of the LiDAR Technology
The Argo AI blog post shared the advantages the new LiDAR technology could bring to commercial autonomous driving.
- Safe for use in cities, suburbs, and highways, allowing an easy connection to a warehouse.
- Scaled use in six U.S. cities and Europe will take place this year.
- Service between addresses in urban and suburban areas would help with deliveries.
Argo AI has partnered with Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen Group to develop commercially-available autonomous vehicles.
“We have unparalleled autonomous driving technology and operations capabilities,” added Salesky. “Proving out these abilities every day, across six cities, from our nation’s capital to Miami to Silicon Valley, we are ready to enable the next phase of growth for delivery, retail, and ride-sharing partners.”
The LiDAR sensor, as part of the Argo SDS, joins custom sensors to allow commercial autonomous cars to:
- See dark vehicles that reflect less than 1 percent of light, even at long range and at night.
- Navigate left turns into oncoming traffic with a 360° view.
- Transition instantly from darkness to bright light.
- Distinguish between small, moving animals and vegetation.
The Argo AI Hardware Development team is working with a manufacturer for production of the LiDAR sensor. The first to be
produced are being road-tested. There are plans with Ford and Volkswagen for widespread commercialization.
To show how long this technology has been in the works, read how Apple was working on it two years ago . And yet, it has no autonomous car on the roads.
Image Credit: Argo AI Newsroom
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.
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