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Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger

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Technology for Good – episode twenty two with David Terrar

Welcome to episode twenty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had CEO of D2C, co-founder of AgileElephant, and fellow Enterprise Irregular, David Terrar as guest on the show. As well as being a fellow Enterprise Irregular, David is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. Last week Google held its I/O developer conference so there were plenty of Google stories breaking, but we also found time to fit in topics such as renewables, communications, and health.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Communications

Mobile

Google (!)

Wearables

Transportation

Health

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Just where does Intel fit in the Smart Grid ecosystem?

Intel Solar Installation Vietnam

When we think of smart grids, Intel is not the first name we think of.

This is a perception that Intel is anxious to change. The multinational chip manufacturer, which has seen its revenues drop in recent years, is looking for new markets for its products. The smart grid space with increasing billions being spent annually begins to look very attractive. And Intel’s place in it? Intel is positioning itself very much at the smart in the smart grid. The distributed compute and intelligence needed to power the smart grid.

One of the most important functions of an electricity grid is to precisely balance electricity supply from its various generators, to the demand from consumers. This is an increasingly complex task in a world where consumers are more and more becoming prosumers (producers and consumers). Utilities need transparency to forecast how much energy will be consumed, and where to help stabilise the energy flows, and the price of energy on the grid.

To achieve this transparency, particularly towards the edges of the network, chips like Intel’s Quark SoC will be important.

Intel isn’t relying on its silicon chops alone though. Speaking recently to Intel’s Hannes Schwaderer (Director of Energy and Industrial Applications for EMEA), Hannes was keen to point out the other strengths Intel brings to the table. Smart grids generate big data, and lots of it. Intel’s investments in Cloudera, and Mashery give Intel a big footprint in the big data and analytics spaces, according to Hannes.

And then there’s the old security chestnut. Apart from your health, no data is as personal, and so in need of privacy, as your energy information. Intel’s purchase of computer security company McAfee allows it to offer quite a unique combination of hardware (the chips), analytics, and security to its potential customers.

And while end consumers were never Intel’s customers in the PC world, similarly in the smart grid space utilities are not the end customer for Intels smart grid solutions. Rather expect to see Intel selling to the Schneider Electronics, the GE’s, the Siemens of this world.

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GE’s PowerOn systems helping utilities to work smarter

GE's ADMS screen

We here at GreenMonk have been researching and writing about the smart grid space for over six years now. It has long been a sector which resisted significant change, but no more.

Several factors have come into play which has ensured that the smart grid we envisioned all those years ago, is now starting to come into being. Some of those factors involve necessary practical first steps such as the rollout of smart meters to homes, other factors would include the huge advances in mobile, big data and analytics technologies which have taken place in the last couple of years.

Then there’s the issue of budgets. More money is definitely starting to be freed up for smart grid investments with revenue from asset management and condition monitoring systems for the power grid projected to grow from $2.1 billion annually in 2014 to $6.9 billion by 2023.

I attended GE’s recent Digital Energy conference in Rotterdam as a speaker, and at this event GE showcased their new PowerOn product set. This is a combined outage, and distribution management system in a singular modular platform. Combining OMS and DMS systems seems to be a new direction for the industry. It remains to be seen if it will become the norm, but it should bring advantages in process efficiency and consequently in productivity.

The application uses newer modern screens (see screens above), with a more intuitive user interface, and a single system database. This combining of systems into a single platform should simplify operations for the system operators, leading to reduced outage times, and a more reliable grid for customers. Repair crews out in the field have access to the system as well, and can update the status of any repairs ongoing. This data can be fed directly into the IVR so customers who are still using telephones can get the latest updates.

In time, as utilities embrace next generation customer service, this information will be fed into customers social channels of choice as well. Then we’ll really start to see the grid get smarter.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty one with Gary Barnett

Welcome to episode twenty one of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had industry analyst Gary Barnett, as a guest on the show. As well as being a fellow industry analyst, Gary is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. We had some connectivity issues at times during the hangout unfortunately, but that didn’t stop us from having a very interesting discussion about topics as diverse as climate, energy efficiency, and communications.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate
World’s energy systems vulnerable to climate impacts, report warns
Peak Coal: Why the Industry’s Dominance May Soon Be Over

Efficiency

Cable TV boxes become 2nd biggest energy users in many homes
Microsoft Supercharges Bing Search With Programmable Chips

Cloud

Amazon strikes back, launching speedy solid-state block storage one day after Google

Communications

Google’s Balloon Internet Experiment, One Year Later
Facebook has built it’s own switch
Antitheft Technology Led to a Dip in iPhone Thefts in Some Cities, Police Say
Google and Microsoft add phone kill switch
Fire Phone against the world: can Amazon take on iOS and Android

Health

Ahead of Apple’s HealthKit, WebMD app now tracks health & fitness data from connected accessories

Transportation

Harley-Davidson’s First Electric Motorcycle Surprisingly Doesn’t Suck

Start-ups

Microsoft launches new startup accelerator in Redmond, focusing on home automation and the ‘Internet of Things’
Swiss based encrypted email service, brought to you by CERN and MIT scientists.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty with Sam Johnston

Welcome to episode twenty of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Sam Johnston Director, Cloud & IT Services at Equinix, as a guest on the show. Sam is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. This week was relatively quiet on the technology front – whether that’s a hangover from last week’s Sapphirenow and Apple WWDC, or the World Cup, I’m not sure, but still we found plenty to talk about; especially on the health, IoT and wearables fronts.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Open

Wearables

Health

Internet of Things (IoT)

Apps

I.T.

Misc

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Technology in healthcare, a post-Sapphirenow update

As noted here recently, technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry.

And that was brought home to us forcefully when we attended SAP’s 2014 Sapphirenow conference last week. I had fifteen meetings scheduled at the event, and while there wasn’t much mention of healthcare during the keynotes, seven of my fifteen meetings were healthcare related. In previous Sapphirenow conferences, there might have been one.

The meetings were with a range of organisations. Some were larger organisations like MKI, Stanford University (specifically their Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics (CEHG)), and unsurprisingly SAP. MKI talked about their use of HANA, R, and Hadoop for genomic analysis. Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante talked about the research being done by the CEHG, in conjunction with SAP, on understanding different genomes and their health-related phenotypic consequences, while SAP discussed their Care Circles initiative, as well as their Genome Sciences projects.

One interesting data point that emerged from Prof Bustamante was that one dataset of 2534 individual genomes contained in excess of 20 billion records and it consumed 1.2 terabytes of RAM. This is big data. Especially when you consider you are interrogating it against matrices of other data points (such as age, nationality, gender, etc.).

CoreyMobile screen

Three of the companies I met were part of the SAP Startup Focus program. This is a program aimed at start-up companies with offerings in the big data, realtime or predictive analytics spaces. The program helps them develop their product on SAP’s in-memory HANA database platform, and also helps them with go to market strategies.

The three healthcare startups were Convergence CT, Phemi, and Core Mobile. ConvergenceCT makes software for hospitals which can take in data from multiple data sources (EMR systems, labs, radiology, etc.) and produce insights via predictive analytics, and reporting dashboards. Phemi, similarly takes in healthcare info from the various disparate hospital data sources, and then has a number of apps sitting on top of the data delivering results and outcomes. While Core Mobile has mobile apps for doctors, patients, and carers to help optimise care processes, and share patient information with authorised recipients.

So lots of interesting things happening in this sector right now and much of the innovation is down to SAP’s decisions to 1) turn it’s HANA database into a platform, and 2) to initiate the Startup Focus program. Now that IBM is going the platform route with it’s Watson cognitive computing engine, we’re likely to see a lot of healthcare innovation emerging there too.

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Technology for Good – episode nineteen with Craig Cmehil

Welcome to episode nineteen of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Craig Cmehil, Director of Global Developer Relations at SAP, as a guest on the show. Craig is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. Given this was the week of Apple’s 2014 WWDC developer conference, there was a lot of Apple-related news to discuss, as well as the usual topics.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Comms

AI Personal Assistants

Apps

Development

Health

Wearables

Smart Home

Education

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Sustainability and SAP?

SAP former CEO Dr Peter Graf

Dr Peter Graf, SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer announced that he’s leaving SAP yesterday.

There has been a significant purge of executives re-organisation at SAP in the last few weeks since CTO Vishal Sikka resigned suddenly, and Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe stepped back from his Co-CEO role leaving Bill McDermott as sole CEO.

Taken in isolation, the departure of Graf from SAP wouldn’t be too concerning, but SAP’s sustainability team has lost four of its most senior executives in the last few months. Jeremiah Stone was VP for SAP’s Sustainability Solutions. Scott Bolick was VP Sustainability. James Farrar was also VP of Sustainability for SAP, and Peter Graf was the Chief Sustainability Officer.

The loss of four such senior figures in such a short time leads to obvious questions about SAP’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.

Coincidentally I’m at SAP’s customer and partner conference SapphireNow this week, so I look forward hearing SAP’s take on this.

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Technology for Good – episode eighteen with Chris Adams

Welcome to episode eighteen of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Loco2 product and UX manager Chris Adams as a guest on the show. Chris is an old friend, and semi-regular co-host, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. Though I tried to whittle them down to a manageable number we still had quite a things to talk about, particularly in the energy, transport, and health spaces.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Transport

Energy

Wearables

Apps

Sustainability

Health

Misc