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Data Communications and Flow: Focus on What You Need

Illustration: © IoT For All

When visualizing a new IoT application; carefully consider not what data flows you want, but what data flows your application needs to be successful.

Data flows are one of the key constraints in the design of any IoT application. Data flows drive not just communications cost, but also indirectly control communication technology selection, power needs, and the actual paradigm of an application’s functionality. As you begin visualizing your new IoT application, think carefully about the data and communication patterns that support your planned features.

IoT is a confluence of smart and connected in a remote device. I assume that if you’re reading this you have a “device” side and a “user” application side that you are thinking about connecting.  Your devices could be in near proximity of your user, their home/office, or anywhere. The user application where the device data lands initially could be a smartphone, or in many cases a cloud platform. Throughout the discussion, chances are the connection will be over a wireless link. This is by far the predominant pattern for typical IoT (non-IIOT/non-manufacturing use cases).

First, let’s differentiate between “data” and “data flows.

Data: what is measured

Data Flows: what is communicated.

Sure, increased data is likely to ramp up the amount of data sent to/from your device, but more data is not a linear predictor of how much data an application needs to communicate with a user. As the power of IoT device MCU chips increases, there is a steady ability to do more processing on the device and only communicate a summary of relevant events and periodic data points.

Communications are power-hungry compared with computation and memory on an IoT device. The more you can keep your radio turned off, the more battery life that remains. There are power light wireless technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for near distance communications, but what if your device is far away? Radios vary in their performance profile and there are numerous articles out there about WiFi vs. LoRa vs. LTE. Know your communications stack. Next, I lay out some concepts that should be considered regardless of which type of radio is in your device.

Most IoT projects fall into two broad categories. These two patterns dictate many aspects of the data flows your application will need to perform and when your communications hardware needs to be turned on.

Interactive

Interactive applications place the user and device in virtual proximity, with physical distance ranging from a few feet to miles to wherever. The communication flows, bridge that physical distance. This application pattern is the most demanding from a communications perspective.

Communications that are interactive require that a device radio stays on to listen for user input. This could be constrained to a specific interval of interest, rather than 24 hours a day. Maybe the communications channel can be predictably enabled during “business hours” or only during predicted device “usage” times.  The key point, radio on all the time increases power consumption considerably. This in turn increases challenges for off-grid or solar applications to have enough power harvesting and storage.

Being that the interactive application pattern is so demanding that you may find variations necessary to make things work. Consider maybe delaying user input by minutes or even hours, opening times for user control of the device.

Remote Monitoring

From a communication and power budget perspective, this application pattern is much easier to implement. Devices can wake up occasionally, gather and locally store data, assess the situation, and then decide if communication is required. The radio stays off until it is needed to send data to the user before it’s back to sleep for the communications.

The remote monitoring pattern can be integrated with an interactive application by making use of when the radio is already turned on. When you periodically send data, check for user directives. This approach is standardized in LoRaWAN Class A devices which listens for user input 1 and 2 seconds after transmitting its data.

IoT applications typically use protocols such as MQTT or HTTP to package their data while in transit. MQTT, HTTP, AMQP and other IoT communication protocols add protocol data to the total amount of IoT device payload data being transmitted between the device and the user. The amount of data communicated typically increases in two ways: framing overhead and keepalives.

Framing overhead is the extra data that is sent along with an application’s data to make communications more robust and reliable. Think of protocol framing as the envelope you put your physical correspondence in. In the case of MQTT, to send data, the overhead is 6 characters + the MQTT topic name your device is publishing to. This can add up and, in some cases, exceed the size of the payload data you are sending to the user side. It is important to note that while MQTT transmits these extra characters with your message payload, MQTT is more efficient than AMQP and HTTP; which is why MQTT is so often used in IoT systems.

The other protocol tax is keepalive messaging (sometimes referred to as heartbeats). MQTT implementations typically perform a keepalive action every 1-4 minutes, this time period is referred to as the keepalive interval. Keepalives are not required if data transmission has been performed recently. To keep communications active, MQTT sends a 2-character long PING when the keepalive interval ends. The keepalive interval is reset with each transmission, for either a PING or payload data.

Most implementations afford the ability to lengthen the keepalive interval (reduce the number of keepalives sent), each system will typically impart some upper limit for the keepalive interval. Azure IoT Hub uses MQTT extensively and limits the keepalive interval to a maximum of 1177 seconds or once every 19 minutes, 37 seconds (Understand Azure IoT Hub MQTT  Support).

When reviewing data and deciding what to send back and forth, think about ways to eliminate or reduce application data flows. When reviewing data flows, take note of how big each one is, how often data is sent, and what is going on with your communications channel when nothing is happening.

There are tools online (IoT Bandwidth Estimation Tool) to help visualize your data budget and be proactive in planning your data communications.

Time adds up… fast! Sending 500 characters of data every 20 seconds:

180 times / hour                           90KB / hour

4,320 times / day                          2,160MB / day

30,240 times / week                   17,120MB / week

129,600 times / month              64,800MB / month

Remember every character you send can increase costs and draws down your device’s battery.

Some Ideas…

  • After sampling remote data, look for ways to summarize prior to sending. For example: consider sending maximum, minimum, average, and number of data points over a specific period.
  • Similarly, once a maximum and minimum are established, consider sending data only when a new outlying maximum or minimum has been observed.
  • For remote sensing consider only sending data once a day or even once a week. But send data events when something significant has been observed at the device.
  • Consider building normal limits in your device software. When the data being sensed leaves these limits, then communicate and report the event to the user.
  • Log your data locally on the device and send a block of data (a day or weeks’ worth) at one time. Once the radio is on using it, then shut it off. Every time the radio is turned on/off, power is wasted before/after when data is sent.

Only you can determine when a piece of data being sent is valuable. Is that piece of data something you want… or is it something you need?

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How To Use IoT For Smart Parking Solution Development

Illustration: © IoT For All

Smart parking is a practical IoT application that can dramatically improve everyone’s life.

Imagine, you arrive at your destination twenty minutes early for a very important meeting. You have plenty of time as long as you can find a place to park.

The parking lot for the building is full. You drive around desperately looking for a space on the street but do not find one. You try the underground parking lot of the building across the street. Driving in, you suddenly have to stop. There is plenty of traffic ahead of you trying to do the same thing. You attempt to call the meeting to say you will be late and there is no cell phone signal in the underground parking garage.

It takes a half-hour to find a space. When you finally arrive at the office for the meeting, you are sweating profusely and out of breath. The receptionist tells you that everybody already left. Your meeting was canceled and you have to deal with serious losses.

You are not alone. An average driver in the US wastes $345 per year, that results in over $70 billion annually nationwide.

Moreover, 40% of drivers surveyed said that they choose not to visit brick-n-mortar shops due to the hassle of finding a parking space.

Recent research is predicting that up to 68% of the people in the world will live in major metropolitan cities by 2050. This could have a direct impact on how car owners park in cities.

So, what can be done to improve parking in cities?

How IoT Smart Parking Works

Innovative smart parking technology combined with IoT connectivity helps solve this problem. Installed IoT sensors determine where empty parking spaces are located. This IoT data is transmitted over a wireless connection to a cloud server. All the data from the parking lot is collected and analyzed in real-time to produce a map of available spaces made available to those looking for a space.

Drivers looking for a parking space can refer to the real-time smart parking map and be guided to the nearest vacant space. Advanced systems can reserve these spaces and take electronic payments from the drivers.

In the case study for IoT smart parking solution development, the technical components include an ultrasonic sensor HC-SR04 that measures physical distances using ultrasonic waves, and a ESP8266 microcontroller. Both are installed at every parking space.

The IoT device sends a periodic update by wireless signal using the MQTT protocol to a cloud server running AWS IoT services. The cloud server assembles data about all parking slots. This shows users via a web or mobile application the available parking spots to let them choose one.

How IoT Sensors Detect Free Parking Space

IoT sensors use an ultrasonic wave to detect the distance to something. Each sensor is embedded in the parking space surface and detects the distance to the undercarriage of a vehicle if the parking space is occupied.

3 Possible Detection Conditions

  1. Space is Occupied: Distance detected to an object by the sensor is in the range of 10 to 50 centimeters (about four to 20 inches).
  2. Space is Free: Distance detected to an object by the sensor is more than 50 centimeters (about 20 inches).
  3. Space is Dirty: Distance detected to an object by the sensor is less than 10 centimeters (about four inches).

If the condition is “dirty” the sensor may be covered by something or blocked and the device needs to be checked.

The application runs on AWS IoT and AWS Lambda and shows a driver free spaces in green, occupied spaces in red, and sensor malfunctions as yellow.

IoT Based Smart Parking System Configuration

The amount of parking spaces in a parking lot determines the software and hardware requirements for IoT configuration and system architecture. For large parking lots, it’s better to use gateway and the LPWAN protocol for the sensors.

LoRaWAN standard adoption is one of the current IoT trends and the way to increase the operating hours of an autonomous system by reducing power usage. According to the specifications of the LoRa Alliance, this reduces the need to replace the batteries. Battery life is extended up to five years before needing replacement.

Sensors for IoT Based Smart Parking

Smart parking sensor types include ultrasonic, electromagnetic field detection, and infrared.

  • Ultrasonic: The accuracy of the sensing is improved by using ultrasound for measurement detection. The disadvantage of this type of sensor is a potential blockage by dirt.
  • Electromagnetic Field Detection: This sensor detects small changes in the magnetic field when metal things come close to the sensor.
  • Infrared: This type of sensor measures changes in the surrounding temperature and detects motion.

Parking 4.0: Future and Opportunities in Smart Cities

Deployment of smart parking systems is expected to continue to increase because the technology is extremely useful and makes helpful improvements in daily life. The following advanced features can be added to the system to turn it into a highly multi-functional management tool.

  • Parking demand management and space optimization
  • Personalized parking guidance
  • Parking reservation systems
  • Dynamic parking prices and policy optimization
  • Detection of parking zones, fees, and overstay violations.

For large-scale parking lots, augmented reality technology may create a mapping function overlay on top of real images captured by a smartphone. These AR-based outdoor and indoor navigation systems can guide drivers with a virtual path to their parked cars.

Another innovation uses visual image processing to capture the license number of a vehicle to recognize it with the help of Optical Character Recognition technology. Then, it automatically opens the gate to the parking lot and the system guides the driver to a suitable parking space.

The future seems to be quite promising for smart parking systems. Technologies lying behind this solution are IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality–the same ones that are driving digital transformation for businesses under the “Industry 4.0” term. Leveraging these innovations, Parking 4.0 will increase parking systems efficiency by solving urbanization challenges.

Written by Viktor Gubochkin, IoT Lead Solution Architect at MobiDev.

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How Has IoT Completely Changed How We Sell Things?

IoT changes the game every day with innovations. Sales and marketing are part of that equation, integrating technology like never before.

IoT is a complicated thing to define, as you may know. It serves as a network that interconnects all things tech through the Internet. The devices involved can then send and receive data.

This transmission of information has the potential to become a significant part of business, meaning endless possibilities for integrations into everyday products.

Here are some ways that IoT has changed sales and marketing.

Product Integration

Today, any analog object can become technological. When a product can send or receive data, it’s part of IoT. For example, quick response (QR) codes build upon the idea of a barcode and take it a step further.

You may have noticed QR codes appearing more frequently, as they help companies improve consumer engagement and experience.

In one instance, Chili’s provided QR codes on their tables during a live soccer game. When customers scanned the code, they were able to play in their own augmented reality (AR) soccer game from their phones. A development like this could change the way restaurants advertise during events, how the AR industry promotes their abilities or how the events themselves sell merchandise. Businesses will start advertising these capabilities more as they become an attraction for customers.

Automation

Automation is already a standard for workplaces across the world, taking care of mindless, low-priority tasks and responsibilities. While already part of IoT, it can go a step further. As IoT continues to influence businesses, more will benefit from how automation can conduct processes that typically required staff. Automation can already monitor and send analytics for the company to use and learn from. IoT can then add new tech, like sensors, that track every detail and transmit information instantly.

For instance, a car with the latest IoT technology could monitor its functions and send data to the company regarding potential issues. This feature would cut down on dangers that occur while driving. Plus, this example can apply to other innovations as well. An IoT car, or any other product with the tech, will likely influence how companies market and sell it.

Data and Analytics

Similarly to automation, the data and analytics process can use IoT for improvements. Tracking data in real-time will help companies know which products they need to market and when. It can show them trends as they’re happening and how they can profit. Metrics forecast what’s to come and provide insight, and IoT technology can improve the way businesses use the information.

These real-time analytics include showing companies what existing customers need from current sales or services and what to expect in upcoming quarters. This data can help them decide what and how to advertise. It can also show which way the trends are moving, allowing them to bring in new customers on top of existing ones. This technology can improve upon things like call times in the sales department. Since IoT is taking over cold calling, employees can increase productivity as they focus on other tasks.

Consumer Targeting 

Depending on your marketing strategy, a personalized approach might be best for your business. With a tactic called geofencing, IoT technology can use the GPS in a smartphone to find nearby consumers. From there, it can send out personalized messages, coupons and more to those within close proximity.

Burger King successfully executed this geofencing technique. It launched a campaign called “Whopper for a Penny,” where they offered their famous Whopper for one cent from the app. The location element came into play with a discount popping up on consumers’ phones when they got within 600 feet of a McDonald’s. This example shows that IoT can drive companies to become more competitive and bring in sales.

How Sales Have Changed Through IoT

Sales have traditionally consisted of door-to-door marketing or cold calling, but IoT is changing it all. Through the examples above, the technology provides new methods and platforms for advertising and marketing, proving to be more effective than traditional means. The Internet of Things will soon become a feature that companies will advertise. As technology progresses at lightning speeds, everything will change for the better.

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Emerging Technologies in the Pandemic Crisis: 10 Use Cases and Future Outlook

Illustration: © IoT For AllAs professionals in the emerging tech space, we are well aware of the many benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and drones and robotics. Therefore, we cannot help but wonder: What if most of the emerging …

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Smart Building Initiatives are the Building Blocks of a Smart City

Illustration: © IoT For AllTo paraphrase a well-known saying, the journey to a complete smart city begins with a single building. No matter the size of the city, the extent of the technology or the most helpful use cases, a prospective smart city can integrate into — or branch off of — …

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How IoT Keeps Mine Workers Breathing Underground

Illustration: © IoT For AllUnderground mines are large industrial operations and prime for IoT adoption, especially where safety is concerned. Mines are often in remote geographic locations. While an open-pit mine, even a large one, can be inspected by drones and other straightforward methods, underground mines are dark, complex, and …

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The State of Indoor Positioning and Asset Tracking Using BLE and LoRa

Illustration: © IoT For AllThe indoor positioning and asset tracking space remains the wild west despite many companies working towards developing a robust, cost-effective, scalable solution. BLE, WiFi, Ultra Wide Band, RFID, and Ultrasonic, to name a few, have been used in the past to develop Indoor Positioning and Asset …

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Yonomi’s Kent Dickson | What does COVID-19 Mean for the Smart Home Landscape?

#IoTFounders E059Listen on Apple Podcast  |  Listen on Spotify  |  Listen on Google PodcastsIn this episode of the IoT for All Podcast, we sat down with Kent Dickson, CEO and Co-Founder of Yonomi to talk about the state of the smart home landscape and how the COVID-19 pandemic could make-or-break progress …

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Hardware Threats to an IoT Ecosystem

Illustration: © IoT For AllAn IoT ecosystem, like any biome on Earth, is constantly subjected to changes and threats at various scales. Whether the system is an asset tracking solution in a hospital to help deliver more effective healthcare or cold chain management ensuring temperature control during transportation, the hardware/ …

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Asset Tracking in Factories: Where Innovation and Asset Management Meet

Illustration: © IoT For AllThe ways that factories can benefit from IoT are numerous. One of the biggest facets of IoT that will benefit factories is asset tracking. From tracking tools and parts to tracking people, there is a myriad of ways for factories to take advantage of asset tracking. …

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