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EP064 - Connecting assets as easy as installing an app on a smartphone - Peter Sorowka, CTO, Cybus.
Tuesday, Jun 16, 2020

In this episode, we discuss how improved data access control can remove barriers to use case adoption in complex environments by enabling effective IoT governance. We also imagine a future of connected industry where data is an asset to be monetized effectively.

Peter Sorowka is the Chief Technology Officer and Managing Director of Cybus. Cybus develops a smart networking solution for Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Cybus enables innovative industrial equipment manufacturers to provide data-driven value-added services, such as quality management, remote monitoring or predictive maintenance, to its customers from manufacturing and logistics. For more information, please visit cybus.io.

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Automated Transcript

[Intro]

Welcome to the industrial IOT spotlight your number one spot for insight from industrial IOT thought leaders who are transforming businesses today with your host, Erik Walenza.

Welcome come back to the industrial IOT spotlight podcast. I'm your host Erik Walenza CEO of IOT one. And our guest today is Peter Sorowka managing director and CTO of Cybus. Cybus lets you connect digital services as easily as installing apps on your smartphone and enables you to keep control of all the data that is about to leave your factory. In this talk, we discussed how improved data access and control can remove barriers to use case adoption in complex environments by enabling effective IOT governance. We also explored a future for connected industry in which data becomes a tangible asset that can be monetized through new business models. If you found these conversations valuable, please leave us a comment and a five star review. And if you'd like to share your company's story or recommend a speaker, please email us at team@iotone.com.

[Erik]

Thank you, Peter. Thank you for joining us today.

[Peter]

Thanks for having me.

[Erik]

So Peter we're going to be discussing primarily today. Cybus and the solutions that you're bringing it to market for the, the smart factory. But before we jump into the company, I want to just learn a little bit more about where you yourself are coming from and how you ended up as the CTO of Cybus. Can you give us just a quick background on what led you to the managing director and CTO role here

[Peter]

I, myself, I am electrical engineer originally, but also in my studies and my research work after university, I've always touched more bits and bytes than electrons. So I would consider myself being a software engineer today. And I would say roughly five years ago, maybe it was five and a half, the whole IOT industry 4.0 hype started and back then two friends of mine and I decided to start a company in this field. And the, the main motivation that we had back then was that we were quite excited that the concepts of the internet, so interconnectivity, API APIs and so on were proposed to be extended to the real world. And we immediately understood the plethora of use cases and applications and systems that will be needed to be connected across windows. And we decided to take a very specific niche and to have to create a company that works on the, on the layer. That's usually called the gateway layer because that's a necessary evil everybody needs, but that supposedly doesn't create any value as its own. And we decided to be a company that has a core competence at the position where many others have a necessary evil and provide a focused solution on this layer.

[Erik]

Okay, great, this just came up in a conversation with an investor last week, the pain she was having with our portfolio companies there before we jumped into that, I have to take you on a quick diversion here, so apologies for this, but I see that you were running a peer to peer sharing platform for sailboats. Can you just give us a quick 60 second? What, what was this company that you had set up this boot shaft?

[Peter]

That was very, very good. So bolt shaft, it's a German play on words actually today you would describe it as Airbnb for sailboats, I would say. So we enabled private owners to share the sailboat through an app that we created that in 2010. And that was before Airbnb was at least in Germany famous or well known. And so we, we, we created everything from scratch three programs, that whole system to connect the sailboats and set ups systems from scratch. And today I would say what we did back then was an IOT platform for sailboat sharing. So we already had some insights into the technology that was required for IOT use cases. And also we had already done a number of mistakes, I would say technological mistakes or wrong decisions and learned a lot. And with this experience, basically we decided to go on the industrial market and apply our learnings and create a company from that.

[Erik]

Very good. So let's then dive in here. You've already alluded to the problem that you are solving here. Can you just describe a bit the tech stack on a typical solution where Cybus would be useful and how you fit in there? What is the pain that you're solving? And the typical tech stack we have focused on really the industrial IOT market. And I would narrow it a bit more down to connecting assets in factories session areas. So we are, it's really more about connecting machines to it systems in general. And then the interesting thing is there are so many perspectives from which you can approach IOT and the factory. There are so many different stakeholders that are interested in connecting the very same machines, two very systems. So you have a, you have a big data team that tries to connect machine data to a data Lake in order to do big data analysis.

You have a maintenance team that wants to do smart or on demand maintenance planning. You have a production manager wants to introduce an MES system, and then you have all the clouds and then you have all the external stakeholders like the machine builders, suppliers, customers, insurances, banks, and everybody wants to connect the same machines to different target systems. And as everybody is bringing along their own gateway, that more or less uncontrolled would send the data somewhere. There's an interesting playground. I would say to introduce a layer of that distribution and to give control into the hands of the factories and in the end governance into the hands of the it departments to not lose overview about which data is collected, which data is sent, where, and also to avoid basically double connecting machines because you have two different gateways for the same machine because you have two different target systems. So that's the playground we are working on. And so our offering is a pure standalone. So not cloud connected or not clock dependent, let's say like this, a pure standalone software solution that's running on premise in the factory and it allows a multitenant and multipurpose data distribution.

[Peter]

So you mentioned that there's many stakeholders that want access to data for, for many different purposes. And then there, of course, are some stakeholders who expressly don't want other stakeholders to access their data. So I think a, a number of the larger kind of legacy sensor and PLC manufacturers try to put up barriers because this helps to protect their market share. Are you relevant in that kind of that, that battle to gain access to data when it's a, it's somewhat being protected by an OEM or, or is it basically this data has to be in the gateway? So there has to already be, let's say access to the, the end device before Cybus would be able to say regulate the flow of this data.

I mean, as you know, especially in the industry, we are really coming from a world where secrets like a secret protocols, secret proprietary data and codings also were put up to to ensure some competitive advantage and so on. And this kind of contradicts the I in IOT, right? I mean the, the internet lifts from APIs that are open and standardized and very non secret. And that's an interesting contradiction, I would say that's also something I observe the industry has along the last five years, that this idea that you always have to keep everything secret, must be given up a little bit in order to gain a joint benefit from collaboration still. It's not something that is simple. And, but there are some very interesting associations that have been founded to solve these problems. Specifically we are a member of the of the international data spaces association that tries to, to, to solve this problem that there is at the same time, the, the demand to protect data and to share data from different stakeholders.

And you need to somehow create trust. And the industrial, the international data space association has a very interesting reference model to solve this problem. There's even a inspect or just released for this which will become an ISO standards too soon. But there are also other associations like the open industry, 4.0 Alliance, which is also a German association of specifically sensor manufacturers that have realized years of trying to solve individual IOT solutions that in the end, the customers have a hard time accepting the incompatible solutions from the different suppliers because manufacturers, most factories have not only one supplier, but many. And if every supplier has their own full stack IOT solution, it just doesn't work. So they have to collaborate. And so there are these standardization efforts. We are active in some of them in the active world groups, and we try to always keep our software solution up to date with these standardization efforts to be able to be a solution provider in these specific groups.

[Erik]

Based on your perspective. I think you have a fairly unique perspective based on where are you on the tech stack? Where are we today in this, let's say this struggle. We looking at a three year time horizon or a 10 year time horizon, or who knows one time horizon when data from the vast majority of end points will be standardized, maybe not to the point, you know, HTML or HTTP, but standardized enough that somebody can go in with, you know, an application provider can go into a factory with a good application and they can get access basically to the data that they need in order to apply that. Cause I still today I talked to a lot of companies that feel like they need to build a full stack and deploy their own sensors in order for their solution to work. And it's a, I think it's a very interesting topic. What you know, where we are today in terms of the status quo and what the timeline might be to, let's say Nirvana.

[Peter]

So that's a super interesting question. So I think we are, when I dropped the history of, of IOT in the industry, then I would say for a number of years, everybody has been working on proof of concepts and pilots. Many companies still have a hard time getting beyond that because they realize that certain questions like the one we are just discussing really just arises. When you try to scale that particular project, it's fairly easy with today's technology, even with a raspberry PI and some open source software to just connect the machine to some cloud and do something right. And now I think we are in the beginning of the phase where people start to realize that they really need to find some standardization, but still, I think to be very honest, I think most associations are not on the right track for now. They try to overstand or dice things to the standards are getting fairly big.

And we had the same in the, in the classic internet. So the classic internet try to find very complex standardizations like for the tech experts, from the audience, like the soap standard. So it was a technology, an interface technology basically based on XML, which tried to be, be able to explain the world that is super complex. It's super complete, I would say, but it's super hard and annoying to implement. And in the end, after this effort to have a very complex soap interface where we ended was the rest API and the rest API is what you see as a standard everywhere. So it's not important if you look at PayPal or Amazon or any other project, everything has a rest API, you even start creating your rest API when you program the new software today. And the rest API is the most simple and most non-standardized thing in the world, but it's so simple that it's trivially easy to adapt to a new recipe. And I'm pretty convinced that in the industry, we will see two or three more years of trying to over standardize everything. And then I hope that we will observe that things get more pragmatic and specifically I've a lot of trust in MQTT as a protocol, as becoming something as simple and pragmatic and straightforward and open like the air rest API has become for, for the classic internet. Okay. Okay. Very interesting. I hope so. And I guess this is going to be a bit of the open question right now, but two to three years, that would be a very welcome timeline for everybody.

[Erik]

To make it, make some sort of transition here. So I suppose where you are today, where Cybus is really providing value is not necessarily then providing access to the end points, but it's in a situation where this data is already moving to the gateways. You're providing value around governance, the it efficiency of managing who has access to data. And then is it also being able to, let's say optimize the use of gateways by not requiring kind of duplication for every use case that's being deployed with. Would those three be the, kind of the key elements of your value proposition or how would you frame that kind of the core elements of your value proposition when you're introducing to a new customer?

[Peter]

Okay. So that depends on, on which type of cast customer we're talking about. So we are selling to two fundamentally different customer groups.

One is the factories. So we are selling directly to factories. So operators of industrial production equipment for them, the governance problem is really the biggest one. So we, as I said, they have dozens or hundreds of machines from different ages, from different vendors with different maturity, I would say too, in regards of digitization. So some already have a user net and you can just plug in your cable and start reading the data and then modern protocol and many don't even have any digital interface. So really being able to abstract this heterogeneity and then route the data to different it systems, that's really the governance problem. And it's also the scalability problems. So when it comes to how to implement standard standardized processes about how the next machine will be connected, how to extend the data, that's gathered how to pre-process the data or where to do the pre processing.

I mean, if you look into it into the big enterprises, the biggest pain is usually called customization ERP systems. MES systems have a very high degree of customization because you're adapting your target system for, for every new data that's arriving with every new process we try to, to to take away the customization efforts in the target systems and on the machines, because we believe you should never be required to change a PLC program just because you are connecting in another cloud. And we try to, to, to centralize this customization effort into a configuration effort on the middleware layer, basically, and then it's really scalability is customization savings. It's security because when you connect to machines, you can also control machines, right? So it's very, very critical to prevent that if you don't want it and to allow it, if it's required and the second customer group, now that was a long sentence.

The second customer group are, the suppliers are the machine vendors are the insurances that are external to the factory, but also want to bring in some infrastructure, some gateways in order to get data out. And for them, we thought totally different problem. That's mainly acceptance, acceptance that your customer would share the data because there's this always open question who owns the data. And my answer to this question is it doesn't really matter about who owns the data, but it's very clear who has control over the network, where the data comes from, and that's always the factory. So when you start creating the gateway as an external company, you usually create a black box that's even remote controlled. And that somehow does what you want. And we propose to have not a black box gateway, but to give the control about the date gate gateway layer into the hands of your customers, but stay in control about the software and the configuration that's running there. And that's a very special, special USP off of the cybers connect web, because we can, we can combine, combine these two desires, the control desires, factory, the delivery, basically of the, the supplier about the actual intelligence and the configuration. This is really two very different that you propositions. I would say two very different customer groups, but in the end it will be always one installation of our software in the factory and serve those needs. Okay.

[Erik]

And is it more common that you'd be entering the factory initially through one or the other of these customer groups?

[Peter]

It's really today 50 50. So 50% of our customers are direct end users and 50% are suppliers. Then you have often a dual cases because most suppliers have their own factory as well. Right. And we of course are hoping that's an open secret to gain some acceleration when the machine vendors and the component suppliers start rolling out in large scale with our software distributing and factories, that's our strategy. But to be very honest today, the market is not that fast.

[Erik]

I'd like to dive into a little bit more detailed for both of these cases. If we focus first on the factory, this is actually a, a point that's very relevant to me at this moment because we have a company that we're working with that has this, this challenge, right? They're moving to a new greenfield facility. They have some legacy use cases. They want, they have some new use cases that they want to deploy. And the question is, how do we minimize the complexity and the cost of both deploying sensors to acquire this data, to play in their connectivity. And then also to an extent, you know, deploying specific applications, we don't necessarily even want to have a unique application, or let's say app for each, each application. We want to try to standardize some of this. So there's a lot of complexity in this situation. In this case, they prefer to have a platform that is governing the processing and the storage of data. And then there's the question of what, what requirements do we, you know, do we put into that platform? Well, when we build it and those requirements would be driven by the use cases. So if you're moving into kind of a messy situation like this, how would you view this? So what would be your main questions, your main lines of inquiry in order to understand the customer and then understand how your solution can help them to resolve some of the complexity?

[Peter]

My approach on, on complexity, like an answer with a very simple word, that's decoupling. I try to decouple everything from everything. And in the, in the classic software development, we have a notion that's called microservice architecture. Microservice architecture means we try to split a big complex software project into individual independent modules. And these modules can be developed on their own and don't know anything about the others, and they can have an individual lifecycle. And this is very efficient. It also has some challenges to be honest, but it's very efficient because you can throw away modules, you cannot use new ones, you can replace individual ones. And I see the smart factory as a very big microservice architecture. So I have my data sources and I have my data sinks and the data sources are usually the centers and the machines and so on. And primarily machines should do what they should do, produce stuff.

So primarily a PLC has, if you ask me the tasks to control the process and a real time fashion, then very efficiently PLC should never know anything about a cloud or an MES system. Or so instead I see then the, the protocols like OSU or Mo, or it doesn't really matter as like the API to the machine and the machine should expose the data it can provide. And it might also expose some, some control and points, but then that's it. And the same on the other side of the table and MES system is an MES system. And it has many information about processes and orders and order numbers, but an MES system has no idea about big data or predictive maintenance or even maintenance process that it shouldn't have because that's not its, so I really believe in specialization and I say, okay, MES system or ERP system, you also should implement your specific interface, your API that is designed and the way you need it, that you shouldn't know anything about OSU.

I think architecture in between the middleware that connects the respective APIs with each other. And we believe in MQTT as I just said. So that's the message. Architecture can very well collect data from the one site and deliver it in the right format on the other side, and really draw the lines between the many elements, so many microservices. And then you're pretty efficient because you can, you can, of course installing some such an architecture, such infrastructure for the first use case is quite an effort and it's a bigger effort than just connecting directly, but already the second use case will benefit largely because you just already have everything's there. It allows you to quickly iterate to quickly add more applications, to try something, to let it fall again, if it's not worth it to change something in the bottom or in the, in the top without touching the rest of the system. So that's, that's my approach on this complexity.

[Erik]

Okay. And if you're in a brownfield environment, is, is it any different from, into Greenfield or you just start with what you have and you just built the infrastructure as you've just described it and try to adapt the existing system and infrastructure to this ideal format,

[Peter]

The rough process the same, but of course it's very different when it comes to the specifics because in the brownfield environment, the biggest problem you usually have is that connecting a single machine, usually as a research project for its own. Right? So my, my typical customer interaction here is my favorite anecdote customer coming to me say, can you connect my factory? I say, of course, which data do you need? And the answer usually is everything. And then I ask why, and then the customer would say, that's what I want to find out. And when they then say yeah, okay. So how old are your machines and how different are they? Then usually we end up in a, in an effort estimation that quickly can go towards five to 10,000 European machine because we just have to find out everything. Nobody knows anything about the interfaces and the protocols since the address space, that's usually not effective.

So what we do in the Brownfield is we recommend customers to start very simple and to find common denominators between the machines. And they might be much simpler than the customer expects like connecting energy centers because most machines need electrical energy. That could also already, if you some hints, or my favorite is really connecting the status lights, this little traffic light on the, on the, on the top of the machine, green, yellow, red, which is very, very simple, but just a 24 volt voltage signal that you can easily grab by connecting the things you can with a very low investment already know from all of your machines, if they are currently running or if they have some, some kind of error and that's not much, but if you know it from, from all the machines, then it's already a lot. And I usually recommend customers to start with that.

Then you can start implementing the first use cases like a dashboard that shows the machine status, like very simplified OEE calculation, like notification services for the maintenance team. And as I say, better, start with that and get to a point where you say it's not enough anymore because XYZ is missing. And then we can specifically care about adding XYZ to our data inventory and look after that. And somehow get to a point where we can define a requirement. And with this modularized approach that I said in the first answer, it's very easy to really add more complexity to the system as we need it and not have a dead end road for a specific it system when we started from.

[Erik]

Okay. Very, very interesting. Yeah. Thank you for sharing your perspective there. And then if we look at the other customer group, which is the, the machine builders, the technology providers, I guess one of the key, one of the areas that I think is very interesting, but maybe most challenging is this topic of how to provide data to stakeholders when it doesn't necessarily benefit the, let's say the owner or the manager of the data. So I guess the typical case would be a machine builder or going to a factory and saying, can I have access to the data that's coming off my machines. It's going to be very useful for my R and D process. And I'm going to be able to build better machines and sell them to you. And the factory says, okay, great. You can build better machines. Maybe I get some minor benefit from that, but there's potentially some unforeseen risks.

And, and you know, I'm just not going to, I'm not going to provide you access, right? The default answer is no, but there's certainly a lot of value in these cases to provide any data, whether it's to a, a service provider, a supplier, or a customer who might want to know if their product is coming off the line and so forth. So the question is how do you enable companies to safely and securely provide access to the data, to, to access that value? How do you see this evolving? Do you see a lot of use cases among your customers where they're using Cybus to enable the sharing of data to, you know, in cases where it's not necessarily that it directly benefits the owner of the data, but maybe there's some, some monetization model or there's some way where you can create a little bit of a market ecology around data.

[Peter]

So I'm always a bit reluctant when somebody asks a question like this in the real world. Because I think always, if you, if you have to start about to discuss about data, if that's a start, then something's wrong. I would say that you should always discuss about the value of the predictive maintenance. You should always discuss about the, you will never have a downtime anymore, and that's something you can sell to a customer. And when the customer buys it. And one of the notes then in the contract is by the way that only works. If you share this data specifically for that, then probably the problem has already gone. But if you discuss about the data in the first place, so the data is the only central element, and then you try to find an excuse, why you would need the data, then something is still wrong.

And then I would say we are still very much in a world where nobody really has an idea still. Yes, I know examples where that worked. And actually I have a very specific customer case study in mind from a German milling and drilling machine builder. One of the larger ones who has actually done exactly that. So they have given gateways to customers and they have given them some reduction on the maintenance contract. So they actually, basically, they paid them now for four for getting the data. And then they collect the data, the data for their research work. They were actually quite successful with that. So they, in the end were able to bring a new product family onto the market, which was 30% cheaper than all the other machines. And it was limited in their capabilities. So the Spindler was not turning that fast and the, the machine was just smaller, but that was all based on the learnings of the actual machine usage of customers. And they realize that although customers buy a machine that has this spindle speed of, I don't know, 20,000 RPM, nobody would ever exceed 10,000 RPM. So they learned that they could just sell simpler machines. And that was the story that actually happened by paying the customer basically for getting off the data.

[Erik]

Okay. Interesting. Yeah. And I can see why you generally be adverse to this, but I think it's quite interesting that a lot of the more profitable and maybe less moral or arguably less moral profitable internet companies that really have developed businesses where they sell services or they give away services basically to acquire data and then they sell data. So it's a, it's kind of an open question, whether that's viable in the internet of things world. And if so, where there's a company, a, that a friend of mine ran back in 2013 or 14 and it went, it went bankrupt or they closed it down. But what they were doing was kind of selling at a very low cost. These sensors into factories and the value proposition was you can deploy the sensor, you can collect energy data and understand your consumption of energy, which will enable you to reduce your energy bill. And so that's the benefit to you? The benefit to us is that we get energy data and this was in China. And their thought process was if we can get enough factories to deploy this and we get enough energy data, then we have a leading indicator for energy consumption.

And we can either, we can use this data to, you know, sell this to wall street or sell this to let's say, commodity traders or, or themselves become a trader on the energy markets and have kind of a unique data set that nobody else has, which I thought was, it was at least quite an interesting concept. Obviously it didn't in practice, work out and maybe it was a bit too early, but do you see the potential for kind of energy broker or a data broker businesses to start to evolve? Let's say if you're extremely successful and enough factories kind of have controllable you know, control of their data at the right level, do you see that as a likely course of market development, or do you see some fairly significant barriers to that type of business model becoming successful?

[Peter]

I think that's absolutely the, the, the future. So what I find most interesting is to think about who is able to provide database services in the future, who's able to provide a service like the best predictive maintenance as a service thing. And I think today it's very much restricted to the machine builders themselves, but I believe that as data becomes more easily available or accessible, there's a big potential that other customers, pure digital companies can provide such services. And I think at the very least, because of this value, that you can actually create a business based on data. Something like a data stock exchange will develop, but as you just draw this comparison between our private data and the company data, I think there's a big differentiation to be made between consumer or B2B scenarios, because I think exactly the transparency that we about our private data that we know we are aware of in our private life is exactly one of the things that motivates businesses to be much more careful about their data.

So I think in order to be able to have such a data exchange market in the future, we need to bring the data, producers, the factories, in this case, into the driver's seat, and to give them tools to control which data they sell. And that's exactly what this international data space association is doing. So that they're creating even something like a digital rights model. So you can attach users rights to data so that it's only allowed to use it for a specific purpose, or you're only allowed to keep it for number of specific time in order to, to prepare something like this. So I think that is absolutely the future. And I, I, I always try to do a very simple comparison on your smartphone. We have this very simple user experience that each app tells you what it wants to access from your private data, right?

I mean like Google maps wants to access your location. And of course you allow that because it's peer, you cannot navigate on Google maps without sharing your location. But if a random website or a random app that doesn't have anything to do with navigation asks me for accessing my location, then I would say no, because I need a clear reason to share my data for us, for receiving the specific service. And that's what we try to copy in our software. So when you, when you have a factory and you have, I explained earlier, we have like a multitenant scenario where a machine builder, for example, can provide a plugin to your IOT infrastructure. And this plug in would send certain data to the cloud machine builder. When you activate the plug in at first, it presents you, which data is is transferred. So very similar to this smartphone process. And second, it also gives you transparency along the lines. So you are always see who receives which data and you can immediately interrupt. So this, I think, control and transparency, beats trust.

[Erik]

So I I'd love to dive into a use case or a case study, but before we go there, I just wanted to quickly touch on one other topic that I think we've just briefly mentioned, which is the topic of security. So this is certainly one of the, let's say a top three in any case concern or priority for just about every manufacturer, where do you see the, let's say the status cool of the security landscape right now, and how does Cybus fit into that landscape?

[Peter]

Cybersecurity, when people talk about cybersecurity, you very often talk firewalls, intrusion detection and so on. So the combination is that you will usually call cyber companies, are companies that install something in your network, which tries to monitor your network traffic and tries to warn you when something unusual is happening or tries to control with which device is allowed to communicate with which other device. And if you ask me that's super important, but I think it's not everything because that's like having a security team in your building or locks doors. But as we have such a complex system that we discussed earlier, we will have so many data sources and data things. I believe that there is a security layer that's hardly talked about, and that's really a pure access control layer. So for example, I have a dashboard which shows the current status of the machine and the dashboard is running maybe in the cloud, but maybe also locally.

So then this dashboard should be able to get data from the machine, right? It needs to get data from the machine, but it never should be allowed to also control the machine. And that does the security layer. That's hard to talk about. So really access control, not about who is able to talk to, to whom at all, but to, to narrow it down to the specific data points that are allowed to be red or the specific data points that are allowed to be written back. And that is the security layer where, which we try to, to add to the system, I don't say replace anything, but really add to the system, probably some more technical backgrounds protocols. Like obviously you have a strong security focus and it's the most modern protocol in the industry, but I have never seen an OPC UA server that implements an access control scheme.

So when you have access and you have access, when you don't have access, you don't have access, but there's no in between, there's no gray scale and other protocols like the seven protocol that you use to reprogram also of our network on the Siemens PLC that has not even encryption that has no password. It doesn't have any excess control either, but still these are the protocols that we are basing the whole industrial IOT. And so this really in a positive sense access control layer, so that ensures a least privilege approach. So each microservice that we treat data from another one is only able to retrieve the minimum that it requires. That is some security notion that we add with our software to the whole system.

[Erik]

Interesting. Yeah. I've heard other people discussing, let's say the shortfalls of a firewall because you're, you're not only trying to protect the system from external bad actors, right? There are also internal actors who might have legitimate because of their legitimate access to system, but who could also have motives that are not aligned with the company. Right. So I can see how an access control system would at least constrain their ability to, to act within it's the only attack prevention, to be honest. It's, it's also failures. I mean, assistant can just work wrong in order to cause damage and it doesn't need to be evil in the first place. And also it's also a governance issue because when you have in the end hundreds of systems connected to each other, then you will need to know what happens when you unplug a particular cable now to speak. Did you activate a specific sensor? What happens, which systems will be effected that has a relation, do you need to keep track of and having a well-maintained access control list is an approach to that. Yeah. Good perspective.

Let's then discuss a case study and let's look at it from an end to end perspective. So from, let's say the first conversations with the customer about their they're challenged through the deployment, do you have a particular case in mind?

[Peter]

Yeah, so I would jump again into the case of this milling and drilling machine builder. I mentioned earlier, it's one of the top three in Germany. And they were quite early thinking about digital services, providing basically a web portal for their customers, where they could see their machines, the health status of the machines probably recommendations that order, how to, to, to better perform on the machines and order spare parts, maybe even automatically this customer as everybody else implemented everything on their own in the first place. So they implemented a, I'm not even sure which cloud platform they chose, but that doesn't matter.

So they implemented this portal, they implemented a very simple gateway. They were able to deploy via VPN to their customers and they installed, they rolled it out in the first place in their own premises because that's, it's a company that produces on their own machines. Basically. That's basically the situation where they, where we found them or they found us. So technically everything worked. Of course, as I said, it's technically not very hard, but they had a hard time rolling that out to customers because this was one of these black box gateway issues that didn't find much acceptance, especially at larger customers. That was one problem. The second problem was this customer had created a known department for creating this digital services. And there were a number of software developers in the department sooner or later, they realized that the gateway is not as simple as they thought, because you have to be very universal when it comes to a proxy scenarios as customers, you have to be efficient on deployment. You have to maintain the gateway security critical, as we said and they said, no, our core competence is not creating gateways, but our core competence must be creating the digital services. And so they were searching for a supplier with a play gateway solution that solves the acceptance.

[Erik]

In this case, are you providing the entire gateway? Kind of white labelling gateways and installing your technology? Are you deploying on the existing gateways that they already had deployed?

[Peter]

What we did was pretty interesting because they have already created their gateway or at least the specific business logic they needed for the gateway. And as most people today they implement as a, as a Docker container and DACA is quite  a good plug and play solution when it comes to integrating somewhere else. And we have in our software, our runtime, environmental third party Docker containers, because that's how we consider plugins to be most straightforward. And so it was pretty straightforward to take their existing gateway technology, integrate their specific business logic into our solution and deploy that to the end customer. And so then we basically provided the prepper for product lifecycle management updates, integrating into customer achieves systems, active directory integration that the customers proxy integration and so on, but we never do white labelling.

So what the customer, the end customer again, is a cyber connect with a, we call it service. You could also call it an app, but we call it the service with a service that carries the label of the machine builder. And the service can be deactivated or activated. And if you activate it, then you get presented a little dialogue that explains machine builder, XYZ wants to access data from the following machines. Then of course you have to enter the IP addresses of the machines. And specifically the following data will be transferred to the cloud of manufacturer. And then it really leaves you with allow or not. And if you don't allow it, then of course it doesn't get activated, but that's a sales problem basically for the machine builder. And if you allow it, our software ensures that the opposite end connections to machines is set up that's right.

Data points are subscribed that these data points are made available in the right format to the Docker container off the machine builder that the Docker container is running basically. So that's a plug and play user experience on the same deployment of our subs connect, where you could also either installed similar service from another vendor or do something else with the same data. So in this case, and that's how we have this logic tendency. We have even situations where this machine builder could deploy their services and our software was already there because we already did another sale earlier at the same customer. Okay.

[Erik]

Okay. Very interesting. So this is really almost a sales enablement proposition for your customer care.

What was the deployment time for this? So let's say from the time that you started having conversations to the time this was deployed, what, what does what does a typical, maybe you could ask, what was it for this situation? And then what would be a typical timeline?

[Peter]

It really depends on, on the prerequisites. They were quite good here because as I said, the machine was already equipped with the necessary interfaces and the, and the cloud platform was already developed. So I think we had three to four months. We worked together with them like full time on our site. But just because they have a sprint planning and things develop and we have individual refuse, but I think in very, in a few weeks you can already achieve a lot. It totally depends on, on the prerequisites. So if today, a customer approaches us and says, here's an OPC server, we need a gateway solution for Azure IOT. Then it's something we can, we can implement in very few days. If we start at Houston machine, can you explain OPC UA? And which cloud should we choose then of course, a more complex consulting project starts. The pure implementation is pretty straightforward because we usually don't have to customize anything it's just configuration.

[Erik]

Okay. So your business model, I mean, I guess it's dictated to an extent by just the maturity of the, of the market right now, but then what a typical solution, it would look like some upfront advisory or development costs like a onetime. And then does it move to a SAS model based on the number of gateways or machines or, or facilities, or how does a typical business model look like for, let's say maybe a factory in a in a technology provider.

[Peter]

Of course we can do some consulting work or system integration where we really sell days basically when that's required by the customer, but that's not our business model. We have a small team of support engineers that can help here, but we are not trying to maximize these days instead if a customer really needs consulting or system integration support, we have partners namely from the big ones, MHP and DXC that are trained for our software and they are doing really the bigger projects here. And then our business model is it's a licensed model. And there are two models basically. So when we use held factories and that's a very classic software license, a monthly subscription that's scales was a number of machines. And also with the enterprise grade, basically. So in the smaller tiers, we don't support complex user management and so on.

And in the larger years, you can have high availability, clustering support, enterprise active directory integrations for these service providers. Like I just described this more complex because usually they have they're at the beginning of defining their own business model. So we have a value based selling approach here. And we usually agree on a license per deployment of the service that is a ratio of, of the turnover of the service provider. But that's a very individual thing because we have realized that usually the service providers, they're just they're often at a point where they discuss technology, but their business case is also not find yet. And we try to be not in the way there.

[Erik]

Oh, that's a super, super interesting though that I mean one of the things that really fascinates me around the IOT market is that the technology enables a tremendous amount of business model innovation. Right. And, and you're now in the position of basically innovating together with your hands to figure out what makes sense for, you know, for both of you in the long term. Very good.

Well, I think this has been for me really a fascinating conversation. Is there anything that we haven't touched on yet that you think is it important to cover?

[Peter]

I think we discussed a lot of things. I just, I look into my notes, but there's nothing in particular that I think we have missed.

[Erik]

Great. Then just maybe one last question from me, which is what is the best way for people to reach out to you or to the team if they're interested in learning.

[Peter]

So just the easiest way is send us an email to hello@cybus.io. You can also visit our website. There's some white papers to download it's cybus.io, and we would be very happy if you would reach out to us. It doesn't matter if you're in a factory at the beginning of your own digital endeavor, or if you're in machine builder or components, supplier that wants to provide digital services. Everybody who needs a gateway to get machine data into a cloud might be potential customers.

[Outro]

Thanks for tuning into another edition of the industrial IOT spotlight. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at IoTONEHQ and to check out our database of case studies on iotone.com/casestudies. If you have unique insight or a project deployment story to share, we'd love to feature you on a future edition. Write us at team@iotone.com.

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EP 063 - How IoT can be sustainable and humane - Bob Sharon, Chief Innovation Officer, Blue IoT.
Thursday, Apr 30, 2020

In this episode, we discuss smart building environmental management systems. A crisis is the best time for disruptive technologies because there is motivation and incentives to change the old system. The environmental crisis sparked the change for technologies that address sustainability. Improvements in wireless connectivity, cloud computing, open source APIs, and SaaS operating models, enable more flexible and cost effective solutions. Potential benefits of improved building management systems include reduced carbon footprints, more sustainable solutions, lowered costs, increased cybersecurity and productivity.

Bob Sharon is the Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Blue IoT. Blue IoT is the global leader in data and information driven virtual building and facilities automation. Blue IoT delivers end to end integrated data and technology driven services around real time optimisation, predictive maintenance and machine learning that maximises clients’ operational effectiveness and efficiencies across all building, precinct, asset, facility, maritime and smart city sectors. https://www.blueiot.com.au/

Read More
EP062 - Advanced machine vision and deep learning systems - Iain Smith, Managing Director, Fisher Smith
Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020

In this episode, we discuss the use of deep learning mechanisms to accomplish tasks that are not possible with traditional rule-based systems. We use two cases to illustrate how deep learning can be used to solve non-traditional and recognition problems within hours.

This is part 2 of 2 with Iain Smith on machine vision.

Iain Smith is Managing Director and Co-Founder at Fisher Smith. Fisher Smith designs and supplies machine vision systems for automatic inspection and identification of manufactured parts on industrial production lines. https://fishersmith.co.uk

_________

Automated Transcript

[Intro]

Welcome to the industrial IOT, spotlight your number one spot for insight from industrial IOT thought leaders who are transforming businesses today with your host, Erik Walenza.

Welcome back to the industrial IOT spotlight podcast. I'm your host, Erik Walenza, CEO of IOT one. And our guest today will be Iain Smith, managing director and co founder of Fisher Smith. Fisher Smith designs and supplies machine vision systems. And this is our second discussion with Ian on the topic of machine vision. In this talk, we focused on the use of deep learning algorithms to accomplish tasks that are challenging or impossible with traditional rules based systems. We also walked through two case studies. The first case illustrates how deep learning can be used to solve some recognition problems in a matter of hours while the second case illustrates a difficult problem that would have been impossible with rule-based systems and it's pushing the bounds of deep learning capabilities. If you find these conversations valuable, please leave us a comment and a five star review. And if you'd like to share your company's story or recommend a speaker, please email us at team@iot.com.

[Erik]

Thank you, Iain. Welcome back. And thanks for joining us again.

[Iain]

A pleasure to be speaking with you again, Erik, this is our second podcast. I think these chronologically we'll play right after each other, but just so that in case anybody is just logging in and listening to this one and didn't catch our previous podcast, let's just do, let's say the 60 second background on who you are and what your company Fisher Smith does. And then we can dive into the topics that we're going to be focusing on today.

[Erik]

Okay. Yeah, no problem. So I've been working in machine vision industry for about 20 years now, having done a degree in engineering, math in the UK, and then pretty much gone straight into working for a machine builder of vision inspection machines. And then for the last 15, 16 years, I've been running Fisher Smith doing very much focused on just the vision aspects of industrial machine vision. And this tends to be predominantly inspection, quality control robot guidance tasks, and we tend to be working. I was a range of efficient suppliers were then adding value to that equipment by integrating it, writing the software, doing the frontend, deploying, getting the systems, actually working on the factory floor to solve the application. And we're usually doing that through a chain of customers. Predominantly those customers are automation companies, people who are making the machines that they're doing, the robots they're doing the conveyor, the material handling the moving of parts, the assembly. And we come in as a specialist supplier to do the vision aspects of that production line. So that's a very quick overview of sort of what we are and where we are in the market. So we're quite a small specialized team just focused on, on the machine vision in industrial stuff.

[Erik]

Great. And today we want to do more of a deep dive on deep learning and the impact there. I think in our last podcast, we covered more of we could say that traditional solutions, even though some of those solutions are still kind of on the cutting edge of machine vision technology, but we didn't go very deep into deep learning as a starting point. It would be great if I can just understand your definition of that because we have this term deep learning, we have machine learning and then we have AI as kind of an umbrella concept. Are there technical differences between these terms, are, are these different kind of categories in terms of hierarchy? How do you look at, how do you look at these? And then if you can kind of find what does deep learning actually mean in the context of machine vision?

[Iain]

Yeah, so I guess all of those terms are probably very well misused and they get swapped and interchange quite a lot. AI really sits above all of these as a more general concept, really of computer based intelligence and often the general consensus of AI. It's a sort of human level of awareness and intelligence. And what we're really looking at only, ever looking at is a specific or a focused or targeted AI at a particular function. That's when the separation from AI to really deep learning starts to happen. So we're really looking at deep learning in, in industrial vision context to mean teaching a neural network on images in particular and looking for particular characteristics in those images, we're not using the neural networks for just data processing or speech recognition or any of these other data sources that can happily go into a deep learning network and your network. We're really just focusing on image processing aspects of that. And then even within image processing, it's focusing that down again into specifically industrial applications.

[Erik]

Let's go into a little bit then how does this differ from a traditional process? So I suppose with the traditional process, you're looking at, you know, maybe this shape is diameter of two millimeters and maybe if there is, you know, so if it's out of range by point X millimeters, then it's, it's a fault, or maybe we're looking for black and if there's there's a white pigment, then it's a fault. How does deep learning differ from a program approach that you might have taken or might still be taken in most cases today?

[Iain]

Yeah, so it, it's a very different concept really. So the two, the traditional machine vision and deep learning really compliment each other in a, in a lot of aspects. There are some areas where they overlap, where you think could do that. One way we could do it the traditional way, but often the two are separate. And like you say, the traditional methods tend to be mult. So they're rules based on logic based where you're saying, I'm going to count this many dark pixels or blue pixels in an image I'm going to make a measurement, which is generally finding an area of contrast or a feature at one bit of an image and a different area of contrast or a different feature, another image, and then measuring between them. And for some of those techniques, classic machine vision is still the right way to do it, but where the deep learning changes things is that it can cope with different ways of teaching it to start with.

And then it can cope with different scenarios far better. But it's trying to find where that separation is to work out, which one's best to deploy. So for instance, if you're looking at say fault detection, if you're looking at a bland background, say gray conveyor belts, or a gray surface, you're looking for scratches on a piece of mass or painted material. And that background is consistently a color, a gray or blue. And you know, that the defects on that are black marks, then that's fairly easy to set up with a traditional machine vision approach where you can say, okay, I'm going to ignore pixels that are blue or ignore pixels that are gray. And I'm going to look for anything that's different to that. I'm going to look for black pixels and then you can start counting them and saying, okay, this many black pixels is unacceptable to the customer.

This is a fault we reject the parts. So that's the sort of traditional logical rules based approach. And that works really well. But as soon as that background or the object is not a nice, consistent even surface, if that was multiple colors or had a surface texture had dark areas, light areas was a fabric or some as a complex sort of shape and color like a grain of wood or all sorts of different surface textures. And you're looking for strategies going across the traditional techniques just completely fall down. You can't easily say if you're looking at a bit of wood and you're looking for scratch on that where your, your piece of wood has all these grains, these lines and contours running through it already. So how do you then say, how do you quantify a scratch with a rules based approach? You can't stay as long and thin and dark because all the other grains in the wood are already long and thin and dark.

You may be able to say, well, it's going horizontally and all the other grains are going vertically, but that may only work. In some instances, it may be that some of the blemishes are lighter or some of them are darker, or some of the blemishes are actually very similar color, but there until human, this is, this is often the frustration with traditional vision techniques to a human, with a bit of training. They can look at that object and say, no, we don't like that. Blemish on this piece of wood, this piece of fabric it's wrong. But trying to codify that, trying to put the logical rules around that to say, well, is it darker? Not all the time. Is it lighter sometimes, but no. Is it the same or different shapes to what's already there in otherwise good products, almost impossible to use a traditional machine vision approach to that.

And that's where deep learning really wins that you can give it lots and lots of samples of what a good and all the variations that come through and good. And then you can give it samples that are bad, and it tables with suitable levels of training, separate those different classes, and start to find folks that would have been almost impossible to find with traditional machine vision techniques. I've sort of touched on defects. That tends to be what the quality control aspect of what we do. That's, that's where a lot of our projects end up going down, but really deep learning wins in a, in a few areas. One is the fact finding the other is object detection, that if you don't have such a defined shape or a strong contrast, you can use the deep learning to actually match features in an image and this, and find and locate features in an image.

And we can also use it for, and this, I guess the core and classical use case for deep learning is classification separating apples from oranges, from pairs, from bananas and saying, yeah, this is definitely of this type. This is definitely that type. And then we often look at this now as a, as a layered approach that we may build up a deep learning application. We're looking for a defects type. And then once we found that defects, then we're actually saying, using the deep learning as a secondary operation on that say, now we've extracted the defects. We'll classify it. This is a scratch. This is an oil Mark. This is a fingerprint. This is a piece of cardboard. This is, you know, all the different types. So then you can start to get proper separation and use that feedback to really give the customer valuable information about their process and where the defects coming from, what are their high value problems, whereas with traditional techniques, some of that is possible. But certainly if you're just looking at, I found an area of dark pixels, it's bad, then trying to put lots of rules around it say, well, if it's long and thin and in this direction, it's a scratch. But if it's long and thin curved, then it's maybe a bit of fabric or a hair or something like that. And trying to actually separate those might be very difficult in a rules based way. Whereas the deep learning is really set up to do all of that.

[Erik]

Okay. So interesting. So in a deep learning environment, it's easier than to categorize because the other algorithm can kind of tell you that the shapes are somehow similar, but one of the complaints about deep learning and one of the challenges there is that it's also somewhat of a black box, right? So I can tell you these are similar, but it doesn't necessarily explain why they're similar. How do you get around this understanding barrier?

[Iain]

This is one of the key, the key hurdles we have when, when explaining this, or even getting to the point of assigning a machine or a system off with the customer, when you've got to say to them, well, we've put all of your good images. And this side of the black box, some magic has happened in the middle. And then at the other end, it said, this one's good and that one's bad. And there's no real way of some people can and do understand what's going on in that, inside that neural network. But the reality is that you don't necessarily know what features the deep learning has chosen in that image to separate one class from another good, from bad apples from oranges. And it might be something that you, you don't expect. And this is something we've got to be quite careful with because you can inadvertently where you think you've taught a particular fault type.

What the deep learning's actually picked up is not on the fault itself, but may be the proximity of that fault to the edge of the parts. So if you've trained up for instance and all, all of your images, the scratch is next to the edge of the park. Then the deep learning may have detected some of the aspects of the scratch, a little bit of contrast, change texture, whatever it may be, but it may have also picked up the edge of the part is a significant feature that always appears near it. Then when the same scratch, which might be otherwise identical appears in the middle of the parts, the deep learning misses it completely. And it's trying to have that understanding of, we can't assume that it's found the scratch or the blemish, and it understands what the blemish is. There are other factors in play and the way that the neural networks are trained, the images broken up, manipulated changed, transformed in various ways. Mathematically all very sound concepts can be quite abstract. And it may be finding some data in there to separate the classes that you can't visibly tell, or you can't obviously see what you've got in front of you.

[Erik]

Yeah. There was a study out recently, I think on, I think it was Google that was using deep learning to look at lung cancer and they were comparing this against results from whatever species of a surgeon typically will assess cancer in the lung. And I think the result was that there was a class where the humans could easily identify that this was a cancer and the machines were missing it. And there were others where the machine would very high accuracy identify it, and the humans completely missed it. And so they're just, they're using different processes in some cases for identification. And that this I imagine can be very frustrating for somebody who's trying to understand the quality control process.

[Iain]

Yes. You know, traditional vision techniques have been around for a good number of years now. So they're starting to become generally understood in industry so that people who have may be purchasing project, people who have brought in a number of projects into their business, which have had machine vision on them, have an understanding of what they want that system to achieve and how they want us to present our methodology to them so that they can understand what's happening and sign off to understand that it's this robust method they've got control. If they need to adjust something, they can see what's happening in there. And they can see that yes, features that they've asked us to detect. We are detecting when they change like this, we can see the values changing and we can sort of prove that we are meeting their specification with a deep learning. It's very much a results based sign off for it because you're asking the customer say, well, give us the good ones, give us the bad ones. We'll put them through and give you the result, which says these ones are good and these ones are bad, but can't tell you how it's made that choice. Cause that's all happened in the, in the deep learning. We've just got to prove it by challenging it. Basically,

[Erik]

I think the other challenge that I've encountered in this space is with training, right? So the example that you gave earlier with scratches being on the edge or on the inside. So the challenge there seems to be that there were not enough samples in the training data of situations, where there was a scratch on the inside. So we, you know, we didn't have sufficient data of that case to train the model. And in a lot of cases where, you know, let's say if the, if the quality control is terrible, well, you have a ton of a ton of examples of faults, right? And then you have some, some good training data, but in a situation where quality control is already fairly good, you might not have that many examples of actual faults. How do you get around understanding how to collect the data? And when there is sufficient or insufficient data to train on a deep learning model,

[Iain]

Very, very good point. And maybe just a little aside before I answer that this is one of the big separations between traditional machine vision and deep learning is that with traditional machine vision, you can basically take a single image. You can set your rules and your logic and your tests up on that image and say, well, I'm measuring this or want to find this. If it doesn't look at this pattern changes more than 10% from what I've taught it, I'm going to reject it. If this number of pixels on counting over here exceeds a certain value, I'm going to reject it and you can set those rules up on one image. If you need to, you can, then you can start challenging it with other images, with deep learning, you need a quantitative images to start with. And the constancy is a variable thing. So depending on how subtle the faults are, you may be able to get away with talking 10 tens of images as a starting point.

But if you want some meat to get really robust, then more is more. If you can provide more samples of all the different classes you're trying to put into that deep learning model, then you're going to get better, more robust results, but you also need to spend the time in there to actually separate them as well. So if you don't have enough samples, which is your question, you don't have, you know, I've only got one image of a single folder. Then, you know, the chances of you reliably finding that false in most full locations is limited. There are techniques. So, so one of the best software we we've used most of this, which is a cognitive product called [inaudible] that has the option to add, introduce into your trained images. So you can basically take an image that's part of your train set. And so we'll all, all of the trained images.

I'm going to rotate them all by plus or minus 90 degrees in two degrees steps. And I'm going to make them all slightly brighter, slightly darker to try and introduce some. So artificially introduced some variations, which we may expect as a way of multiplying up the training set. So if I've only got a handful of images or faults, I can add some of these manipulations, either in position size, scale, skew, and brightness, and contrast to try and make my training set more robust by, by adding some of these manipulations in on, on day one. But it's still no substitute. It can help. You can certainly help, but if you don't have it, if you really don't have the data to start with, then it's going to be hard to work with. And this probably also leads into a separation, certainly in the sort of commercial software that we're tend to use of two different techniques in the deep learning.

One is, is where you specifically teach the faults. So certainly with the cognitive product, we refer to that supervised training where you ask specifically drawing on to each one of those faults. This is where the fault is, and you're highlighting it on each failure image. This is the fault. This is the fault of this type. And you have to Mark manually Mark all those images specifically where the fault is, and that then allows you to be much more targeted about the fault type or the feature that you're trying to find and highlights. But the downside of that is you do need to have lots of different variations. So if you're looking at scratches, you want those scratches to be, have a good training set where those scratches are different sizes, different lengths, different curvatures on different positions, where you'd expect to find them. Because with that method, you are what you're teaching in, will take into account, all sorts of things, including the position size, the length, the pixels that surround that area, that you've marked all go into the, into the mixing pot.

When the neural network is trained to decide how to separate that, that class, that fault for everything else, the other way. And if you haven't got very many rejects images, the other way the, we call it unsupervised training or it's novelty detection is where you just train it on good images. You say, all of these images are good products. These are all acceptable. You train those up and then you ask it to find things that are different. And then that's a good way if your faults work with that technique, some do some don't, but if the faults work with that technique, then you can, you're selecting good ones. And you're highlighting areas on those images, which do not conform to what the good ones having them. So it's, it allows you to detect faults that you may not have seen before or a different or varying.

So the two techniques often we combine them as well, because you might, you might want to generally have a defect detection, which is looking for differences from the good products, but there may also be some very specific or quite fine or subtle features that that technique doesn't reliably separate. It might find them when they're more obvious, but when they're more subtle, we need to go to a more direct and this supervised method of training where you're highlighting the faults manually as part of your training, and then to combine the two, have the two deep learning models running either sequentially or in parallel to give you the best of both worlds. Really?

[Erik]

Yeah. I was just going to ask about this and I think you've, you've answered that question. And then I guess maybe a follow up would be this, this training then, is there any kind of off the shelf software where you kind of, you know, somebody can purchase this, they can plug it in, they can upload images and an output, a functional model, or is pretty much all of this require a data scientist right now to kind of get into the data set in order to create a functional model.

[Iain]

So you can go either way on this one level, anyone can go and register for an account with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, you can get access to their virtual machines. You can use open source, deep learning programs, things like TensorFlow that you can start off the news for absolutely minimal cost. And you can go and train a deep learning network. There's obviously an overhead for that, that you've got to understand approximately what you're doing, but there are tutorials out there. So at one level you can go off and do it at absolutely minimal cost, or you don't need to have any of your own hardware. You can rely on uploading images to the cloud and using virtual machines to do all that training. What we're really focusing is commercially available products. Although the sort of data scientist side of things is, is very interesting for us, not very commercially viable that if we can deploy a solution in a relatively short space of time, then that allows us to solve a customer's problem, deploy a solution, get it working on the factory floor.

And then we can move on to the next project. We don't want to be tied up for hours or days or months training up your networks. So to that end, we, we do certainly focus. And really what I've talked about today is, is based on, on these commercially available products. So to mention a couple of the things I've already mentioned, one, which was a Cognex and video software, and we've also used the MPD tech German company there, how con deep learning library as well. And these are commercially available, deep learning products where you have a software user interface that allows you to do the training. So you can import images. You can Mark on the images, the features that you're interested in, and then you can train that model locally on local hardware. And then you can deploy it again within the framework of those software environments.

And this is really where we see the four directs industrial deployments. This is the most sensible route to market for us. So it may not be the most powerful, the most flexible, obviously companies like Google has got their self driving cars. They're spotting all these street signs shop front. So the cars number plates, all of this within very, very complex and powerful neural networks, deep learning AI things. We're looking at, usually not having the luxury of luxury, the benefit to use the cloud as a computing platform for this for a couple of reasons. So one, one is a commercial reason that, you know, these are often specific and proprietary processes and products that companies are using. And they generally cautious about exfiltrating, all of that image data and their quality control data up to the cloud to be stored somewhere else. But then there's also practical aspects that once the training is one element of it, but when we're talking about deploying a deep learning system, this is often on a production machine.

We might be checking multiple parts a second. And in which case, the practicality of taking an image with a camera on a production line, then uploading that image to some cloud service, doing the deep learning on a virtual machine, getting the results and sending that back down to the machine to pass or fail. It might be quick enough, but we might not be able to guarantee the reliability of that. I was a licensee and it's going to be dependent on local network conditions, local internet conditions, other bottleneck it's generally, you know, it's, it, it would be too risky and too difficult to to look at that. So we're looking usually at what you described as edge inference, where you're learning a local computer to do the deep learning runtime, the inference on that computer locally to the camera and give the results back there.

And then, so that then requires that that computer has the capability to do that. And this is where you start. You generally are looking at having GPU acceleration and for most of the products that we're working with, the commercially available products that GPU acceleration is Nvidia based because of the Cooder libraries that Nvidia have other ones that are leveraged in the software, and basically the highest spec graphics card. You work with, the faster you on your network, you fast, your deep learning will run. And that's how we can see the deployment on the training side. All of the same things really apply that what we generally doing here when we're training is we're using a local computer with graphics acceleration. And for instance, we've got a, basically a gaming spec laptop, and that is capable of training these deep learning models within minutes, if it's a small image set, small image size, maybe hours, we might sometimes leave it running overnight to do a more complicated set of training.

The training is generally more of an offline process. So, you know, using a cloud based service for that is more viable, but it's also a reasonable overhead to do it locally on local heart. What we are starting to see is that companies like Cognex are exploring whether or not the cloud based service for this will work. But again, we've got this two things. One is that we might have gigabytes of images to upload. The more images you can take and supply to that deep learning, generally the bedroom more robust your model is. And certainly here in the UK, we have asymmetric internet connections. So the upload speeds might only be 10%, 20% of your download speeds. So to upload tens or hundreds of gigabytes of images to a cloud service, well, that might take you a couple of days. So actually running stuff locally on a local computer can be beneficial from an app point of view. And then you've also got this, certainly the software we're using is licensed.

[Erik]

So rather than the sort of the Google and Amazon where you it's largely open sourced, if we're using proprietary or licensed software, then how do you, if you've got a physical USB dongle that you can use it for, for a local laptop or a local PC, how does that licensing work?

[Iain]

We are seeing some movement with, certainly some of the dominant companies like Cognex who are starting to explore is that a model that us, as, as partners, as integrators could maybe use as a, as a benefit of our partnership that rather than us maintaining our own local infrastructure, we rely on our suppliers infrastructure to do that training. And then further on is, would customers want to do that? Some customers absolutely wouldn't want their data to be stored in a cloud somewhere. They'd be much happier to have it locally, even if that meant investing in some decent PC hardware to run that, to train that.

[Erik]

Yeah. And that's, I think more or less what we see across other IOT use cases as well is that there's a general move towards the cloud. So there's kind of a trajectory in that, in that direction, but it's slow. It's very cautious. And so we're, you know, you know, I guess it, it, you know, it's not so much around the cost model. I mean, that's a, that's why people are moving in that direction, but I think it's really around the risk perception. So any use cases that are deemed as, as high risk of putting IP at risk, I think those are going to move very slowly in. Can you walk us through a situation if you have maybe, you know, a customer in mind that you've worked on this, you don't have to mention the customer's name, but just to kind of walk us through from initial conversations through the decision process of what is the right approach for this particular situation and then how you select the right technology, you know, what's your evaluation process. I think it's quite useful to be able to kind of have an end to end perspective of how this would be deployed.

[Iain]

So I could probably talk, talk you through a couple of use cases that we've, we've come up with. So one that we had a little while ago was for some plastic lenses. So these are solid lens is used in, I think they were used in some sort of smoke or fire detector systems and they were being inspected manually. And the way they inspected them was they had a human look through them and they have a, a grid underneath the moat white piece of paper with black lines on it. And the human's able to look through that and see if the lens is, is correctly formed. Then you see that grid distorted in a sort of classic sort of fishbowl or pin cushion type of distortion. But if there was a blemish in that lens, then you get an anomaly that the lines wouldn't be evenly distorted.

As you look through the lens, they will be uneven and varying. We looked at that and tried to do that with a traditional machine vision approach. And it was, I wouldn't say it was impossible, but it was very difficult to do it and do it robustly partly because the product had a little bit of variability, which was acceptable. It wasn't a precise product, it had to be uniform, but that uniform could vary a little bit, as long as it was an even distortion. It could vary. So if you try to set up a rules based system to find the ideas which were black on whites and nice and straight forward, then you could do that. But then the spacing between them would change all the time. Not by very much, but it could be sort of unevenly depending on how that distortion occurred. And then you start doing that in two axes.

And then what happens when you get a little, like a bubble or a dark mark or a blemish in there, can you detect that? Because now you need to be looking for black pixels in between the grid, which was just, it wasn't impossible, but it was very, very difficult to do and to do it robustly. Whereas we were able to basically reproduce that, take the images and put them into, there was cognitivity in this instance, and with actually only quite a few samples, we're talking any sort of 10 samples of good products. We could then put one with a bubble in it, one with a uneven curvature on the lens, one with a scratch or a spot in it. And straightaway, it would pick up those features regardless of the other distortions in the grid that you were seeing. It could, it could pick up those blemishes very quickly.

And actually, because that was a, these parts took quite a long while to make, we had 20 or 30 seconds per parts to do the inspection. Once it had been trained, we worked out that we could actually run that without GPU acceleration, so we could run it on a CPU. And it wasn't very quick, you were talking 10 or 15 seconds to detect it, but we had that amount of time. It was acceptable to the customer and it meant that we could go with almost a standard machine, vision hardware setup for the deployment, but we'd just done the deep learning training on some, some graphics accelerated software. And I didn't touch on this earlier, but one of the benefits for us using something like VD or how con to do this is that when you were then deploying it to the customer, we will need to have the ability to take images from the cameras.

[Erik]

Will those products have the tools in there, the traditional vision tools and the interfaces to cameras and things like that. So we could use the same software environment to grab the image, to put it through the deep learning, to maybe do a little bit of post-processing on that with standard vision tools. So maybe put some user editable thresholds on the size of the defects that were being found. So basically taking the defects that are found and then doing standard blob and pixel County type analysis on those, which then becomes runtime user editable. So they can sort of trim their quality levels without having to retrain the deep learning and then wrap all that up in a, in a user interface. So that was one, one area that we're looking, looking at it. Could you give me kind of a ballpark for what the timeline would be for development of this and also what the budget would be kind of the, let's say full, you know, including hardware software, the full, full budget might be for a deployment.

[Iain]

Yeah, sure. So the timescale, in terms of us evaluating it, once we'd got samples from the customer, I think we had the deep learning model trained in an hour or so once we got images, the training took probably less than an hour, and then we're able to start doing testing and effectively go back and demonstrate it to the customer within a few days. So that aspects of it was, was quick because it just works. The training worked very quickly. We got a good result straight away. We were able to sort of move to the deployment, the overall cost of that. I think we were somewhere if I say ballpark around 30,000 euros, which was for the hardware, so reasonably high resolution camera, the lighting, the grid that we were using to as part of the imaging solution and industrial computer to do the processing and the software license and our time to actually put a little user interface together, do all the communication and do the sign off and the, and the installation aspects of the integration. So that's the sort of budget of that. And that compares reasonably favorably to a traditional machine vision. If we'd had done it with a smart camera, for instance, of the same sorts of resolution, we might have been 75 or 80% of the cost, but in the same ballpark, which is not always the case, because as soon as you start looking at faster systems, more high end systems where we start needing more graphics cards, bigger hardware, and more involved image processing and deep learning time, then those costs can, can obviously escalate quite a lot.

Like this was for one production line, if I'm right, how would this scale? Let's say it's 30,000 Euro to develop the solution initially. And if they say we have five other factories or five other production lines that are exactly the same, and we want to deploy this, would it also be 30,000? Or are you looking at 70%, 50%? What would the cost look like if you wanted to scale the exact same solution? On that particular one, you'd be looking at 70, 70 ish percent to do repeats because a loss of the overhead of us rice and user interface doing the development aspects during the training of the deep learning has all been done already. So then you're, it's the hardware costs the licensing for the software. And, you know, there's still some deployment charges to be made to actually get the case on sites set up and working. But obviously we then not having to, to create a user interface or anything like that, because that can be copied over from the previous one. So on largely deployments, that difference could be greater if we could be down to sort of 50, 60% repeat costs. So a lot of what we do the repeats very rarely go into the tens and hundreds. It tends to be either a single production line or a five, maybe 10 at the most.

And if you went to very, really large scale, if you were talking are now really just picking names out of that really, but a Samsung or a Sony where they've got maybe hundreds of production lines making consumer electronics, then maybe you wouldn't look at some of these commercial off the shelf products necessarily you might be considering starting from scratch because okay, the development overhead is much, much higher, but then the deployment costs would be much, much lower potentially. But then having said that our suppliers, if we said to them, we've got a hundred off deployment or a thousand off deployment, I'd be very keen to discuss commercial terms on that. So I'm sure cost for various things would potentially come right down at those sort of levels. So another, another little example, and one that we're actively working with at the moment is we've got a, a manual assembly process where we're trying to detect a particular feature where the customer bolts five or 600 of these particular items onto this system, this, this framework that they're building.

And what they're trying to do is to remove the amount of human inspection required to validate that every single one of those has been correctly placed and is in the right position. And because it's a, rather than being a maybe fully automated production line where we can put the camera directly over the object we're looking at, we can control the lighting. We can control the testing of it. This we're talking about a large item where you've got multiple people climbing ladders to bolt stuff on moving around it. So we were restricted to what we can do. We haven't got the same control over our environment. We're having to have the cameras set back from the objects so that the people can move around in front of them. We can't shine stupid, the bright lights at the surface to even the illuminated. We've got to rely on the ambient lighting, which all makes then detecting these objects very tricky to do because they appear all over different angles, different Heights.

We've got a camera, high resolution, color camera looking at the scene, or actually several of them looking all the way around. And we're trying to determine all of these different objects. Are they there? And the objects themselves as they're bolted in, they can twist and conform. They hold on onto other aspects of the, of the bills. And depending on how hard they're tightened and what they're gripping, then they deformed slightly. They look a bit bigger, a bit smaller, and they come basically in one color, a couple of different sizes, but the color is not a controlled aspect of the build. So as long as it's functional and the color is approximately right, it's acceptable. So we've got all of these variations lighting, shadowing, we've got multiple positions, most pool poses and angles that these appear at and the variation in the actual color and size of the objects.

And we're trying to locate all of them around this surface. And we're using a deep learning at the moment to teach. This is what this feature looks like. You know, we're now up to, I think, training on two, two or 3000 images where an each one of those images might contain multiple instances, and it's a very time consuming task. You know, this is the other thing I haven't really touched on is that you need all these deep learning techniques rely on a ground truth. The human to say, this is good. This is bad. Or this is this type of feature. This is this type of feature. And all those images need to be labeled correctly as accurately as possible, and consistently to allow the deep learning to say, well, I know that these are this class and these are this class because without that human interaction at the start with training, it doesn't know what, what is classifying.

So that has been quite a big overhead in terms of, of time. It's not necessarily particularly high skilled, but it does require somebody to sit there and say, I'm going to draw a box around this one. We're now going to draw a box around this one. And what we're finding with that at the moment is what is the best technique? How do we best encapsulate these objects? Because sometimes they're fully visible. Sometimes they're partially visible. Sometimes we see more of the side of it than the front of it. It's all the same object, but how do we, how do we go about teaching that? And there is sort of no right answers to this. It becomes a bit of trial and error of trying one technique, okay, we're going to train all of these where we're only going to focus on a certain aspect of it.

And if we can't see that aspect, we won't train them. And then we train another version of the same model where we include the surroundings of it much more and say, this is it, but it's surrounded by this. We have bigger areas to define it. And we're having to spend quite a lot of time training, a deep learning model testing it. We're not getting very good results with this. Okay. Now, to retrain that we've got to go over all of those, you know, 2000 images, and we've got to redraw every single box on all of those and retrain it and see, does that give us a different, a better result? Is that more consistent? Is that more reliable? Do we need to start to separate these into different classes? This is the object looks straight onto it, and this is your objective it's to its side.

So do we treat the two, rather than putting them all into one class and saying these are all the same, but they do look quite different from the side or from the front. Do we start separate them and say, this is the object from the front, this, the object from the side. And this is where we're finding that deep learning. Although it's very though it's enabling us to do something that we really would have struggled with before with traditional techniques. It's not for free, that there is a significant overhead cost. And we're even saying that some of the manufacturers and the suppliers to the software, they themselves are, I say struggling, but they're finding that they're getting lots of inquiries. We'd really like you to evaluate whether your product can work with our issue on our projects. Can you evaluate it for us? But that evaluation time is time consuming and expensive and using a lot of resources, the software manufacturers. And so it's very powerful, but there is, you know, there is a considerable overhead to it in terms of the time that goes in at, at the training level and what humans need to add.

[Erik]

And what do you think in, in this situation, do you think the end result is going to be that you'll be able to say out of these, let's say these 500 X, you know, instances you'll say, well, these 300 are definitely a pass and those 100 are definitely, you know, are these, these 20 are definitely a fail, but the remainers, we need to have a human go and look at them in second, not a second, second check. Or do you think that you'll actually be able to come up with a sufficient accuracy that a human doesn't have to be involved in the end here?

[Iain]

I think on this particular application, if we get to a 80, 90% success rate and then the human has to intervene for the remaining few, then that will be acceptable for this customer. And in this particular use case clearly if you're looking at a hundred percent quality inspection on a, on a production line, those sort of numbers do not inspire confidence, but with this, because it's a manual operation. Anyway, they're used to spending a lot of time inspecting this and rechecking it because it's a very high sort of high quality component that comes out at the end. It's not a fast process. Then some amount of human intervention is acceptable. And there's also the fact that there are compromises on that system have been made, where we know that we're going to look at some aspects of the build. And some of these objects will naturally be obscured by a later bit of the build or even, you know, something of the same stage. So there may be bits that we physically cannot see and as good as deep learning is it can't see it. If the image doesn't present it to it. So there's an understanding of that particular product.

[Erik]

Sure. One last question. We didn't get into this previously, but so far we've always been talking about using machine vision with camera systems. Right. But I guess you could also use, you could use infrared, you could use some other sensor in quite a similar way. Have you ever found that to be particularly useful or do you find that kind of a more standard camera is generally the most effective solution?

[Iain]

So, so far we have only looked at this with, with standard cameras, but certainly with the Cognex product it's capable of working with multichannel images. So color is fine. Like a white is fine, but there's no reason why that data couldn't be for instance, three D data. I mean infrared or, or thermal stuff presents when you get the image, it's basically the same format as a standard color camera or, or a black and white camera anyway. So those techniques absolutely would go in and, and work with this for three day again, would, would work very happily. It might need to be what we call a range image, a two and a half the image where you've got an X, Y image with height as the height, as the color, if you like the pixels, rather than a full point cloud, but the techniques work with any image formats.

But what I haven't really touched on is the fact that these commercial products that we're using the neural network in them has been pre-trained is ready, biased towards industrial type of images. So if we supply standards, images, black, or white, or color of industrial type of inspections, then the deep learning is already sort of pre set. It doesn't have to work as hard to hone in on the features that you're looking at. We're not starting from a, and this is where you'd start. If you, to some degree, there's a bit of flexibility there on this, but if you went to an Amazon or somebody to take a fresh off the peg neural network and train it from scratch on images, then you're not narrowing that down a source. So the software products, where are you using if you want to try and say, is it a, I dunno, a dog or a monkey or a cat, it's probably an unlikely thing for an industrial inspection to be doing. But if we're looking at here's a printed circuit board, let's find the ends of a chip. So let's check the solar on each one of the pins is correctly formed. Then those sorts of images daily through the deep learning networks that we're looking at here much faster, because the network's already been predisposed to work well with that image type.

[Erik]

Great. Well, thank you for once again, taking an hour of your time and, and walking through this, I really appreciate the deep dive here. Is there any last thoughts or I think we covered a lot of territory today.

[Iain]

I think we have covered quite a lot. I think that's probably most of what I would consider. I mean, there's lots of other use cases, deep learning and deep learning even in machine business is not new, but really what we're, what we're now getting. It is commercially viable off the shelf products that we can deploy in a reasonably short period of time. So this is now becoming commercially really, really viable and more and more acceptable. And it's opening up avenues to us that previously were, were really shut. And it, it has been a bit of a sort of wow factor when we started seeing in particular, the cognitive fitty because the training user interfaces is so nicely presented on that, that you are able to very quickly get somewhere with it. And it really sent us looking away through our back catalog of applications that previously we said, either we can't do it, or we really don't think this is going to be robust if we deployed this it's right on the borderline, we think we can find them, or we can find this type of fault, but not that.

And you start looking back at those and thinking, actually, this, this would be possible. This could really be really viable now. And we're seeing some of the software companies focusing in on some certain use cases. So one of the big ones that certainly Cognex and then Vtech have picked up on is text reading and how quantum Baytex, how Khan has had a ready, trained font for again, industrial text recognition, text reading, CRO CV that has been trained with a neural network with deep learning technique. And then given back to you as a runtime to just use and its capabilities, just you give it RK. You're looking at industrial markings generally. So we're not necessarily talking hundredths and stuff, but almost any industrial funds that you get on a label and the thing that's printed or, or marks on, on something for traceability, or even just for stuff like food and fire packaging, where you've got date codes, locked codes, things like that.

These have been trained with a massive network of images of texts behind them, a really robust without any teaching. You just say, read this line of text, and it's very robust about reading it back to you and getting that back. And we're seeing that being one of the, sort of the key benefits that can be trained. The end user doesn't have to do the training of that. They can just benefit straight away from the fact that they've got a readymade deep learning model that reads text. And certainly I know that some of the companies are looking at other use cases. Are there other things that we could focus in on? So maybe for logistics, this is a box. If you can then say, okay, that's the box? Where do we look for labels on it? Then it, it speeds up everything or number plate recognition, finding a white rectangle or a yellow rectangle.

[Erik]

Certain, maybe slightly niche use cases, but areas where the training aspect could be done before the product is sold, basically. And then you're just ready to go with a pre-trained deep learning model that you can use straight out of the box to solve certain tasks. So I think we'll see more of that coming through as we go forward as really well, very cool. Exciting times. Yeah.

[Iain]

It's going to be, I think pretty incredible. This is I guess for a lot for you, maybe it hasn't happened so quickly, but for a lot of people, I think it seems like this has kind of come from from nowhere and all of a sudden we're moving towards pretty cost effective solution. So thanks for walking us through it and give us a, an update of where we are and yeah, just really appreciate your time. Yeah, no problem. Pleasure.

[Outro]

Thanks for tuning in to another edition of the industrial IOT spotlight. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at IoTONEHQ and to check out our database of case studies on iotone.com/casestudies. If you have unique insight or a project deployment story to share, we'd love to feature you on a future edition. Write us at team@iotone.com

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This is part 1 of 2 with Iain Smith on machine vision. 

Iain Smith is Managing Director and Co-Founder at Fisher Smith. Fisher Smith designs and supplies machine vision systems for automatic inspection and identification of manufactured parts on industrial production lines. https://fishersmith.co.uk

 

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Keith Higgins is Vice President of Digital Transformation at Rockwell Automation. He previously served as Vice President at FogHorn and CMO at RiskVision until its acquisition in 2017. Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK), is a global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation. We connect the imaginations of people with the potential of technology to expand what is humanly possible, making the world more productive and more sustainable. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rockwell Automation employs approximately 23,000 problem solvers dedicated to our customers in more than 100 countries. To learn more about how we are bringing The Connected Enterprise to life across industrial enterprises, visit www.rockwellautomation.com.

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EP057 - Databases designed for the IoT - Syed Hoda, Chief Commercial Officer, Crate.io
Thursday, Feb 13, 2020

In this episode of the IIoT Spotlight Podcast, we discuss the challenges facing companies when they scale industrial use cases that rely on large complex data streams and trends driving the development of systems at scale by traditional industrials that are expanding their business scope.

  • What is different about data in IoT and why is it harder than other projects?
  • Why do traditional databases and dev-ops methods fail in IoT projects?
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Syed Hoda is the Chief Commercial Officer and President North America at Crate.io, which develops IIoT data management solutions for customers around the world. An IoT industry veteran, Hoda most recently served as CMO of digital manufacturing platform company Sight Machine, and previously had been CMO of ParStream, the IoT analytics company acquired by Cisco Systems Inc. He lives in Palo Alto, California. https://crate.io/products/crate-iot-data-platform/

________

Automated Transcript

[Intro]

Welcome to the industrial IOT spotlight your number one spot for insight from industrial IOT thought leaders who are transforming businesses today with your host, Erik Walenza.

Welcome to the industrial IOT spotlight podcast. I'm your host Erik Walenza, CEO of IOT one and our guest today will be Syed Hoda, chief commercial officer and president of North America at crate.io. crate.io is a data management software company that helps businesses put machine data to work more easily in real time to enable gains in operational efficiency and profitability together, we discuss the challenges facing companies as they scale industrial use cases that rely on large and complex IOT data streams. And we also explore trends driving the development of systems at scale by traditional industrials who are expanding their business scope. If you're building a complex large scale system that requires real time access to IOT data, I highly suggest reaching out to sit or his team. And if you find these conversations valuable, please leave us a comment and a five star review. If you'd like to share your company's story or recommend a speaker, you're also welcome to email us at team@iotone.com

[Erik]

Thank you for joining us today. So this is an interesting topic for me because we're going to be discussing database technology for IOT. And I think databases are one of those technology domains where everybody pretty much understands what a database is and why it's needed, but once you scratch the surface, most people, myself included know almost nothing about how a database actually works, what differs between one or another. So this is going to be, I think, very enlightening for, for me and the rest of the audience. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your afternoon to speak with us today.

[Syed]

My pleasure I've been passionate about IOT for a long time, as we talk further, you'll realize.

[Erik]

Before we jump in there, I want to understand a little bit more on your background. You have quite an interesting background. So you were working with Cisco for a number of years, and then recently you've had a couple of roles with senior roles with startups. What triggered this transition for you from working with a larger corporate towards taking these roles with young scaling companies?

[Syed]

I spent 13 years at Cisco. It was a great career. I have a such deep respect for the company and the, I learned so much with gigs around the world and in Paris in Bangalore, India, as well as the U S. And in fact, the term, the first time I ever used the phrase IOT, was it just go about 2007 or 8:00 AM. I heard this weird phrase called internet of things, and it didn't even sound like a normal phrase, what tech that. And so I learned a heck of a lot there and was probably the chief storyteller of a lot of our smart city IOT stuff that we were doing back at Cisco for many years and decided eventually that it was as much as I loved my time at Cisco. It was really fun building a business at Cisco. Although I was in a very large company, I ran often new immersion groups that were in the business of monetizing a new idea, scaling it on a large level around the world and creating a business side of it.

I kind of ran sort of startups within Cisco as my previous jobs there and got the bug to do startups. I live here in Palo Alto, California. We have a few famous startups that have started around us, a company garage called HP that people have heard of, and then a company called Facebook and Google. And when you live around these big names, you get inspired and you want to be part of that world. And so I decided to leave Cisco and went to my first startup, which less than two years later got bought by Cisco. That was exciting. And then since then I've done a couple others and now eventually here by myself to create as a chief commercial officer.

[Erik]

Okay, great. Well, was there any coincidence between you joining the company and it being acquired by Cisco or Cisco already had an interest in the, in the company?

[Syed]

I think it was just a really good fit with what Cisco is trying to do back then. They needed some edge technologies. They were actually with a company called par stream, which was a database for edge analytics and sort of emerging IOT use cases. And Cisco really wanted that gained some software footprints in that area. So it was a good strategic fit and no, it was just a coincidence that I was at park street at the time.

[Erik]

Okay, great. And now you're at crate.io and it was founded in 2013. That's right. So it's in this phase now of kind of having a fully functional product and really now scaling where, where do you see create now in terms of their development as a company from the ideation stage now moving towards really scaling out the solution.

[Syed]

Yeah, we started a number of years ago and of course, like any start up, there's a point of, you know, it's just a good idea. When do we have a product that works then eventually moving toward a product that actually works well. It is a large company. And then eventually you get to the point of, we have a product market fit, and now we're going to hopefully increase the amount of repeatable and grow the business. That's where we are now. We're raising our next round of funding and we're growing the company. We've got kind of 50 to 60 people right now. And probably about a year's time. We'll probably double that number. We right now are headquartered in Europe and have most of our employees there, but I think over the next year or so, it'll become more balanced between North America and Europe where most of our businesses. And so now we're, we're yeah, we're growing to go to market side. We have a tremendous engineering team and we have a very, I would say, a light go to market team and the goal is add to that and grow it. And our biggest, I would say challenge looking ahead is getting to the customers on a wide enough basis and kind of help them close the deals.

[Erik]

I'm curious why, when you left your last company, I'm sure you had a number of different avenues you could have taken what convinced you to land at, at crate and take on this role. What was it about this particular company that was intriguing?

[Syed]

Yeah, that's a great question. I learned from some of my really most influential mentors throughout my career. When you think about new opportunities, one, you never leave a job because you're sort of unhappy with it. You should leave a job when you're actually happy and content and doing well. And this was opportunities because that's, when they'll make a more prudent decision, you'll actually, you don't want to run away from something you want to run to something. And so I really had deep respect for my last team that was coming to call cite machine manufacturing platform, a great company, great people. And I just felt it was time to stretch myself in perhaps a different direction or a wider direction. I was a CMO over there and now I'm running in crate.io sales and marketing and partnerships, business development.

What attracted me here? Wasn't the technology. It wasn't say the market we're serving, but it was the people I met. I think it is such a privilege to work with people that you respect, that you like and you enjoy working with, and you can learn from when you have the dose things coming together, then it makes your life better, frankly. So when I met the people that created crate.io, I was very impressed. These were incredibly smart people, but also very nice people, people that you enjoy working with now that really matters in a startup much more so than in the big company, because unlike a big company where you might have 50,000 people and you can go hide in living number 45 in a startup, you're a family. I mean, this is it. There's no hiding me. We worked together. We spent a lot of time together. We play together, we fight, we, we brainstorm. And so you really have to be a part of a culture that you believe in and you feel like you can learn from and thrive in. So for me, that was why I joined crate. I was very impressed with people. Of course, after that, is there something you can do to help? Is there a, does it align with what you're good at, what you want to do and what their business needs?

[Erik]

Yeah. Great. Yeah. Well, I can certainly buy into that where we're 12 people sitting here and it's certainly a family. That's the game when you're young. Let's learn a little bit more about what crate actually does. So, you know, again, I think if you say great does databases for IOT, people generally have some vague concept of what that means, but what is really creates value proposition?

[Syed]

Step back a bit as the chief commercial officer of a database company, here's my challenge. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, Hey, I want to buy a database. Nobody says that ever. And in fact, nobody actually wants to buy a database. They already have databases. There are plenty of them more than they wish they had. And so the last thing we want is just another database. So it's not easy. Our jobs, it's a hard job because it's, we're selling in a space there where someone goes, Oh, I already got one. Actually I already have five. Okay. So the question is, why should somebody care? Why should somebody listen? Well, let me, before we go down to the database level, it's going to go higher up a bit. And in the space of IOT, when you look at the research done by a number of firms like Cisco, like McKinsey, Bain, BCG, et cetera, then these firms have found that roughly about 70% of IOT projects have failed.

And what does failed mean? It means it didn't reach the expectations or aspirations of the original charter of the project. Now, maybe there were unrealistic expectations, maybe not, but roughly it has a 70% amount of failure. Okay. Now, why does that happen? Why did it happen and what can be done about it? We look at the top three reasons of why projects have failed in my OT. There are three consistently, again, same kind of companies, including others like IDC and Microsoft have studied this and found that there are really three reasons that are common. Number one, the lack of necessary skills at the T number two, sort of a siloed and resistant to corporate cultures. So the first two reasons are about people and organizations and culture. The number one technology reason is the data and it infrastructure. It's just not what it needs to be to support these applications and initiatives.

In other words, IOT projects fail technologically because of data. That's why. And the question is why it is so hard that industrial space it's harder than any other space. Morgan Stanley study data in my factory was that in our classmate verticals, there were a couple of unique attributes. One, there was more data and factories and manufacturing, supply chains than anywhere else in the world. And number one, vertical number two was government. Number one was in the industrial space, manufacturing factories and supply chains. And it was growing faster and the data variety was higher than anywhere else. So that's what makes it so hard is that the shape and scale of industrial data is very different than anywhere else. The problem is that the tools, the legacy tools that are being used to manage this and bring it to life are designed for this. So we have a challenge in our hands, traditional databases, traditional infrastructure technologies weren't designed for this.

They were designed that many of them for kind of the web scale world. Let me give you a little, maybe a little brief history about kind of how we got here a long time ago. There was something called ERP and client server computing and mainframes that all sort of made up the landscape. And back then we had relational databases that started to emerge and companies like Teradata and Oracle and IBM and Microsoft, all sort of flourished with relational databases. Then something happened a few years later called the internet business e-commerce e-whatever. And what happened there, that was the beginning of web scale and web scale meant that now more than ever availability and redundancy mattered the ability to support a massive number of users, concurrent users. And so all of a sudden the companies like Mongo DB and Splunk and Hadoop and other sort of came out, were born with flourished and then something else happened the world of digital transformation and IOT, et cetera.

And what this meant is that the landscape changed in a number of ways. It meant that now machines were users. We had connected things I OT and it began to convert. And what's expected from databases and technologies that support data were very different than before what's happening. Now, is that the volume of data while it's very high and big, data's become bigger and faster. The variety is way different than it used to be. That's the biggest difference. Variety of data has been massively increased compared to yesterday. And that's, what's made it very hard for infrastructure to catch up and support IOT projects. We expect data to be adjusted fast, to be analyzed quickly and scaled, and it's not easy to do.

[Erik]

Okay. So you have a, yeah, you have a kind of a nest of issues here, right? You have the variety of data. You have maybe different real time requirements around that data. So some of them might need to be stored and processed on the edge or on the device or on facility, or, you know, some can be moved to the cloud. You have a lot of messy data that doesn't have good metadata attached to it. So data that's maybe high in volume, but hard to, hard to actually interpret or analyze what is possible for a database to address. And, and what are, what are the pain points here that are somewhat outside of your scope and maybe need to be addressed at the protocol level or by, by some other solutions?

[Syed]

What a good database does in this world is it handles the data. It's quite simply, it's able to take the data you got and make sense of, but give it a context. Number one. So it's able to, one is just handling it, handling the kind of data that exists out there, handling the speed of the business. So ingestion speed and, and the real time nature of the use cases require databases to be fast but fast at scale. And that's, what's been very hard. A lot of databases like acknowledges can be really fast with small amounts of data or very simple queries, but what if the queries are complex and what if they're different every single time? What if the data is in terabytes and petabytes and beyond? What if the data is mixed and even mix of structured and unstructured data? If it, what if it's not just time series that's, what's hard. And that's why no company frankly, has been purpose built for this world right now. If you look at most IOT platforms, if you look at most applications, people buy by industrial companies, they're using web scale technologies to try to do IOT scale and we're failing because you can't scale it. It's so hard with databases we have to do is handle kind of the scale with ease, kind of the speed with ease and the data types with ease.

[Erik]

And are you doing this at great deal? Are you doing this across from the device through the cloud or where can create be deployed?

[Syed]

One of the advantages we have is we're actually exactly, you said their device to the cloud, we're an edge. We can be at the edge and we could be at the cloud. And what's unique about us is it's the exact same functionality, whether it's in the edge or the cloud and in between. So if you look at most use cases and especially factoring, that's what people want. They want to be able to do certain things in the cloud for things on the edge and kind of go back and forth as necessary as they wish. And so we have no limitations and I'm helping them do that. And with massive amounts of data, and we can run on something as small as a raspberry pie, which isn't recommended for most use cases. It sounds nice, and it looks good on a POC, but the reality is it's probably a little light for most of these cases that we get involved with more of a gateway up to the cloud. And you know, we, we have a very strong partnership with Microsoft Azure where we also, one of our biggest customers runs on AWS. And so it's important to give people a little bit of flexibility from that realm, but we are friendly, but both edge and cloud.

[Erik]

Okay. Yeah, this is, it's kind of an interesting topic. We had a panel a few weeks ago and we had somebody from Microsoft and somebody from Nvidia on the panel and, and it came up that they were partnering with each other. And so the, you know, we asked, well, don't, you, you kind of have competing stories, right? Microsoft is saying, move everything to the cloud. And the video saying, you should compute on the edge. Cause that's, you know, that you need to be faster and more agile. And it seems to be emerging that we really need this more nuanced approach. And, and actually they both bought into this. And then yeah, we're partnering because companies really require the right deployment at the right place. And this, I think has been one of the challenges in the IOT space of companies figuring out where data needs to be deployed. I think it's still somewhat of an open question. How involved do you get when you're working with your customers and advising them? Is it, do you have this kind of advisory function? Because I think this is a big open question for a lot of operators where, where they should be managing their data.

[Syed]

Yeah. Yeah. This is a great question. When we hear this all the time, should I do this or should I do this cloud? And the answer is super simple. The answer is yes. Where is the use case happening? What do you need to do? Don't get, so I tell my customers here at previous companies don't get lost in the buzzwords. Don't look for an edge project. Don't look for a cloud. Do what makes logical and business sense for the project, for the, for your projects and the use case. And I can tell you that whatever you want to do with the use case, there is a technology that can help you make it happen, but don't let the technology lead you, but the use case lead you. And so the answer is it's going to be a blend. It's the same thing people talked about with public clouds, private clouds, hybrid clouds, yes. All the above, but don't let the technology dictate how you do what you're going to do, figure out what you want to do. First technology will follow. We tell them, look, we're agnostic. We can do either one. What makes more sense? What's going to be more effective and that's what you should do.

[Erik]

Yeah. And this brings us back a little bit to your earlier point without out of these three pain points. Two of these are, are human related. And one of the big challenges here is that, you know, the it department would, this would typically be in the function, you know, the purview of the it department, determining which technology to use, but especially in the IOT space, the use case, the application, the form factor for the application, these are, these are very critical and these to help to determine the technology. So you really need a very strong role or a strong input from the business. Whoever is going to be operating this application. And, and there's a lot of friction there, right? Between decision maker, intuitively I would think you're selling to the CIO and the CIO is team, but the application is so critical here. How do you communicate to organizations between the different stakeholders?

[Syed]

So that's a really great question. We've actually modelled the kind of the buying process is pretty complicated. So here are the two points in time. When people say, gee, I want to buy a database. There's only really two points that happens very often. Number one is when a couple of companies building a new application or buying a new application and this application that I'm going to build, run on the databases that I have. And if the answer is yes, great, we just go right in. Good. We do it. If the answer's no, then we figure out, well, how should I write this application on what database the buying center in that case is very often heavily, I would say recommended the head. Recommenders are DevOps, developers, developers have preferences. And frankly, it's like a religion, right? They love a certain kind of database and they don't like another time.

And it's always a religious conversation. Normally the CIO doesn't really care, frankly, if I'm going to buy a new database from modern application, dev ops will have a very strong voice in that. And a strategic shy will say fine. You know, whatever is most effective. The business leader just wants to deliver the use case. They want, you know, good data data. They can trust. They want applications that run in a way they're expecting the use case to be delivered. So what I want to buy a new application, I look for database dev ops has a very strong role there, more so than probably anybody else, but maybe they're not their decision maker, but it's hurting your recommender. Now, the other point in time, we called the second control point of database opportunities with this. I have an application I've developed it, let's say at small scale, in a POC or a pilot, and now I want to scale across 150 plants or machines or whatever.

I'm rolling it out. Oh, now it all of a sudden comes to a standstill performance level. Do we need needed to be, or it's very expensive because now I've got to store a certain amount of data and I got to buy more instances or larger databases. So the cost goes way up performance. My neck goes Michael way down and all of a sudden, my application's not running the way it should. I got a problem who is the buying center in that case, all the dev ops, person's already doing the application typically, no, it is a CIO to your point earlier. And the business side saying, gee, we just invested all this money and time not working, fix it. And now the buying center has been kind of widened. And now there's more scrutiny on the choices that were made and looking for the choice that can properly enable this use case.

[Erik]

Gotcha. And I guess then it's the business side. There's going to be primarily the side that's complaining. That's going to the CIO and saying, Hey, listen, this this application is not meeting our requirements, but they're not going to be then making the decisions. They're just going to be driving, driving that a decision needs to be taken.

[Syed]

Yes. And, and the reason we've had a problem here with OT and it, and dev ops is because lawson the flavors of technology that, you know, that we're the dev ops guys have learned on. Aren't the ones that scale the best. And very often the ones that have scaled the most like legacy, large companies, we all know about the Oracles of the world and IBM's world and et cetera. Aren't the ones that modern developers, frankly like to use like these other tools. And so these worlds have to try to connect. And now you have to have the ease of a database and tools from modern, modern applications, with the scalability and reliability of the legacy applications. And that's where frankly, we play, you know, we come in with as much focus on ease of development as on ease of scale.

[Erik]

Yeah. That seems to be a big trend. Now it seems to be that industrial applications are learning from consumer to an extent. Whereas I think if you looked 30 or 40 years ago, industrial is really leading the way in consumer tech was somewhat following, but at least that's, that's somewhat my impression, but now it seems like usability is, is something where industrials are or industrial technologies are really trying to play catch up now and are learning somewhat from that consumer landscape.

[Syed]

And it'll continue to it'll continue exactly. You know, because I'm an age myself, but there was a point in my career. I worked at IBM. I came out of college and you know why you went to work. You went to work to go check your email. When I was a fresh grad, I went to work to go do your expense reports. And so you did like electronic stuff at the office because you didn't have a laptop. No, you don't have to go to work to do any of those digital things. It can all be done from anywhere in the world. You've got to work to meet people, talk to people, your brainstorm life. And even that you can do on video, of course, right. But what's happened is, is the next generation and the next generation, whether we're at the office now, often we're behind a generation technology than at home.

When I was very young, fresh grad, I went to work and I was ahead in technology at home. I was behind now, it's flipped. Now the things we have in our home are smart. You know, Google and Amazon devices, et cetera, can be often more advanced in our work environment, which is why, what we expect in our daily lives being delivered in the home. We now also expect at work and work is catching up. So what used to be considered to be a good interface in industrial application now looks terrible because companies like Apple have redefined our expectations of what good interface means. And certainly we're learning from that. So it's not just pretty charts and pretty slides it's even the ease. So in my world, the database world, it means when you install something, it should be zero configuration. So just sort of automatically get set up when you expand it and scale, it should just, you know, quickly sort of drag and drop things. It shouldn't be a PhD and, and databases to be able to run this thing should be anybody

[Erik]

Interesting trend. Let's talk a little bit about your customers because on the one hand, this is a solution that could be applied pretty much by any industry for any use case. But I imagine that in reality, there are some industries and some use cases that you tend to be serving more. Is there kind of an 80 20 rule? Is there a cluster of industries and use cases that you found for whatever reason have a, a greater need right now for a really IOT design databases?

[Syed]

Yeah. And, and I'll say, you know, we use the word IOT as a moniker, but I, I think it's really any industry with a lot of data. And in particular, a lot, a large quantity of machine data where we'll time matters. And so our customers you know, they, we have a lot of industrial company or companies that are our customers, but we also have, for example, one of our biggest customers is McAfee software Qualtrics. The recent acquisition MSAP is a customer as well as big industrial companies. So it's a, it's a wide range of array of industries, but certainly have you got any industrial sites? The common theme amongst these companies are that they are enabling use lots of data, terabytes, petabytes, et cetera, time matters. The shelf life of data can often be very short, you know, in a company like a Mac, either they're doing security well, security time matters.

It'd be able to find out what's going on and do something about it is very time sensitive or in a factory. One of our customers, a company called elk love, you probably haven't heard of them, but they aren't a multibillion dollar packaging company that makes packaging for companies. You have heard of like Coca Cola and P and G and others. And what matters there is that when I'm running a production line at very high speeds, with high numbers of products, if there's any issue I can know about it immediately and act on it fast. So lots of data, real time use cases that rely on data being delivered to where it needs to go quickly with insights to help me act on it immediately.

[Erik]

Yeah. It makes sense. Right. So you, in this, I guess, is this a cluster that's expanding or the number of industries that are dealing with this, but right now, yeah, you, you have your kind of core niche of industrials and then other companies that are serving these use cases, which are maybe technology providers like McAfee, the system integrators, are they heavily involved? Because I mean, I guess on the one hand is, you know, needs appear when there's an application being built and, and the system integrators or the other application providers that are going to be the ones that know when an application is being built or maybe when an application is struggling, probably more than your sales team. Are you typically going to market together with other companies who are helping to build these applications or selling, and in your kind of saying, you know, when you encounter this problem, then we have the solution that you can bundle in, or are you going directly and in managing relationships, how does that?

[Syed]

Yeah, both, both the channel is very important to us and it'll grow over the next year. And beyond that, 10 will become bigger and bigger. And I would say a very big part of our actual revenue will come from channels over the next a year or two. We're growing that out right now. We're directly, we're mostly direct selling, but then this is 2020 the shift beginning to happen in a dramatic way. A lot of our customers, I would say our IOT platform type of companies. And I mean that in multiple ways, for example, some large industrial companies, we have two right now that we're very deeply involved with publicly, but there are two different companies that are both industrial companies that are building their own IOT platforms for their own manufacturing of products, as well as selling those platforms to their customers. So these are companies that are not software companies, they're industrial companies that happened to be selling a platform.

And so that's a very typical, I would say, customer similarly, there are software companies that we're talking to right now who that's all they do. They don't actually make a physical product, but they build software with one of them will have a press release in the next 30 days or so coming out with, we're gonna announce a partnership. We're going to be the engine inside their platform. Their platform is application layer delivers business value based on certain use cases, we're going to be the engine and side that helps take all that data and make it useful. It will give it a context to make the application work better, frankly, and faster. It's a combination of, I would say companies that are building their own applications and some that are building applications to sell the companies that that's right now, where we at and channel become an extremely important part of our business. Yes,

[Erik]

That's an interesting trend. This first set of examples that you gave of industrial companies who are building platforms for both our internal operations and also as a new revenue model. This is something that we've seen very actively in China and where you have the Petro China and the state grid and these very construction equipment OEMs. So he's very traditional industrial companies who are building platforms and they use them first for their internal operations. And then they start to sell them up and down their supply chain to partners. And then they start to aspire to moving into new verticals. But it's created kind of a new dynamic where these companies don't have very much it competency. Even if they hire a couple of hundred developers still, it's not really in the DNA of their organization. So they're much more in the role. There's a concept that Alibaba is kind of pushing here, which is one plus end, which is, you know, Alibaba provides the high level of functionality.

And then you build your vertical platform on top of that. You provide the domain expertise, but of course, it's, it's like one plus N plus X. You still need people. You need crate. You need other companies to fill in a specific competencies because really what the, the industrials and I, I think this is going to be a big trend. I think that we need more, the application is so critical that we need the industrials to really take an active role in building these applications. But the tech stack is so complicated. There's no way that they're going to manage entire tech stack, which means that they, it needs to be really a partner approach.

[Syed]

Great observation. It's so interesting. You say what you just did because we had in three different companies, we had a couple of different philosophies in our technology strategy, and I think one of them was wrong and a couple of them are right. Here's the difference. You have to figure out what you're good at. What is your real value property you really good at and weigh it? Secondarily. So the smart platform companies are smart. Industrials realized their strength is what the shop floor, the process, the industrial side, the automation side, that's their strength. And while they have a lot of software, people have some very good ones. They should probably use them off the tool, off the shelf tools where they can, because database company puts all our blood, sweat, and tears in the database. You're not going to design a database better than us or any other database company, because that's all we do for living.

So you got to focus on what you're good at and pull in products where, you know, you don't have that level of depth. And so the smart ones are doing just that. The smart ones are also trying to minimize what I'll say, the grunt work of their own teams and focus on the value layer. What does that mean? Forrester studied the world of data analytics and data science. A couple of years ago, I had a very well written document about how I'm going to be rough here. About 70% of the time that data scientist works in a company is spent on grunt work, cleaning data, sorting data, organizing data, et cetera. 70%. 30% is spent on deep data science. So grow work, and the stuff they hate to do is a majority of their job. Alright, now let's translate this into the world of applications and IOT platforms.

You should not be focusing your time as the big industrial company on getting the data ready. The data gets collected, and if you have good tools, good databases, for example, that should be done as part of the database. If you're spending time, we just spent yesterday with another company or they're using three different databases because not one of them can do the job. They use database A for this part of the task, I database B for that part of the task and see when they have a time series, only database and they have one for this kind of stuff. And one is expensive. There's you a cold storage, all of the junk. So what happens is they have all these people whose jobs are just to administer the database. That's a waste, focus your attention on the application, the value, add and get product, get the infrastructure products that can take away the crop work for you. And that's kind of the value we add is that we allow them to not have to manage five databases to do the job of what Craig can do. Go focus your attention on the value you bring to your customers, not the database.

[Erik]

Yeah. I think this is a very positive trend right now because it means, you know, as companies start to adopt this approach, that we're, we're going to be freeing up a lot of effort to focus on solving real problems, as opposed to, you know, building replicas of, you know, of existing systems, right. This is, this is the way we need to be moving. So we have we, we can lower that that failure rate from 70% and start start really growing the market. Can you talk to us a couple about, about a couple of cases and, you know, maybe just walk through us if you're able to, from when the conversation first began through, you know, the decision process into deployment so that we can understand the cycle of a great deployment,

[Syed]

Several examples of where a company was trying to run an application on a database or some tools, and as the application grew and got bigger, it started to fall apart. And so you know, one example, I'll tell you a company that essentially built an application that was running fine, but our data grew. And all of a sudden we got into hundreds and hundreds of nodes and billions of rows, et cetera. It just started to fall apart and they needed to sort of do this differently. And we went in there and replaced kind of their SQL elastic search database with, with us. We were by 20 times, faster by 75% lower footprint costs and allowed them to grow, grow very easily. What would happen here was they built a really good application on a, I would say, legacy underpinnings. How did it start?

Well, you have often you have a like said earlier, you have a business leader of a function or a sponsor, but use case that has a plan to deploy has a plan to then scale. And when all of a sudden scaling doesn't happen, we can come in and help. Hopefully save the day by putting in an IOT skill database to an IOT project. Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes you have a company like the case of, who I mentioned earlier, a manufacturer of packaging and products, where they have an aspiration, they want to do much more data driven, smart manufacturing in their plants. They have 180 plants around 45 countries around the world. They have world-class, OAE, I've never heard numbers this high in my career. I can't disclose them, but I'll just tell you, I'm just amazed how good he is, but they wanted to do better.

And they realized the only way I can get better at this is by sort of the last analyzing to the next level of digits, it's kind of the next or last mile of the processes. And what they found was, you know, at a very generic level is that if the people on the plant floor just knew certain information sooner, or if we could filter out junk information more effectively, they're more effective. So in other words, I'm telling you 10 things before those things don't really matter. And three of them, you can wait on, but three, you got to act on right now. I just did that better. I could even improve even well. So this requires being able to get a bunch of data, the hard data that's not easy to necessarily analyze and make sense out of it very quickly in a real time basis. So this case, we aligned the aspiration of what I'll call very visionary leadership with thinking, gee, how can I do this better? And we helped bring it to life by doing it in a couple of plants and then growing it from there, what would be very soon a hundred plants, let's say real good use of data on the shop floor

[Erik]

For the first case. I'm curious, when you moving into a situation where an application has been built on more of a legacy database, that doesn't scale, well, would you deploy great. Does the application architecture have to change at all? Or is there, I mean, is there a zero change? Are there some, some, some moderate changes?

[Syed]

Yeah, yeah, of course the classic answer. It depends, but I can tell you that in most cases that we've seen, these are modern applications, I would say generally more modern databases. But what you'll see is that there are databases, cult databases from modern applications that are really good for developing applications on, but not really good at scaling. So the good news is the migration from those databases to ours is very easy. Migration was never end up in much of an issue that has been probably somewhat easy because we can handle a wide variety of data quite easily. That's real space. I would say we've had very little problem with the migration because often even built on data, but I would say more modern databases, but just databases that weren't designed to scale very well.

[Erik]

Yeah, that's a good point that there's a whole set of technologies that are really designed for helping companies to take it from R and D through a pilot phase. Right? And that's a, that's a necessary, you need tools that are designed for cost effectiveness and, and, you know, quick deployment. And that those tools don't necessarily scale, but they're, they're not bad tools. They're just suited for that particular, that particular set of problems of taking a product through thorough validation.

[Syed]

They scale, well, just not IOT scale. So, you know, I I've heard this before I put the customer first. They said, well, wait a minute. So, and so company scales a lot, it's scaled to this side. Sure. They scale that size as long as all you're doing is time series data and no other kind of data. And you have extremely simple queries and they're known queries that get repeated a lot, but the reality in the industrial space, the queries are change. And not always super simple. It's not just time series data, as we all know. So they, they do scale, just not in the world that we're talking about today.

[Erik]

Okay. So we have to stop thinking about scale in terms of just the number of queries or data points, but in terms of also the, the complexity of the, of the system here, you'd mentioned pricing earlier. We don't need to get into the specific pricing of crate, but what are the variables that impact, this is this, what would be kind of a typical equation? And cause I think it's quite challenging often for companies to understand what might be the lifetime cost of a solution, you know, because you know, you'll go in and at first the cost is very minimal, but then of course it can scale very quickly when you're talking about large data sets. If the algorithm is based on volume of queries or something, what is a typical algorithm here?

[Syed]

Yeah. It's a run to around the number of nodes is that you use you know, the amount of data you have or the cost. I can tell you the street or your sort of rough numbers. If you look at kind of most, I would say traditional modern databases, but what our competitors were often three to five times cheaper, it's the way they were architected. It's the way we scale is the amount of resources that we use. So the question becomes, why are some of these more expensive? Well, it's the kind of hardware utilization. If the cloud footprint that they have, that makes a lot of these companies more expensive, we're actually really efficient in terms of how much hardware we need. We also run on commodity hardware, really cheap instances. And so these are the kinds of things that really make this cost a lot lower.

So those are, there's a pure running operational cost. And the pricing model is really bad. Number of nodes and amount of data, et cetera, which is very typical, most databases. The other piece that I'll tell you that we have a big cost advantage is the actual human part Eamon of people. You need to run a system to manage the system to scale it, do these sort of flavors of technology, or are great technologies that help a lot of people, really smart PhDs to be able to do really simple things. And that's part of the challenge too. You want to have databases technologies that are easy to operate, easy to scale and don't need super deep high expenses, costs, resources to do basic things that adds to the cost.

[Erik]

Yeah. I've seen a big trend there of, of looking at how to improve the efficiency of teams that are developing also on the application development side. You know, there's, there's a lot of different areas where labor ends up being the very significant cost here, right? And this is this is a need, right? Especially when you're dealing now selling with industrial companies who don't naturally have these people on, you know, so this means new hires and hires, which maybe they're not used to hiring. Right? So it's, it's quite different when you're, you're hiring your first set of data, scientists and PhD is where you haven't really managed those people before. It's not just the cost, but it's also the complexity of managing kind of a new group of, of individuals in your organization.

[Syed]

We'll talk to our customers and we have like reference calls, they'll ask them. So who manages the crate database? And when you scale it, when you grow it, who does that? Our prospects are shocked, just how simple it is to use. They're shocked by the level of person they're running it. They're almost putting that. Well, wait a minute. How about the rest of the team? And there were surprised of how easy it is. And that goes back to your earlier point. Ease of use is something that is expected and the standard for ease of use has greatly increased over the years and that you should expect that from your database. It should be, it should be effortless for the easy shouldn't require massive amounts of people or training in order to run it. And that's one of the value propositions that we talk about. So yes, hardware costs are low, but also the people cost of managing and complexity is also something that really should look at.

[Erik]

Talk to me, see, what is going on in 2020 for you? What are the, I know that you're, you're moving more from you know, product development towards ramping up sales, right?

[Syed]

The milestones for the coming year. Yeah. So for us, it will be, we have a big push toward expanding our cows. As you mentioned earlier, we're going to have some very interesting partnerships that we'll be announcing and growing with. You're going to see some of our customers who have let's say started off with a smaller deployment of a few plants growing to a hundred and more comps. So this is a year of scale for us, massive scale in terms of the growth within some of our existing customers to some new, big names that will well from Percy's is about as well as partnerships we're at that stage now where, you know, you can kind of in the life of a startup, you have, it's never a straight line it's lines that go up really hard or fast, and then flattened out and go up again. And this is, I would say, 2020 for a year for us as a year of scale and a year of some pretty good growth. We've already had that growth. I mean, we've grown it three X this past year, and we expect 2020 to be also at three next year to this year. So it's wearing a very good trajectory and I'm pretty, pretty excited about what's coming up.

[Erik]

Right. Yeah. Fantastic. And I know you're also raising a round, so I guess there could be a number of people that would be interested in getting in touch with you, whether they're investors or potential partners or customers, what is the best way for people to reach out to you or, or more generally to the create team?

[Syed]

I mean, certainly I am on LinkedIn, I'm on Twitter. So I welcome people. I say hello and happy to talk about anything that I won't talk about in terms of our business, in terms of our strategy products or fantasy football, you name it, all those things are fair game.

[Erik]

Cool. So we'll, we'll certainly put your Twitter feed and LinkedIn in the show notes seed really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything else that you want to cover that we missed before we call it a day?

[Syed]

No, I like to always ask a good host, like you a question as well. So you tell me something as well, looking ahead now it's appropriate. People always have predictions for the next coming year. What do you think in terms of 2020? What are a couple of interesting or exciting trends in the world wire T that you're keeping your eye on?

[Erik]

Yeah. I mean, there's a couple of points that we already talked on here, but when we set up our company in 2015, you know, really, but when you go to conferences, people were still asking the court, what is industry 4.0, what is industrial IOT? You know? And then we've moved fairly quickly in the past few years from what is it to, you know, what are the use cases? And then what are the challenges? And, and, and then, you know, what, how should I start? And I think now we're really getting to the point where a lot of companies have done their pilots. They've maybe learned some hard lessons, they've wasted some money, but they've learned. And now I think we're really moving towards a point where companies are going to be able to see scale. And part of this is the learning curve of the end user or developing the applications for their business.

And part of it is the development of companies like crate that are providing better functionality to build on top of. So this is really what I'm looking forward in the coming year. We see a lot of this in our class based, you know, companies that have maybe in the past and talking to us about what should we be doing, or how do we start and are now moving more towards, okay, now, how do we scale this, this system that we've been playing with for the past 12 months? So that's, I think the big trend, and then this other trend that we've already touched on a bit, but of companies figuring out how do we build solution that are not just an operational improvement, but that are impacting our, our bottom line. So we see a lot of companies that are, you know, they've been elected trickle or mechanical engineering companies or whatever engineering companies, even for the past, you know, 50 or a hundred years, and are now looking, how can this new set of digital tech [inaudible] enable us to grow revenue?

So we see chemical companies, for example, that are saying, you know what, maybe we can sell a smart factory solution that includes sensors and platform and applications to our customers so that when they purchase our chemicals, they can utilize those more efficiently. And, and, and, you know, this then makes them more likely to use us as a supplier, but also we can have incremental revenue on this IOT or this, this system that we're selling them in the new, you know, we see construction of companies that are also looking at how can we not now compete on lifting capability, but we can compete on usability or remote control and so forth. So we see a big trend among these companies to look beyond operational improvements. Although those are, those are still critical, but to look really at how they can start to integrate this technology into their, into their offering.

I think these two things, I think we're going to see companies really moving from pilot to scale, and we're going to see more companies figuring out how to adopt digital technologies. So I would say non-IT companies that are not digital natives, but are now adopting digital technologies into their core offering. Those are the two things that I'm really looking forward to in the next, you know, and this is, you know, I'd say, I think we're going to see a lot of growth in this in the next year, but this is a decade trend.

I think we're just at the start of a longer term trend here. I totally see that as well in the, and those things are very connected as well, by the way, of course, right? You gotta, couldn't pilot to scale, to fundamentally changing your business models that you're suggesting we're seeing the same thing. We're seeing the smart companies, the leaders not getting excited about a 14th pilot. I can excited about another science project, but really saying, how are we really fundamentally improving the business? And if so, let's do this, do it all over the place. And so then your first point of pilot to scale it, we see that often that excites us. And that's why we're here in business, frankly, a great 2020 for both of our organizations. I hope it's been really a pleasure to speak with you.

[Outro]

Thanks for tuning into another edition of the industrial IOT spotlight. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at IoTONEHQ and to check out our database of case studies on iotone.com/casestudies. If you have unique insight or a project deployment story to share, we'd love to feature you on a future edition. Write us at team@iotone.com

Read More
EP056 - Airbnb for telecommunications - Frank Mong, COO, Helium
Monday, Dec 09, 2019

In this episode of the IIoT Spotlight Podcast, we discuss how Helium is providing universal and affordable connectivity for IoT devices, provided by people, and secured through a blockchain.



How do you provide connectivity where there is no infrastructure?

How do you incentivize people to contribute to an open-source connectivity ecosystem?

What are the connectivity challenges facing IoT device manufacturers today?



Frank Mong is COO at Helium, where he is leading the global go-to-market strategy for the company. He is responsible for sales, marketing and business development at Helium. Before Helium, Mong spent 20 years in cybersecurity including CMO at Hortonworks, SVP of Marketing at Palo Alto Networks, and VP/GM of security at HP. frank@helium.com



Helium is building the world’s first peer-to-peer wireless network designed specifically for IoT devices. Helium's technology will help spark a wave of innovation by enabling a new generation of small, mobile, low-powered IoT devices that include remote wildfire and agricultural sensors, micro-mobility trackers, and more. helium.com



Use cases: Helium.com/enterprise

Developer resources (software, hardware, firmware, connectivity documentation): helium.com/developers

Buy Helium Hotspot: helium.com/store

________

Automated Transcript

[Intro]

Welcome to the industrial IOT spotlight your number one spot for insight from industrial IOT thought leaders who are transforming businesses today with your host Erik Walenza.

Welcome back to the industrial IOT spotlight podcast. I'm your host, Eric Walenza CEO of IOT ONE. And our guest today will be Frank mung, COO of Helium. prior to joining helium in 2017. Frank gained 20 years of experience in cybersecurity as COO of Hortonworks as VP of marketing at Palo Alto networks and VP of security at HP. Helium was founded in 2013 by Shawn fanning, the founder of Napster and aims to provide affordable and universal connectivity for IOT devices through the use of a decentralized network, owned by people and secured through a blockchain together, we discuss the connectivity challenges facing IOT device manufacturers today, and how Helium's peer-to-peer wireless network could reduce costs and improve coverage and open spaces as an alternative to cellular coverage. We also explored the role of blockchain and crypto tokens and securing the network and providing an incentive model for the individuals who build the network by deploying helium hotspots. I hope you found our conversation valuable, and I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

[Erik]

So Frank, thank you so much for joining us today.

[Frank]

Thank you, Erik. It's a pleasure to be on.

[Erik]

Frank, before we dive into helium and the technology and the business model, I want to just share a little bit of your background because you have really quite a deep background in cyber security. So people know who they're talking to. So you've, you've worked with Hortonworks with Palo Alto networks with HP. Can you just give a quick overview of what your roadmap has been and how you ended up now joining a startup helium?

[Frank]

Sure. It's always been in cybersecurity. It did start in early days and they started as well. When I first started my working life, I was at a startup called ignite technology is a company focused on managed security services or managed firewalls back in 1999. And when I was 23 or 24 at the time, it was the innovation companies and individuals were first connecting to something called the internet and using something called Netscape browser. If you remember back in those days. So that was definitely revolutionary time for us those years, it's really been focusing and honing in on different aspects of cyber security, running product marketing there, and you don't want to trend micro to run marketing, both of which are antivirus companies. And I steered away and went into more general management roles in cyber security and at Palo Alto networks where I was the senior VP of product marketing for the next gen firewall business. And and then I took a jump and went into more of a COO type of role. And really, I think at that point I realized I, I did not, you know what? I wanted this to be different. I wanted to really challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. And that's sort of when my search for startups started up again, really thought through about what it would mean to actually be at a startup again. And I found helium or helium found me through a trust live ventures, which is their series, a investment company.

And after meeting with his team and I realized, you know, helium is definitely a company that I'm interested in and what sealed the deal for me was my meeting with the cofounder Amir Halane. We realized that he and I have a lot in common growing up. We both love video games. He goes like to tinker with hardware and really the mission and the challenge is what sold me figuring out how to build a ubiquitous networks for IOT devices to connect to that. And that was it. And here we are two years later.

[Erik]

Yeah. Great. And it's yeah, really quite, quite the team behind helium and quite the ambitious mission as well. So shaping future by rewarding anyone for creating a global decentralized wireless network for billions of machines. So that's just at least your, your mission as it is on, on LinkedIn. Can you just give us the high level, why is this important? Why is, why is the work that Helium's doing important for the future of the internet?

[Frank]

Yeah, I think the challenge of internet of things, IOT. So for folks that aren't familiar, you know, we're talking little sensors, little devices, potentially autonomous machines that have to do simple work, or maybe it's complex work, but they need to connect not just inside a factory or inside the smart building, but think outside of the building and going outside of traditional where wifi sits. Right? So if you think about extending outside the buildings, the only connectivity option is cellular. It's not easy tooling to create something from nothing using cellular is actually quite difficult. And so we saw an opportunity as a company, we saw an opportunity to change that. And part of that is having an existing wireless network that can compete with the conductivity of cellular, not from a speed perspective, but from a coverage perspective for IOT and just built for IOT.

[Erik]

Right. And that's one challenge. How do you do that? And then the second piece of that is how do you make it extremely easy and simple for anyone that has a great idea or has an application that they want to bring to reality? How do you make it super easy and simple for them to build on that, on that platform? And usually when you, when you think about super easy, super simple to build in involves open sourcing involves a community of folks with their likeminded that have the same interests, really build a network, using a decentralized method. It involves a lot of, I think a lot of components beyond just wireless technology, but I think the key component is incentive. How do you incentivize individuals, consumers to create a network that's ubiquitous that works for everything. And once you're able to do that, how do you get folks to build the technology and applications using that? That is it, that's the challenge we're in that's the road we're on right now is to create that two sided marketplace of both network operators who are consumers and individuals and network users who may be a simple hobbyists building IOT devices for it could be a large enterprise that wants to deploy millions and billions of machines.

And then you're using the helium tokens in order to create that incentive model. Can you give a, just a quick overview of what are the different elements? So you have the helium hotspot, the connectivity device, you have the helium tokens that provide the incentive mechanism. What are the other elements and how do these fit together into

[Frank]

The comprehensive solution that enables this marketplace? Sure. There's probably three components, three main components to think about one is the healing spot itself. It's a, it's a standard off the shelf hardware we're running on LoRa technology. So it's LoRa hardware and lordships built by syntax or any compatible version of that. And to make that work and to make that run and as low cost as possible, we use off the shelf componentry complementing that LoRa technology. So we have a processor in there. It's a dual core processor. We have, I think is something like, I want to say six gigs of Ram 64 gigs of storage for SSD space on the hotspot itself. And we created a open source protocol running on the Lord hardware. And the reason we had to do that is because our networks are not essentially owned. So we could have used some of the other protocols out there like lower went in because that requires a centralized server for data and key management.

We are decentralized because there is a second component in there, which is the blockchain. The blockchain is a homegrown invented by helium from the ground up in our blockchain, similar to big point that most of your audience buys a Bitcoin is where Bitcoin has proof of work for hashing and rehashing data. Our proof is proof of coverage. And so if helium as created a blockchain that can allow the healing hotspot to communicate with other hotspots nearby and create a trusted that word automatically. And that that trusted network involves reliability, health, security of network to prove that they're providing coverage, that the coverage is, is healthy, it's reliable, it's secure. So that's the second component of what we've built and that, and that for the hostile attitude, prove that when they prove it, they mind the cryptocurrency Helion. So this the work they've done, I used to prove that they provided coverage.

So as, as a reward for doing that work of proving is providing coverage. They the us let's mine, the cryptocurrency, and then the third component is really the users using the network. How do you get people to build on top of that network? And that's where Helium's open source SDKs and API APIs, and all of our developer kits come into play. It's doing everything possible to make it easy, affordable, and simple, to onboard new applications. And whether it's software or hardware onto the healing network. Folks can take a look at our new designs and our specs and code and build their own hotspots that they want. So those are probably the three main components that build up what we've created.

[Erik]

Frank, when you look at who's purchasing the helium hotspots, are we talking about small businesses that want to develop their own networks to serve their devices? Are we talking about enthusiasts who are particularly interested in the technology of wireless connectivity and want to be part of this, this trend? Are we talking about well, intentioned individuals like my mother who might not know very much about the technology itself, but wanting to provide connectivity for her neighborhood,

[Frank]

I call them crypto enthusiasts, people that are into cryptocurrency that probably have a Coinbase account that purchase some Bitcoin or Ethereum. They tend to also be very interested in, in helium. Hot-Spots from a purely from a mining perspective, mining cryptocurrency, and they're, they liked this technology because it's very consumer friendly. We're probably the most, consumer-friendly both IOT wireless gateway hotspot, and a very customer friendly blockchain that kind of takes away all the technicalities of blockchain and cryptocurrency and really makes it a nice user experience. And so those are two early sort of adopters of our technology. The healing definitely, you know, if your mother knows what blockchain is or sorry, knows what big point is. She would be potentially interested in this because the hospital, it's also very low power. It's like five Watts of power. So it's like a led light bulb, right? It's not, it's not going to consume a whole lot of energy that's noticeable.

And so from that perspective, it's fairly low cost over time. But it, it allows you, anyone that understands how to use a smartphone and apps to get going. And that's attractive for a lot of folks. That's sort of the profile of our initial adoption. We actually did a survey recently. I think we asked about, I want to say 280 people who've purchased. Hot-Spots like, why? Like, why did you buy hotspots? And it was interesting that overwhelming, roughly 60% of the respondents told us that they purchased a hotspot because they want to build a network. They want to have a sense like that they're an entrepreneur and they can own and operate a network, which, which I think I I'm, I'm surprised, but not surprised because if you think about what we're doing, it's very analogous to Airbnb. We're enabling people to become network operators and everyday folks, average people like Airbnb has enabled average people to become hotel, hotel, hotel management, where they can rent their room or rent their apartment to anyone Helium's doing the same with the network, your home network at home can become something that you can leverage. And the, you know, we're trying to create the other side where others want to use your network and we'll, you know, we'll, we'll reward you for it. So that system, like an Airbnb is what we've done for what we think we've done for telecommunications. Really, really changing that model.

[Erik]

Yeah. And I, you know, of course for Airbnb people that are not necessarily doing this out of an idealistic, you know, objective, but it's, it's because there's an ROI on, on an asset that's otherwise being under utilized. And certainly that's the case for many people's internet, much of the time, right. Where we're not utilizing it. But I guess this is a little bit early to point to what the ROI is, but is there any indication of what somebody might expect to return on a hotspot that's in a moderately, the medium use case present,

[Frank]

We don't know, and that's not part of how we sell. It's not, you know, we can't talk about potential future gains and we're not involved with that at all. So it's unknown. And so for someone to purchase a hotspot today, and the ones have really believe in the idea that you're doing this to build a network, you're doing it to become an independent network operator in a very simple and user friendly way. And then the hope is that someday just becomes big someday. The network becomes extremely useful and it's something that's highly valued. And in that world, every everyone in that ecosystem wins. So, you know, it's definitely not for everyone, but you know, there are those that believe that, and we're super happy. They're there with us. Sure.

[Erik]

Yeah. Well, you don't, you don't need everybody. I guess if you have a couple of hundred people

[Frank]

That's right.

[Erik]

Says that a so limited quantity available for a us ordering 77% sold. Are you able to share with us the number that are out in adoption right now?

[Frank]

Yeah. So if you actually download the app, there is something called a blockchain viewer. So in our app, you can actually see the total number of hotspots that are out there today. And so I think like right now, the exact number of hotspots installed across the United States is 395 hotspots. The predominant cities that are covered are Austin, Texas, San Francisco, Boston, Massachusetts, Chicago, Atlanta parts of Florida. And then we've got I would say another handful, another dozen cities. We only launched in Austin, Texas first. And that was August one. That was our first city that we launched in San Francisco has a nice network because of our employees and friends and family who are doing a lot of the early alpha testing with us. What we've done over since August one is we've started to really test our supply chain and we've shipped hotspots to various customers that ordered really just so we can make sure that our logistics is sound and iron out the wrinkles and correct mistakes, which there are a lot of them it's early days.

And so we're learning quite a bit about that, but everything we've done so far is assembled in the United States. We're building everything in San Jose. We're not offshoring this anywhere else. And so we're proud of that for the same time. It's very, very expensive. You're in Shanghai. So, you know, it could be a lot cheaper. We built this in Asia somewhere, but we've elected to do it in the United States for security reasons because our encryption keys and primary injections are happening on site in our factory. And we're going to keep it that way for as long as we can. That's what that means in our next shipment is coming out October 15th. So just in a less than two weeks, we're shipping thousands of units across the United States. And this indicator that you see online today is for a November shipment. So we're probably going to start doing monthly rollouts where if folks order, we should be able to fulfill within 30 days, max probably less. And so right now, because we're shipping in unit volumes of just thousands, not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, it's very expensive. And it's almost just in time manufacturing, which is costly for us. And so we try to batch the orders as best we can. And that's what that bar is indicating. So that bar is indicating in November, should change shipment, which is a couple of thousand, a few thousand quantity. And then we have another batch for December, which is a few thousand more.

[Erik]

Okay. So if you're putting out a few thousand, a few hundred thousand a month, when do you expect to have sufficient? I mean, I guess this is still a city by city, but when do you start to have sufficient coverage where you can go to, let's say a large corporate that maybe they need a solution that can serve them, you know, in a significant portion of the U S and you can go with a viable proposition and say, listen, the network is ready for you. We've got the top, you know, the top 50 cities or 20 cities or whatever. And we have this percent average, 50% average coverage in these cities. Do you already have a kind of a roadmap for when that be?

[Frank]

So when we ship in October 15th, we will be in 263 cities across the U S and some cities will have more density than others, but I would say 10 to 15 cities are, will be very well covered. And these are the major metropolitan cities, United States like San Francisco Bay area, Austin, Texas, New York city, Bronx Boston Boulder, Colorado, other parts in Texas, as well as Atlanta, Georgia, and beyond. So those are in Chicago as well. So those are kind of the typical major Metro areas in the United States should be very well covered at that point.

[Erik]

Great. And then if I'm, let's say I'm I'm manufacturing smartwatches, or, or bikes, and I want coverage for my device, then I go to you and what's the conversation? What do I have to install in terms of hardware and software to, to join the network?

[Frank]

Yeah. So first and foremost, we're open sourcing all of our tech and the open source SDKs and KPI's are coming out. I believe that beta is coming out towards the end of October, that will be a set of tools that developers would need. And then we would have a hardware development kit that's scheduled to be released towards the end of the year. And that would include other wing boards, development kits, reference designs for whether it be a farm dog color smartwatch or, or some kind of tracking device for bikes and scooters. All of those things will be available. We have a lot of stuff in there get, get hub, which will release. We have over 200 developers already that's on the waiting list. And some have already started developing with us in our early alpha. And so all the tools that developers need will be there for them very, very soon within the next couple of weeks.

[Erik]

Okay, great. Do you, do you have any visibility in terms of what the cost of the hardware might might be in comparison to other, let's say the legacy or the protocols that they're using today, or the, the solutions that they're using today?

[Frank]

Because we're, we're on a Lora hardware, existing Lora devices that a lot of developers in the world of IOT understand or have played with should, should just work, we'll build on what they will need as long by the long fight SDKs and long by API. So that's zero costs really. They can take their existing hardware and modify it to be compatible with the healing network. I think anything beyond that, it's exploring the latest and greatest hardware, which is off the shelf. So nothing should be too pricey, nothing should, everything should be fairly competitive in price based on volume, but certainly to complain around with the test, it's, it should be pretty simple. We're going to package up dead kids for folks. I don't have pricing on that, but we're going to try to make it as competitive as possible and as easy as possible to adopt the healing network and our open source technology,

[Erik]

And then connecting the device. And so let's say the manufacturer has adopted the necessary technology to, to sync to the network. The device is now on the street, and it will then pair automatically with whichever helium devices is closest, or how does this pairing happen?

[Frank]

It's really cool because we're on a blockchain. Every hotspot is running a node, an independent Nova and blockchain. And what that means is the blockchain knows how to wrap the traffic. And so the owner of that sensor does not need to worry about the onboard of the device. They just simply need to ship it out there into the world. As soon as it talks, a helium hotspot that understands long flight will hear the sensor and know how to route that traffic back to its owner, fully encrypted. It's using something. We called an UI organizational unique ID. That will be a private key public key pairing between the device and the cloud database for that particular device owner. And doesn't matter where you are in the world, everything is permissionless and from a wireless onboarding perspective, it's ubiquitous. So there's no concept of roaming cause you don't need to roam. And that's a huge advantage of what we're trying to build, which is it's a public network it's decentralized, it's owned by the people. And if your device is talking long thigh and the healing that data get back to you, regardless of what country you're in, regardless of whose network it is, it doesn't matter essentially is built in. So that, that hotspot delivers the data.

[Erik]

Okay. Interesting. I guess two topics that come up, one is security, and I know this is your background. And the second is, let's say government regulation. So I suppose some governments are going to be more receptive to having a, a new network. That's not under the control of state owned enterprises, for example and, and others less. So maybe we talk first about security. So I imagine that companies always very sensitive about their data. And now the data is moving through devices that are being owned by a lot of individual. And I'm sure that blockchain has a role here, but how do you ensure that somebody is not hacking into a data stream?

[Frank]

Yeah, so each device that's out in the world will be called an ECC chip where the private key is an injected. This is a private key. This actually sitting in hardware and only the owner of the device has the public key to decrypt that data. As soon as the data's collected on the sensor and it's transmitted over the air, the hotspot, here's an encrypted packet essentially. And the hotspot does not know the contents of the data. It cannot unpack it. Doesn't have the keys to unpack that data. What it does is it looks at the organizational unique ID. It looks in a blockchain to see where, where the destination addresses and it's an encrypted address. And that address then then the data is sent to that address. And once the address received the data, the credit then goes to that hotspot.

So the hotspot will get credited for transmitting the data. And that's part of, part of our mining protocol. The other aspect of, so that's, that's sort of one aspect of security is that that data from collection to motion it through a public network is fully encrypted. And it's never unencrypted until it hits the sensor owners database and their private key is the only thing they can unlock that data. So there's the security, at least in transit is fully secured. Once it hits the customers AWS or Azure or Google cloud instance that then us where the processing of the data occurs in processing of your keys. The other aspect of security is on the blockchain itself because every hot-spots a node on the blockchain, the blockchain is immutable. And so it's a collective peer to peer network where there is an attempt to tamper the blockchain.

It takes 51% to overrule consensus. If you have a network of thousands or tens of thousands of nodes, it is a lot of work to try to take over with network. It can be done, but it's very these hotspots and these nodes require you to be in a unique location and you have to prove your location. We can't just be a virtual machine. On some instance, you can't create hundreds of thousands of virtual machines to try to fake the blockchain if it won't work. So we have the, you know, we're sensory resistant. We, you know, we're trying to protect yourself against civil attacks and DDoSs and so forth. So all that, all of that is built in to our blockchain logic. It's native to what we do is that hopefully answers your first part of your question. The second part of the question really is I think less about government philosophies or more about what empowering their people to do, right?

Especially in a world of IOT, if regardless of your government mission, government philosophy, if every person under your care and your government in your country benefits because they get a chance to own and operate something in this case for devices, I think the incentive is there where everyone will want to do it and they'll want to continue to do it just like Airbnb and other things. It's, it's good for everyone. I don't know why government would be against it, especially in the world of telco. It's so expensive to build infrastructure. If you can offload that to the masses, give them a, give them, give, give them a piece of the action. I don't know why, how it's hurtful anybody. Sure.

Yeah. Maybe the point here is a little bit more that there's, there's very strong legacy players that, and it's a highly regulated industry. It has this been an issue for the other players that the Sigfox and roll out have they been coming up again in lawsuits or I don't know about lawsuits, but if you think about, you know, at and T and Verizon, they have their own approach, their, their supporting things like NBC IOG and LTM. Ultimately we, we, we think those are flawed approaches because of a small little sensor has to pay anything close to three, $4 a month on a data plan to provide somebody temperature information, as an example, that's never gonna work. It just doesn't scale, right? It should be fractions of a penny. And of course, traditional telcos, aren't really interested in that business because they don't have to be there and providing great service for traditional cell phones and iPhones and Android phones. And every, every person that has a cell phone plan is a product right? Every year it gets more expensive. It's a great business. Why leave that business? Why not focus on that farm? That as long as you can, and if there's a budding IOT, you know, emerging market that's happening, we'll let that grow. I mean, I think that's the best, best handled by disruptive technology, disruptive entrepreneurs, perhaps the people and let them grow it.

[Erik]

Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. I think you're, you're probably right there that this is right now, not interesting to them. And by the time it becomes interesting to them with the landscape will look quite different, right? 5G what is going to be the potential impact? I think there's a lot of, there's a lot of hype and probably some of it is well placed and perhaps some is misplaced, but how do you see 5G impact your business in the future?

[Frank]

I see zero impact. I think your audience in the world of industrial IOT knows so far, I think 5G is a farce. It's just a lie. There's nothing unique about it. It's, you know, to truly get gigabit speeds or fiber, like speeds on your phone, you need a back haul to carry that through. Right. And so how many, how many homes are there in the world that have fiber back haul? It's certainly not the majority. There may be a minority of that happening in new buildings and new Metro areas, which is great. But for you to get the amount of data you need, right? Imagine streaming, you know,  4K on your phone using 5g for 10,000 people at the same time, that pipe massive, but then you have to be super close to the gateway. It may not even go a block.

You have to be within half a block of by gateway to get that kind of. And so what I've heard is one, that's incredibly, that's a lot of hotspots. That's a lot of gateways that telcos will have to deploy. It's insane. It's an insane amount of equipment, which is expensive, right? So again, we're getting back to building infrastructure. If you had to put a 5G gateway and on every block to provide 5G service, I don't know how that's, how is that possible? How is that even possible? What kind of costs is going to incur? Right. It's just ridiculous. And so then you think, okay, well, great. Well maybe it's not every block. Maybe, maybe we go every, every five blocks, every 10 blocks, guess what? That bandwidth goes down to like LTE speeds. Oh, that's what we're on. Right? We're on four GLT or are we that's what the world's on? So I don't know how this is any different. I think ultimately the idea of Fiji unfortunately, is the doing of like guys like Qualcomm, the, the, the phone makers that should have makers, they have to iterate, they need everything to refresh their network equipment. Guys. It'd be the Erickson's of the world that were selling telco equipment. If you don't have a new standard new chip, there's no swap, right? There's no infrastructure change. So there's no revenue. So to me, I think the whole thing is just a game they have to upgrade. But, but in any case, you see this more as them upgrading towards a higher bandwidth towards streaming videos, more efficiently, not, not serving

[Erik]

Sure. I mean, at best, at best. My understanding was that that that was at one of the propositions. Although I know that the standard is still incomplete. So I think there's a lot of but at least that was one of the propositions was that five G would be also better suited towards low bandwidth devices small data packages and so forth. But yeah, I guess we won't, we won't know if that is the reality for some number of years.

[Frank]

There's 5G has chip technology that uses low power that we can run on a little, a little lithium battery for my three years. Maybe I doubt. I doubt that's the value prop. I haven't seen that. I haven't seen anything actually other than 900 megahertz. Right.

[Erik]

Okay, great. No, it's funny. I was, I was having a conversation with somebody earlier, let's say last week, who was just convinced that 5G was like flipping the switch and then IOT was going to all of a sudden BA be everywhere. And I'm thinking generally, when we're talking to people about, you know, making IOT use cases work, this is not the, you know, I mean, they have a lot of, they have a lot of problems, but you know, this is not the necessarily the core one here. Let's talk about one or two specific use cases of maybe some of your early adopters. You'd mentioned ag tech earlier. Maybe that'd be a good starting place.

[Frank]

Yeah, certainly. So we have a customer located in South Carolina and they're a company that provides telemetry for greenhouse farming, things like vegetables and fruits year round. And what they've done is help their farmers leverage technology and healing. And the healing network by building out sensors can measure soil conditions and air conditions, temperature across all the greenhouses from acres on the land, using a one, one helium HOSPA as the collection point for those sensors, and then routing that data back to their analytics platform to help the farmers better manage their crop yield over time. And so that's, that's a great example of leveraging the technology for, for farming purposes to help improve yield and manage that, manage that land abuse over years. The, the great thing about that is that they don't have to deploy wifi across their property. They don't have to use, you know, cellular, which could be very expensive and there are certain areas on their land that doesn't get cell coverage either.

So that's problematic as well. So just really use them a lot of the problems. The sensor typically, depending on use the sensor is very low power. So you can plug a sensor into, into the soil and you kind of forget it for a couple of years and not have to worry. Those are all cool things. In addition to that, they've, they've also been testing a lot of our tracking sensors that send GPX GPS coordinates back to the farm owners. So heavy equipment machinery that's on the farm can be tracked, whether it's in use or not in use. And apparently staffed on farm equipment is decently high, and this there's at least a problem there. And so having an independent sensor that's operating on the battery that can last for awhile is very useful for them from a tracking equipment perspective. And that, you know, that kind of ties into a lot of what we've seen around bike sharing and scooter sharing and cities. I don't know how things are in Shanghai for you, but in the cities across the U S there are tons of scooters. One of the companies that we've been working with is line that is that's servicing 200 plus cities around the world, and they've been testing our, you know, our technology in San Francisco and Austin for some time now on basically keeping their scooters available on the streets for customers to use. And if is because they're highly mobile, they're easy to steal, but they can track them down with our healing them.

[Erik]

Were they using for connectivity before? I was curious about that, cause they all have some sort of cellular for transactions. The problem with the cellular implementation is they're mostly all, all these guys, all these scooter companies, sharing companies are using the cheapest possible cellular available. So that's likely to G in a lot of, to G in the U S certainly is getting decommissioned. So cartridge is really poor and it's not great. And so having helium as a backup, sort of as the, as the aide or the LoJack, let's say for scooters has been really helpful for them.

[Frank]

Yeah. Well, I know in China, some of these bikes were being manufactured for something like 40, $40, you know, CapEx. So, so I imagine even if there's a $1 a month subscription on, on the, you know, I don't know what that would actually look like, but that's already a significant cost for them to bear. So I'm sure they're also happy, happy to find an alternative, how many devices can one helium hotspot, potentially service.

We don't have real world numbers because we have fairly good density across cities, but I imagine it'd be probably like 300 to 500 a burst. So remember these are not sustained. They're not sustained connections. So there are bursts of data that are sent. And so depending on application and use, if it's simultaneously, I'm guessing three to 500 sensors talking exactly at the same time, exactly the same nanosecond is supported for hotspot. But if you have a couple of hundred hotspots in the city, you can sort of multiply that out, decent, decent coverage for the number of devices on it on a moment in time.

[Erik]

And if we had a device like a, a smartwatch, which was not just sending kind of simple bursts of data, but was, you know, maybe streaming audio for a conversation or something, would that be feasible or, or is that required too much bandwidth for the device to manage?

[Frank]

I would say likely not a good idea only because for us to achieve, you know, a hundred square miles of range, the data packet has to be small. So we're talking 24 bytes to 20 kilobytes at the high high end. So I would argue voice is probably not a good application. However, text messaging or email limited email could be fine. And so if communications is, is the application of need, certainly you can create some, you know, old form pager system or old form, like the old blackberries text, each other simple things. Gotcha.

[Erik]

Gotcha. Okay. But so really designed for IOT machine to machine

[Frank]

That's right. That's right.

[Erik]

That we're missing here. That's a, that's critical for people to understand it.

[Frank]

I think probably questions I get the most when talking to potential folks who are interested in using the network is network coverage. And so I think maybe just reiterating how fast we're creating coverage is important. August 1st we shipped Austin, Texas, and within, I would say four or five days, the entire city of Austin was covered October 15th, we're shipping to 263 or 64 cities. That means within four or five days, there will be 264 cities with healing coverage. And that's the days, right. Days, worst case couple of weeks. I mean, that is amazing. So if you think about it, that is bringing a network to market in lightning speeds, that's never been seen before. I think, I think that's the power of the helium incentive and leveraging the people that create this is that that incentive model creates a hyper speed for deploying infrastructure that's useful for enterprises and industrial IOT essentially. And so that's something to think about. That's a hard idea to, to understand, because it's hard to believe that there are people out there, thousands of people willing to pay $500 for the hotspot for the sake of mining crypto, but you know, it's a whole new world out there times are changing

[Erik]

Well, Hey, I, I believe it. I mean I think finding 10,000 people to pay you know, a bit of money for, for a new technology and, and ownership of a new business model, I think that's that's something that is very feasible today. The challenge for you then is, is going to be to engage in with the the device manufacturers device operators and getting them on board.

What would be, if somebody is interested in exploring how their device use the network, what's the best way for them to get in touch with helium or, or to inform themselves around what the steps would be?

[Frank]

Sure. Yeah. Check out our website, helium.com. There's a number of, I think, great resources on there are helium.com/enterprise talks about the use cases that we've already share. Some of those also, if they're a developer and they want to develop devices to operate on the healing network, check out helium.com/developers. There are great resources. Certainly. Is there a focus on listening to your show that are interested in buying the hotspot.com/store page? Take a look. And if anyone's interested, just send me an email@helium.com or sales@helium.com. And we're happy to talk more about how they can onboard devices to network, or you want a discount on the hotspot, contact me. I'm happy to share a promo code for them to use.

[Erik]

Okay. Awesome. Well, I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for taking the time to brief us on what your ability to hear. I think this is, incredible. I mean, we really do need new solutions to make connectivity more affordable and simpler. So I wish you all the success and really appreciate your time today.

[Frank]

Thank you, Erik. Appreciate it.

[Outro]

Thanks for tuning in to another edition of the industrial IOT spotlight. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at IoTONEHQ and to check out our database of case studies on iotone.com/casestudies. If you have unique insight or a project deployment story to share, we'd love to feature you on a future edition. Write us at team@iotone.com.

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EP055 - How to cut 20 minutes off an emergency 911 response with data - Michael Martin, CEO, RapidSOS
Monday, Dec 02, 2019

In this episode of the IIoT Spotlight Podcast, we discuss the challenges facing 911 IT systems, the impact of data on emergency outcomes, and the role of IoT devices in enabling first time responders and predictive alerts. 

 

How much data does a 911 center have?

How do we know which data is useful to a 911 first responder for deciding actions to take?

How can software and device companies use their data to increase the safety of their products and services?

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