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In this week’s PPR, the focus will be on Amazon’s IoT announcements at Re:invent, IoT security in the transportation industry, and video from a manufacturer using Google Glass to cut process time in factories across the globe. Plus, lots of other odds and ends, from industry stats to upcoming events.
Amazon’s leap into #IIoT at Reinvent17
Amazon made a slew of announcements at Amazon Web Services’ Re:invent conference in Las Vegas relating to new and expanded cloud offerings. You can see a roundup here. I can’t go through them all, but will highlight those that have relevance for PPR readers in industrial tech. (Note: PPR parent i30 Media derives a large proportion of its revenue from Amazon).
AWS IoT One-Click is a service that can trigger basic AWS Lambda functions such as opening a door or reordering an item. It’s the same idea that makes Amazon’s “Dash” buttons so popular for instantly reordering food and sundries from the retailer without having to log in to the website or app.
But we’re not talking about ordering dog food and trash bags. We’re talking about industry, where the stakes are much higher. For many industrial firms, it’s not possible to leverage such tools, no matter how easy they are to set up and run.
The main issue, of course, is any process that depends on the public cloud has to accept that latency and availability may suffer. What if an AWS IoT One-Click function to reorder a critical part can’t be launched, because AWS is down? It happens, sometimes for hours at a time.
A secondary issue: IoT cloud security. Some firms will never accept data or applications launched from a public cloud, no matter how secure the service provider claims it is.
But there are industrial use cases for the new Amazon services. If a firm depends on data outside of its own facilities, it very may well have to fetch it from an application connected to the cloud. An automated irrigation system that uses weather data to determine water or fertilizer coverage on a plot of land will naturally have to pull the data off of a feed somewhere … and that somewhere is very likely hosted on an Amazon, Google, or Microsoft cloud service.
There are other situations in which it’s just not practical to connect to central IT or have edge processing, either because there is no local power available or there’s no space to put the box. The German railway giant Deutsche Bahn is rolling out an IIoT-driven monitoring and predictive maintenance system built by KONUX. Low-power sensors are placed between or near the tracks to monitor the weight, speed, and other metrics of rolling stock and 70,000 switches. The sensors are small, and for most of them, there’s no place to put dedicated edge processing or storage. Instead, the data has to be uploaded to a cloud service (either public or privately managed away from the edge) to generate analytics, alerts, and other machine language-driven services.
There is also an argument to use public cloud services when they are not time-sensitive or a point of failure for a critical system. Certain types of backups or archives, after-the-fact analysis, and specialized applications can use cloud data or compute resources without impacting operations.
Amazon moves into embedded operating systems
Of the other Amazon announcements last week, the one that caught my attention was the Amazon FreeRTOS, an embedded OS for sensors and other small IoT devices. FreeRTOS has been around since 2003 as a quasi-open-source project; Amazon last year hired the lead engineer Richard Barry and makes the code available via an MIT license.
According to the announcement, devices running FreeRTOS can now be more easily integrated with Amazon cloud services, or be used at the edge via Amazon Greengrass, which also includes some ML platform capabilities.
Endpoint: The slew of cloud and IoT-related announcements at Reinvent are classic Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ flywheel strategy involves linking powerful platforms in ways that lead to positive network effects for both (think Amazon’s online retail store and the Amazon Kindle). Encouraging vendors to use FreeRTOS over another emerging embedded OS (LiteOS, TinyOS, VxWorks, etc.) is not just about grabbing a piece of the embedded OS pie, it’s about expanding demand for various AWS services and laying the foundation for long-term control over the enterprise cloud market.
If anyone from Microsoft Azure, IBM, Oracle, Google, or other players in this space is reading this: If you’re not looking over your shoulder already, you need to start doing so right now. Spin up your anti-Amazon countermeasures, partnerships, and customer bonding strategies ASAP. If you don’t, you may very well see Amazon eating your lunch, faster than you can say “Barnes & Noble.”
As for OT and IT teams, the new easier-to-manage Amazon cloud services such as AWS Fargate and Amazon ECS for Kubernetes (EKS) will be a boon to groups managing back-end processes and applications that can live with cloud latency or the potential for service outages. They promise to make applications easier to write and manage, and potentially bring down costs if they compete favorably with offerings from other providers. But other types of applications that manage industrial automation or mission-critical services cannot be placed on public clouds–the risk to operations or conflict with security need are too great.
Amazon Greengrass may provide some comfort if Lambda instances can be hosted at the edge, but the one thing that I don’t see happening (yet) are the vendor, application, and hardware partnerships needed to make that happen in a plug-and-play way. But you can bet that startups in this space–and maybe some established vendors–will be taking a hard look at the new goodies announced at #Reinvent17.
Stay tuned for #Reinvent18 to see what Amazon does next …
Long-distance shipping: A weak link in #IoTsecurity
Last week I read a post by Pen Test Partners about how container ships could be hacked via the container load plan (aka ship planning system or stowage plan) which determines where containers are placed on oceangoing vessels. By messing with the computer models, an attacker could delay unloading of certain containers by days or weeks or even cause a ship to capsize.
For the container ships, there are multiple attack vectors, including the fact that the weight data is transferred by USB and email. But it wasn’t hard to imagine how compromised IoT could lead to similar disasters.
Imagine weight sensors on a ship being set to randomly over or underreport containers’ combined weight. You could end up with one side of the ship grossly overweight, and the crew being unaware of the problem until it’s too late.
Or, in cargo vessels carrying chemicals, fuel, or LNG, what would happen if temperature, pressure, and leakage sensors were compromised? Scary.
Similar exploits can be applied to other types of cargo-carrying vehicles, from airplanes to tanker trucks. And we know that hacking IoT sensors can (and will) happen, thanks to Mirai.
There are other dimensions to the IoT security picture when it comes to cargo:
- The trend toward autonomous vehicles — many factories and mining operations already use them, and Tesla’s futuristic big rig shows what might be coming down the road in a few years’ time.
- It’s difficult to monitor a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean or a truck on a remote stretch of highway, let alone apply patches in an emergency situation.
- Spending on IoT security lags compared to other other enterprise/industrial investments in IoT.
Added up, these trends are cause for worry. No major incidents have happened yet (that we know about, at least) but it’s inevitable unless managers and manufacturers take steps to secure transport-associated IoT.
Endpoint: In the transportation/cargo space, IoT vulnerabilities may have a far greater impact beyond the entities victimized by a hack. And it’s not just the transportation industry that has to deal with the security implications of an IoT hack. Basically, if your company has vehicles with sensors and connectivity, including forklift or fleet vehicles, they need to be evaluated, secured, monitored, and patched just like any piece of IT hardware or expensive metal on the factory floor.
Image source: Depositphotos
Google Glass at AGCO: Video and new details
In the last issue of PPR, I shared details from a presentation at #IoTfM17 (Georgia Tech’s annual workshop on IoT in Manufacturing) about Glass, the enterprise edition of Google’s failed consumer technology. One company that uses Glass in its own manufacturing operations–AGCO Corp., a manager of tractors, combines, and other heavy agricultural equipment–reported fantastic benefits, according to Peggy Gulick, Director, Business Process Improvement:
“Gulick showed videos of operators using Glass to check diagrams as they assembled components, or using it as a hands-free QA checklist. According to Gulick, the project has not only reduced process time by 30-35%, it as also led to an unanticipated reduction in training time — from 10 days to 3 days. She adds operators are also working more safely.”
Gulick also showed some video of Glass in action, which I captured and posted to YouTube:
The quality isn’t great, but you can see the operators using it to carry out tasks as Gulick narrates what is going on. The operators often use a finger to tap the side of the spectacles to advance the view, but others use voice commands to move to the next task.
AGCO developed the Glass application using a developer based in Belgium, and used specialized industrial Glass spectacles built with safety glass from 3M. AGCO uses the technology at facilities in the U.S., Germany, Italy, and Brazil.
Gulick also made a point to differentiate Google Glass from industrial augmented reality solutions, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens. She said the company’s environmental health & safety team was less likely to approve a VR or AR solution that blocked operators’ vision, or took up 20% of the space in front of them with graphics or imagery that wasn’t real.
“We did not go with HoloLens, or augmented reality,” Gulick said. “We believe it adds too much noise to the employee, especially if you are trying to fix motion.” She added that Glass’ “informed reality” provided a better view of what’s going on around operators and the information they need to do their jobs.
“Enterprises should focus on business results enabled by applications that exploit narrow AI technologies and leave general AI to the researchers and science fiction writers”
“Instead of looking for the killer app for IoT, companies should focus on understanding their customer’s needs and evaluating how they can leverage the Internet of Things to solve those problems in a better, faster, or cheaper way.”
Daniel Elizalde, TechProductManagement
Industry news & links of note
- How the Internet of Things Can Prepare Cities for Natural Disasters (Harvard Business Review)
- Under the Hood: How IoT Tech Transforms Fleet Ops (Sensors Online)
- Industrial Internet Consortium and Robot Revolution Initiative Council announce partnership for smart manufacturing (IIC)
- Microsoft Azure, TomTom team up on location-aware services (eWeek)
Stats, figures, factoids, and claims.
- By 2019, 40% of all digital transformation initiatives, and 100% of all effective IoT efforts, will be supported by cognitive/AI capabilities (IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2017 Predictions)
- “Augmented Humanity” offerings will be mainstream in the mid-2020s (IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2017 Predictions)
- “Digital twins will exist for billions of things in the near future” (Gartner)
Inmarsat survey responses to “Which IoT solution(s) has your organization deployed?” (n=500)
- 75%: Energy consumption monitoring
- 66%: Smart monitoring of asset levels
- 50%: Employee tracking through wearables
- 49%: Business process automation
- 13%: Smart security management
Source: Inmarsat Research Programme
Industrial IoT & related events
- IIoT World Tour, December 8, 2017, San Francisco.
- Embedded World Conference and Expo, February 27-March 3, 2018, Nuremberg, Germany
- Industry of Things World USA, March 7-9, 2018, San Diego
- IWCE Wireless Communications Conference and Expo, March 5-9, 2018, Orlando
- Connected Things 2018, April 5, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Global IoT Summit, June 4-7, Bilbao, Spain
Want to add an event to the list? Contact me at email@example.com.
Coming soon in PPR
- #AI trends: It’s time for a Machine Language reality check
- A missing constituency in the OT vs. IT debate?
- Platform wars: OPC Classic vs. OPC UA
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