Adventures in Cryptocurrency

Last October, a conversation began in the Itron Idea Labs community around blockchain and what Itron might do with it in the energy space. Ideas were plenty, ranging from the interesting to the ridiculous and really began taking shape at our last quarterly Itron Idea Labs meeting in Oakland. A concept evolved from this, and we were asked if we could put a demonstration together for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – a mere three weeks away. 

Being a hacker from the old school, I can’t resist a challenge, and said, “Sure, I think we can do that.”

Now, I have a head full of gray hair in testament to a lifetime of saying things like that, but I had read books! I had developed whole applications before! “How hard can it be?” I asked myself. I was about to find out.

I have a love/hate relationship with open-source software, which is what blockchain is. It’s free, which is always nice, but documentation is sparse, and because of the newness of the technology, changes happen fast. Documentation and tutorials written three months ago often don’t work anymore, and you must find your own way around the issue. I won’t bore you with the details of every pitfall I experienced, but by the time I was finished, I had learned five new programming languages, and we managed to field a serviceable, but not very easy-on-the-eyes demonstration at CES that was very successful.

Today, we have a fully operational private blockchain network consisting of seven application servers and 10 simulated electric meters sending payments and consumption data every five minutes. All of the billing calculations are performed on the meter itself, and the consumption data is permanently stored in the blockchain for use by any application that requires it.

With persistence and teamwork, anything is possible! We were proud to have our work represented on the screens at DistribuTECH 2018, and we’re hard at work on the next evolution, which will be to replace the simulated meters with real OpenWay® Riva meters. We think it’s a great combination, and we’re excited to test the possibilities.


Itron Showcases the Future of Smart Cities at #CES18

Providing a peek into the future, Itron showcased its vision of what it may be like to live in a city of the future from a consumer standpoint at the biggest consumer electronics show: CES. The show hosted thought leaders like Deloitte, Panasonic and the U.S. Department of Energy. More than 180,000 attendees came together to enjoy over 4,000 exhibitors demonstrating everything from companion robots to virtual reality.

As a supporting sponsor for the event, Itron hosted a dedicated smart cities marketplace and exhibition for the first time, demonstrating Itron’s global leadership in smart grid deployment. Helping utilities and cities manage resources more efficiently, Itron’s OpenWay® Riva solution provides a platform to support numerous devices and use cases.

Tim Wolf, director of marketing and communications, participated in a panel hosted by Deloitte called Energy Consumption & Distribution in Smart Cities. More than 300 people attended the panel, which was also livestreamed on CES’s website. Wolf also spoke about Itron’s solutions in a CES smart cities highlight video.

Itron was proud to demonstrate and support energy-saving, smart technologies that will enhance safety and convenience for citizens in connected cities. Built on the Itron® Riva network, these technologies demonstrate how a modern, urban infrastructure can leverage our technology to provide interoperability across key services provided.


Speed Dating at #CES2018

Innovation is always the hot word at CES, but smart cities and smart energy made their debut this year in a big way. Itron Idea Labs was there to contribute to the conversation and scout for start-ups and entrepreneurs with promising products and technologies to serve the future citizens of a smart city.

With a torrential downpour on day one of CES, followed by an unprecedented two-hour blackout in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center on day two, it wasn’t easy to find time to leave our busy booth to see the rest of the show!

Fortunately, the lights stayed on at the Westgate and the Itron booth was busy with visitors from all dimensions, time zones and walks of life interested in our fresh perspective on smart cities.

Among the guided tours that Itron hosted throughout the week was a group from Minalogic, a technology incubator in the Auvernge-Rhone-Alpes region of France. Delighted to see a Grenoble-based start-up featured in the Itron booth, Minalogic invited me to a curated tour of the vast hall of Eureka Park the next day. Housed in the Sands Hotel, an excursion to and from the Westgate to Eureka Park takes no less than two hours during CES! With the luxury of a canny driver and walking at a quick pace, we had exactly one hour to visit a handful of the French start-ups that Minalogic believed most closely aligned with Itron’s smart city vision.

Our tour began with Lancey Energy Storage, a two-year-old start-up focused on demand response and building energy management. Their product, a stylish and portable electric heater coupled with a 10-year rechargeable battery targets residential and commercial applications and functions not only as a heater, but as an electricity storage device (kind of power wall).

The second start-up, PowerUp Technology, offers board design and consulting services, together with a cloud-based dashboard to monitor and regulate current charge in battery-operated IoT devices. The company claims to improve the battery life of IoT devices by two!

Next up, we were ushered across the hall to visit Arabella Technologies, a manufacturer of a handheld bio sensor that correctly identifies odors in a field environment.

While there were plenty of offerings that ranged from silly – like the dog food scooper that turns red when your dog has had enough – to the “so last year” VR headsets with haptic gloves, the shift in focus from gimmicky gadgets to innovation based on the real needs of society was evident in the products and technologies we visited at the packed Eureka Park.

My takeaways from this CES are that Itron is poised to enable an active and intelligent infrastructure to benefit citizens of the future, our smart city message is accessible and crisp, and start-ups from around the world are well underway in the development of products and services to complement Itron-enabled smart cities!


Going Zero to 60 at #CES2018

From the excitement in the air about rooms full of new tech to the chaos of navigating the pavilions with an expected new record attendance of approximately 200,000 people, it was another great day at CES. The atmosphere is exciting and at times mind numbing. There are 149,339 hotel rooms in this city, according to the Las Vegas Visitors Authority. Traveling 1.8 miles from my hotel to Itron’s booth takes about 30 minutes via taxi. 

I’ve really enjoyed representing Itron and showing the world what we have been up to in Itron Idea Labs. My favorite demo at CES this year has been our research into using blockchain technology to demonstrate transactive energy use cases. In this demo, we nailed up a private Ethereum blockchain implementation that showed how solar, battery storage and various other distributed generation resources could work in the future. This is possible by securely applying values to the input and output of energy in real time, creating more efficient and accurate transactions. We called our exchange currency the “Joule.”

Here are some more of the stand-out tech discoveries I have found this week:

  1. As a parent, I kind of did a double take when I saw the concept of a Disposable Smart Diaper Sensor. Apparently, you can get a text message when your child’s diaper needs to be changed!
  2. The fingerprint recognition pad lock seems like a really cool concept. I do wonder what happens if the battery dies!
  3. Mercedes Benz previewed a car that simply shocked me. Zero to 60 in 1.8 seconds, full electric drive train. It looked like a Lamborghini yet had fascinating features including “Full Glass” cockpit display, autonomous driving, top speed of 350km/h and is street legal.
  4. Of course, as a guitar enthusiast, I stopped by the Gibson Guitar area and drooled over my favorite guitars. The flying V happens to be one of my favorites. In the Gibson booth, I could grab and play anything I wanted.

The Robots of #CES2018

Autonomous vehicles, drones, artificial intelligence, augmented/virtual reality, robotics and smart cities are among the hottest topics at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. Robots are everywhere. For starters, one of our Itron RIVA ecosystem partners, OMRON, centerpieced Forpheus — a ping pong-playing robot. The rise of the machines is unavoidable: Our future will include robots as companions and co-workers. Below (and in the slideshow above) are just a few that caught my eye on the show floor.

Called an empathetic robotic device, Honda unveiled the A18, which is a companion robot. The A18 has a face that can recognize and emulate emotions and respond to the emotions its companion shows. I’m unsure about the market size for a mobile, egg-shaped, anthropomorphic buddy, but speaking of robot buddies… A companion robot with considerably more utility is Blue Frog’s BUDDY, which won the CES 2018 Best of Innovation award. BUDDY is a personal assistant with smart home, security, elder care and edutainment capabilities. Abilix showed several programmable, multi-piece LEGO-like Coding Robot kits to enable STEM learning in children.


Consumer, Commercial Needs Met at #CES2018

The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 is my re-introduction to the electronic industry’s show of all shows – the last time I was here was about 15 years ago! The reason I didn’t attended CES during that time is because I haven’t been working in the consumer electronics industry. Now I know that not attending was probably a mistake on my part. This is clearly a show much broader than consumer electronics, and in many cases, there are variants of consumer electronics and commercial electronics. I found the profusion of ‘smart’ and ‘connected’ devices truly amazing as well as the fledgling industries they are creating.

There are several companies demonstrating smart lighting solutions pitching a reduction in operational and maintenance costs while improving safety. Similarly, there are multiple indoor and outdoor environmental sensor solutions.

I also saw smart yard solutions and smart agriculture solutions to monitor soil conditions and control water delivery. The example was repeated with weather stations, environmental sensors, EV charging stations and access controls. There were products that were clearly two sides of the same coin – one side consumer and the other commercial.

There were examples of commercial building and multi-family access controls like door locks, fingerprint readers, face recognition and more products for the home/consumer. There was even a smart pet entry door, which only allows your pet (wearing an RFID TAG) to open the pet door. It communicates this to an app that can be used to monitor the event or lock the door preventing the pet from leaving or entering. What a great product! I need one to keep the neighborhood cats and raccoons out of my house.

So where am I going with this rambling? Simply stated, I believe there is great opportunity here for both the consumer and commercial spaces. The wireless communication used for these devices is all over the board – Proprietary, IEEE 802.15.4, LoRa, ZWave, Bluetooth, IP500 (6LowPAN), Thread, LTE, NB-IoT, etc.  Additionally, the applications are everything from stand alone to cloud-based on Azure, AWS, Google, etc.

When I asked the companies making these devices why they chose a particular wireless technology, and if they thought that it was where their value-add was, the answer I received was, “We did what we had to do at the time” or “It was a means to an end.”  In short, nearly all were open to using a different communication technology that solved their needs as it would allow them to focus on their value-add in devices and software/analytics.

There are many communications problems in the commercial space, and perhaps some in the consumer space, that can be addressed with a Neighborhood Area Network and Itron® Riva technology.


Disruption Ahead

Thomas Edison would have no trouble recognizing most of the component parts in any electrical generation and distribution network today. The technology that made the electrical utility cutting edge in the late 1800s is still an optimal solution. But, that is changing quickly. Electrical utilities are on the cusp of a disruptive redesign. When this is done, what emerges will have more in common with the Jetsons than with filament light bulbs.

The Other Side of Disruption

Trends are easier to embrace when they are described in the form of a user experience, so imagine this: Today’s personal assistant (Siri… or Cortana or Alexa, depending on your loyalties) expands into every device with a microprocessor, including utility monitoring, television, computers and cars. A whole-home personal assistant exists to offload the minutia of your life.

Let’s apply this scenario to the electric grid where energy companies are deploying time of use energy pricing that more accurately reflects the true cost of energy. This also means that consumers may want adjust their thermostat by a couple of degrees to take advantage of demand response incentives. But consumers won’t have to worry about doing it themselves thanks to the home personal assistant. Responding to demand response signals is offloaded to the assistant to handle.

It’s So Much More Than a Smart Thermostat

The home personal assistant does something much more intelligent than simply turning the thermostat up or down based on pricing provided by the energy company. First, it looks at the changing consumption of electricity, water and security sensors to decide whether you are home. If you are not, it has greater flexibility in the acceptable temperature. Having estimated the thermal efficiency of the home from external datasets, it decides how best to modify the temperature through the day. By shifting cooling on hot days into the early hours, it can use the reservoir of cooler air to reduce energy consumption at peak cost hours in the evening.

But this assistant isn’t just about keeping your energy costs low. It will also protect your home and family. It can use methane sensors to detect gas leaks and CO sensors to look for incomplete gas combustion. It can use advanced electrical meters to look for excessive loads indicating the potential for an electrical fire. It can use smart water meters to detect a significant water leak and allow it to be shut off even when you are at work or at the beach. The whole-home personal assistant and its associated IoT sensors infuses every aspect of the utility experience.

This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Utility Any Longer

Hidden in this description is evidence of several significant trends. Data that was previously held in utility silos will also be fused with other datasets to enable personal assistants to act broadly on the consumer’s behalf. Personal assistants will talk to consumers on behalf of utilities. Finally, smart meters are no longer just about billing. They are about delivering data at high resolution that permits analysis and actionable understanding.

Thomas Edison was ahead of his time in the creation of the first electric utilities, but that era is about to be disrupted. Your Siris, Alexas and Cortanas, and the datasets that feed them, will usher in the next era in electricity and utility services.


Itron and Omron Creative Labs Collaborate to Enhance Smart Cities and Public Safety

Omron Creative Labs of Omron Electronic Components LLC and Itron Idea Labs will be teaming up to demonstrate the Omron D7S Seismic Sensor and Itron Riva Development Kit to detect and evaluate seismic activity at Sensors Expo and Conference in San Jose, June 27-29.

The demo aims to detect earthquakes earlier, enhance public safety and mitigate damage from secondary hazards such as fire. To achieve this vision, Omron Creative Labs took the Itron Riva Development Kit and created a seismic sensor daughterboard to gather seismic activity, ground acceleration and velocity data using an Itron Riva peer-to-peer network.

The demo is a table-top display featuring a small-scale doll house atop a shake table and outfitted with the Omron Electronic Components LLC’s seismic sensor featuring Itron Riva edge intelligence. Activating the shake table via a tablet device simulates an earthquake. The seismic sensor located in the dollhouse detects the motion of the shake table and sends an alarm message through the Itron Riva network to a natural gas valve for automatic shut off.

The combination of the Omron Electronic Components LLC’s seismic sensor and Itron Riva platform demonstrates how modern urban infrastructure can be used to automate important safety tasks across utilities and public agencies to improve the outcome after a natural disaster, such as an earthquake. With next generation technology, it is possible to revitalize existing city infrastructure and integrate technology into the physical environment to enhance and improve the economy and safety of a city and the daily lives of its citizens.

To learn more about the demo, visit us at the Sensors Expo in booth #1121. For more information on Itron Idea Labs and Itron Riva Development Kits, visit https://itronriva.com.


What Itron Idea Labs Brings to Itron and the Industry

Nine out of 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 disappeared from the list by 2016. The average tenure of a Fortune 500 company went from 33 years in 1965 to 18 years in 2012, and it is forecast to shrink to 14 years by 2026. The accelerating rate of technology development and disruptive innovation that displaces incumbents are driving this trend. 

Itron Idea Labs’ main goal is to create disruptive innovation. We start with a business idea, validate the business model, then grow the business and develop the product. After the project obtains revenues, we transition it to a business unit. 

Each project is run by an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) who is responsible for just that -- to first prove the need/value of an idea and then grow the business. We use lean startup and customer development techniques that apply to new market opportunities. These are all state-of-the-art methods used by startup companies and top incubators. Many companies have attempted to crack the nut of organic growth and disruptive innovation, but few have succeeded.

Itron Idea Labs started as an experiment and we learned from our mistakes. Through trials, iterations, failures, learnings and pivots, we are now at the point where we know how to create disruptive innovation.

An example is Itron Grid Connectivity. It started with the idea that electric utilities may need to know physical and electrical connectivity of meters to transformers and meters to feeders. Through customer discovery, we learned that the real pain point was the electrical, not physical connectivity. The next step was to identify the target customers and the value of the solution. That led to creating a revenue model that reflected that value. Then we started looking at possible solutions to that problem. We developed several solutions and we tried them with several customers. Today, we have a product based on sophisticated machine learning that determines electrical connectivity with nearly 100 percent accuracy. That product will create great value to our customers.

There are exciting times ahead of us, where we’ll create new businesses, products and opportunities. That will allow us to evolve the company to new phases and to keep up with the exponential rate of technology.


Itron Riva Streetlights: Sunglasses On!

You might want to wear your sunglasses while reading the following...

It all started in January 2017, at the Itron Sales Conference, held in Palm Springs, California. Philip Mezey, Itron President and Chief Executive Officer, told the enthusiastic gathering how Itron was leading the industry in three areas: Electricity, Gas, and Water.

Philip then mentioned a fourth area where Itron would become a industry leader: Streetlights. Throughout the world, streetlights are being upgraded to offer edge intelligence and control, offering network-based functionality that is similar to that offered by Itron's existing line of electric, gas, and water meters.

Itron Riva Dev Mini board

Right after the January meeting, a team at Itron Idea Labs got to work. The team integrated the brand new Itron Riva Dev Mini board (from another Itron Idea Labs project) with a Neptun Streetlight Controller.  Neptun is a third party vendor of streetlights, and was eager to partner with Itron to get their streetlights onto the Itron Riva ACT (Adaptive Communications Technology) network.

It is now May 2017, and the finished product is headed to TECO, an Itron utility customer, for a pilot. Importantly, the testing will show interoperability between Itron Riva Meters and Itron Riva Streetlights. The Itron Riva Streetlights are also being sent to Avista, another Itron utility customer, for testing in their streetlight pilot -- they too will test the interoperability between Itron Riva Meters and Itron Riva Streetlights.

Itron Riva streetlight
How could the Itron Idea Labs team accomplish so much so quickly? The answer is by building upon existing Itron Riva technologies!
Itron Riva iSOM

First, the streetlight hardware builds upon Itron Riva iSOM (Itron System on a Module), the same module used in Itron Riva electric meters, Itron Riva SmartNICs, and Itron Riva CAMs (CGR ACT Modules). This module contains a powerful ARM-based processor (same type of processor as used in your cell phone), 128MB of RAM, and 256 MB of flash storage.

Second, the firmware builds upon Itron Riva MUSE (Meter Usage Software Environment), an Linux-based environment offering utility-strength robustness and reliability. A key benefit of MUSE is that Itron Riva applications can run directly on the device -- edge intelligence in action!

Itron Riva Dev Mini inside the streetlight

Third, the networking stack builds upon Itron Riva ACT (Adaptive Communications Technology), the same networking stack used by Itron Riva electric, gas and water meters. The result? Itron Riva Streetlight can use the same set of networking software as Itron Riva Meters --- for example, the Cisco Field Network Director (FND) can be used with Itron Riva Streetlight for network management.

Itron Riva Streetlights registered in Field Network Director (FND)

In summary, the Itron competitive advantage is clear: Itron Riva is compatible with Electricity, Gas, Water, and... (sunglasses on!) Streetlights!

Read our full press release: Itron Releases Next Generation Itron Riva™ Development Kit for Faster Path to Innovation.


The Importance of the Culture of Innovation

A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with Microsoft Ventures and Providence Fund in Seattle, discussing corporate innovation and the key ingredients that make it successful. There was a lot of talk about process, strategy and financing.

So, when I claimed none of these elements matter if the innovation culture isn’t right, the audience was a little taken aback.

As a tech entrepreneur and former startup CEO, I recall being told by a friend and mentor that having the right culture to foster innovation is the only long-term sustainable competitive advantage within your control. To this day, I believe her advice to be true and that without this practice, my business would have never been successful.

We strive to follow this philosophy at Itron Idea Labs, an organization within Itron with a startup edge that focuses on new business opportunities and accelerating innovation. In addition – and arguably more importantly – Roberto Aiello, our leader, not only supports this belief, but promotes it.

When seeking new team members, “culture fit” is key. By culture fit, we don’t mean whether or not you’d grab a drink with us after work. When we go into an interview, we’re not looking for someone who looks or acts like us. Instead, we’re looking for someone who fits our core values. These are some of Itron Idea Labs’ common core values for our entrepreneurs:

These values work like our personal Pledge of Allegiance, repeated day-in and day-out, at every single monthly meeting. But this isn’t for effect—repetition is the key to instilling important thoughts, missions and values into yourself and your teammates around you in a way that lasts. And when this happens in an unsolicited way—when those core values shine through during selfless, sincere behavior—that is the most encouraging.

Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) are at the core of Itron Idea Labs and they drive the culture in the group. Everyday EIRs support each other through sharing research, finding resources, helping with customer discovery or anything that can help forward the mission of Itron Idea Labs to innovate faster, so Itron can stay ahead and our people can stay excited!

What are your thoughts on culture? Would you like to learn more? Let me know in the comments!


Figuring Out 5G

One of the main topics I heard talked about at Mobile World Congress is 5G— the next generation cellular. I tried to forget everything I know about 5G, and I roamed the floor to figure out what companies are aiming to do with 5G and when?

The industry is certainly promoting the vision of 5G. The vision is for a high data rate and low latency connection to a phone. Basically, it is like 4G, just faster, but it is certainly not cheaper. Plus, with consumers shifting focus on streaming and less on making phone calls, it left me wondering what the use case is?

I saw some virtual reality applications and a few streaming scenarios, to a phone, to a car, to a headset. I saw a Gigabit phone, with a 16Gbps download demo, as well as infotainment and connected services for cars. But, what is the technology that makes all this work? First, I tried to figure out what the operating frequency is. I found radios at 80GHz, 70GHz, 26GHz, sub 6GHz, 28GHz, 39GHz, and 3.5GHz. Then, I looked at radio and networking technologies and I found MIMO antennas, beamforming, self-healing networks and other expected methods.

All in all, I came away excited about the vision, but confused about the technology, as it seems like 5G is still defining itself. The one thing I know for sure is that 5G comes after 4G. The rest remains a bit vague.


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