Connected Cars Everywhere!

Cars everywhere. Some, are a very similar to the ones I saw at CES (see my previous blog, The Connected World and Autonomous Cars @CES 2017) while some are new concepts with tighter ties to technologies and ideas at Mobile World Congress.

A car is a mobile device, and as such, a target and opportunity for mobile technology that can enhance the consumer experience and improve safety. There are cool capabilities a connected car can have like remote diagnostics that the car manufacturer can then prescribe preventive maintenance or deal with potential problems before they happen Think of a car as a 4G WiFi hotspot with all our devices connected to the internet as they are at home. It can deliver real-time weather and traffic information, providing a safer and more effective driving experience. The car can communicate with other cars, for example, to be warned of a potential collision, all this to reduce the millions of collisions happening in the U.S. per year. The car can communicate with city infrastructure to optimize the car’s speed for green lights, or in general to provide the optimal traffic flow in high traffic areas.

Autonomous and electric cars are still a common theme here on the show floor. Some companies here are thinking about new business models, including autonomous car sharing instead of outright ownership. To me, it makes a lot of sense, given that the car can find us and drive itself wherever and whenever we need it.

Along with the bells and whistles, come screens and more screens for self-driving cars. After all, why do you need to watch the road ahead if the cars drive by itself? The ultimate concept I saw was in this one booth, where the car didn’t have a single window and the driver is immersed in VR (virtual reality). I can see playing Grand Theft Auto on the way to work while the car drives itself!

Itron Idea Labs Takes Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress

Among the more than 100,000 attendees at the Mobile World Congress 2017 is the Itron Idea Labs team. And alongside the mobile giants we are demonstrating new technologies relevant to our industry.

The Itron Idea Labs team is in Barcelona to support the cool sensor technology developed by Itron’s gas team at the GSMA Innovation City in collaboration with Telefonica. We have pressure, methane and temperature sensors connected to LTE-M. LTE-M is an emerging standard for IoT. It provides lower costs, lower power and lower data rate. Other characteristics such as half duplex, single antenna and limited block size will let the more engineering inclined to understand why this standard is relevant and use cases. Gas pressure and temperate sensors can ensure integrity for utility infrastructure and provide real-time monitoring for the safety of consumers and their communities.

The demonstrations at the Innovation City this year are all selected to showcase products and concepts that employ the new LTE-M technology for lower-cost, longer range and better battery life. I think LTE-M can be a great addition to Itron’s technology toolbox and can help all of us create a more resourceful world.

What Does Itron Idea Labs Do?

Imagine you are planning a trip from point A to point B to get there as quickly as possible in your car where you must arrive at a specific time for a meeting. You plan the fastest route, reduce the weight you are carrying, minimize the rest stops you take and maximize your fuel consumption as much as possible. The day of your trip, you walk out and find that your car has a flat tire only to face road delays and to run out of gas. Then your phone battery dies, leaving you clueless as how to get where you’re going. What do you do at this point?

A. Light the car on fire and head for the nearest happy hour.

B. Kick the car tire, curse and call a cab to take you home.

C. Regroup, recharge that phone, fix that tire and keep going. Better late, then never!

Now imagine being charged with accelerating business ideas from concept to product release. Do you have a viable business before you spend money and cycles developing it? Is your product something customers need and are willing to pay for? You want to give customer your product quickly with minimal features to see if it meets their needs, can it be better and THEN develop the final product. This is Lean Startup thinking, Agile product development and smart business practice! These are operating principles we follow in Itron Idea Labs to evaluate and develop new business models for Itron.

Some common terms used in Itron Idea Labs are Lean Startup, Agile development, Minimum Viable Product and entrepreneurial spirit. What do these principles mean and how does Itron Idea Labs utilize them to the benefit of Itron?

There will always be unseen obstacles to disrupt your best plan or idea as in the trip example above. You can’t plan for everything or anticipate what will impede your progress. You will falter. But, if you change your approach, you may find that you succeed with a new business, new product and STILL make that happy hour to celebrate!

Stay up-to-date on Itron Idea Labs by following the Itron Idea Labs showcase page on LinkedIn!

Lots of Firsts at DistribuTECH 2017!

I’ve been attending DistribuTECH for the last 10 years, and the only constant thing has been change. Maybe not rapid and fast-paced change like we see at perhaps Consumer Electronics Show (CES)or B2B conferences, but change none the less.

This year was no different. Not only vendors, but also utilities, are accepting and gradually embracing cutting edge and next-generation technology.

No Longer Just AMI and Smart Grid

As mentioned in this Greentech Media article, vendors like Itron are looking at business  models and technologies that provide value beyond Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), like smart cities, streetlights, machine learning AI and a whole lot more.

At DistribuTECH for the First Time

Some unusual vendors were present this year. Mercedes Benz ­– yes, a car company – was showcasing their energy storage solutions along with Tesla. Tesla was also showcasing their solar roof. It was pretty sweet, and I would replace my roof with that any time.  And of course, Itron has a solar gateway to go with that.

Drones Are Everywhere
Yes, this was year of the drones. Lockheed Martin and Intel had some of the coolest ones to show. Many utilities are already using drones for inspecting transmission lines for damage from storms as well as distribution lines for normal wear and tear. So don’t be surprised to see a drone nearby to repair a transmission wire.

AR for the Mobile Worker

Using augmented reality for service repairs is not the future, but the present. Intel had the Intel Falcon JetPro on display and it was pretty neat. I tried it and I could definitely see its usefulness for utility field workers!

DIY Energy Disaggregation

We’ve seen load disaggregation companies like Bidgely and Powerly enabling utilities to inform consumers about what appliance is using how much energy. Whisker Labs actually has a simple DIY energy disaggregation gadget much like the Nest from Google that lets the consumer monitor and control their appliances’ loads. That’s pretty cool!

Country Pavilions

This is the first time there were pavilions by countries. These pavilions were showcasing technologies used to move electricity from the power plant through the transmission and distribution systems to the meter and inside the home with more than 11,300 individuals from 78 countries – China having the largest pavilion.

Electric Bike for Me and a Tesla for My Son

I could not let this pass. An electric dirt bike and a Tesla car EV for kids.

The industry is on the move and evolving fast. Everything from internet of things, to smart cities, street lights, distributed energy sources like solar, electric transportation, storage, augmented reality, drones and more, are on the table. Vendors like Itron are responding, and utilities are embracing new technologies and business models. Who knows what we will see a year from now. But one thing is certain, a decade from now this will be a totally different show.


Why Itron Idea Labs?

I just got a Google Home – you know, the speaker you can talk to and it will play music. It tells me what the outside temperature is or what a cup of flour is in milligrams. It also tells me the 10,000th digit of Pi that I often need. It has gone from a household novelty to a necessary appliance in a few short weeks. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone because of the dominating role technology is having in our lives. The iPhone came out 10 years ago, Siri five years ago, and they, like many other technologies, have become an integral part of our lives. It’s been said many times: Technology accelerates exponentially and causes serious consequences in the way we do business. For example, 52 percent of Fortune 500 companies have gone out of business in the last 15 years. Conversely, Amazon started as an online bookseller and is now a cloud service powerhouse.

Itron has a long history of delivering value to its customers. We know our customers and how to develop solutions that customers want and need in this constantly changing world. But when we need to create new business opportunities in this world, we need to act differently. Creating new products to solve known problems for existing customers is a formal process that is well understood in our product lines. However, creating new businesses with solutions that solve new problems for new customers is a whole different problem.  A process that works when we deal with knowns can’t work when we deal with unknowns.

Itron Idea Labs was created with the purpose of discovering and validating new business opportunities using methods appropriate to this objective. Following a lean startup model, Itron Idea Labs is charged with accelerating ideas starting with a concept and soliciting customer input followed by development and transitioning to a commercial product. Itron Idea Labs typically has eight to 10 projects ongoing at any given time, which is driven by Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).

It’s not just about keeping up with this fast-paced world from a business perspective. It’s about getting these new world novelties to necessary appliances and applications – faster.

Do you have any questions about Itron Idea Labs? I will be doing a Twitter Chat on Wednesday, Feb. 1 from 10:30 to 11 a.m. PST from DistribuTECH in San Diego. Tweet at me (@robertoaiello) using #itronchat. Also, be sure to be following our new Itron Idea Labs showcase page on LinkedIn!

Leaving Las Vegas @CES 2017

It is day four at CES and almost time to leave. It’s the King’s birthday, my twentieth time at CES, during CES’s 50th anniversary, and a great day to be here.  An interesting day for anyone interested in numerology.

I want to close this series with a summary of what Itron Idea Labs showed at CES. We focused on demonstrating Industrial IoT with nine live action stations on one OpenWay network. Each of them had the canonical IoT architecture: The network, cloud intelligence, sensors and controls back to the endpoints. In addition, each system demonstrated could perform actions with local computation—true Edge computing.

We showed a miniature water distribution system with leak detectors, pressure sensors and a valve to apply a leak. We had an EV charging station, a gas pipeline with a leak sensor that closes a gas gate when it detects a leak. We even has a miniature house that shakes and a gas gate that closes when a seismic detector detects an earthquake.

Let’s take the rest of the day off and start thinking what to show at CES 2018 on Monday!

In Search of Machine Intelligence @CES 2017

Day three at CES. I was on a mission to find machine intelligence, not a product but an ingredient technology. I was expecting to see it embedded in a variety of products and applications on the show floor, but I have seen less than expected. So here is my prediction: We’ll see more machine intelligence in the coming years.

In the meantime, here are some of the cool things that I did see. I’ll skip the self-driving cars since I already mentioned them in yesterday’s blog. I saw both hardware and software face recognition and tracking. One of them consuming only a few milliwatts. I saw Cortana in Nissan cars, which gives all the assistant features in the car and helps with navigation and driving actions. Sanbot showed an assistant robot that helps in healthcare, classroom, etc. For example, the assistant can talk and help you when you check-in at a doctor’s office. I touched its head and held its hand and it showed me a heart on the display on its body.

Nvidia showed an AI co-pilot that recognizes the driver, reads her lips, tracks her gaze, communicates with the driver in plain English, warning about bikes, etc. It will also probably be able to recognize if the driver is tired or distracted to prevent accidents. It certainly beats the backseat drivers in my car!

I wanted to look for machine intelligence because I think it is going to become more and more important in our world and for Itron. We have several projects related to machine intelligence underway. Two of them turned into products in 2016 and will start shipping in 2017.

Our first product, the Solar Gate, not only measures energy produced from a solar panel and consumed in a house, but it also diagnoses the solar panel, taking into account weather, tariffs, occupancy and other parameters. It optimizes home energy consumption by timing EV charging, storage, pool pump, etc.

Our other product identifies, with nearly 100 percent accuracy, on which phase and to which transformers homes are connected to. This is important to electric utilities. And, the beauty is the machine learning algorithms only needs voltage information from the electric meters, no expensive and inconvenient field labor.

I’d say, given what I saw on the show floor, Itron is tracking with some of the best companies here at CES.

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