Analysis

Intel's new lab in Swindon to fuel IoT projects

Archana Venkatraman

Chipmaker Intel has opened its fourth European lab for the internet of things (IoT) in Swindon. The IoT Ignition Lab will help British companies develop innovative, connected IT projects in areas such as retail, transport and smart buildings.

Intel has three other European IoT labs: one in Munich, focusing on smart cities; in Stockholm, focusing on telecommunications, and one Istanbul that focuses on creating interoperable IoT services. 

Intel example

Intel also has an IoT lab in Imperial College London to use for research.

“By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices generating 35 zettabytes [over one trillion gigabytes] of data,” said Rod O’Shea, Intel’s European marketing director for IoT. “Deploying IoT is key to improve lives, productivity, efficiency and enterprise value. These labs are a testimony to our commitment to this space.”

According to analyst firm Gartner, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300bn, mostly in services by 2020.

In the Swindon lab, Intel will work to address IoT requirements of retail, transport and smart buildings. UK-based companies can build and test hardware and building analytics in the lab to deliver tangible business value and transform everyday lives with connected devices.

In the lab, Intel demonstrated an API Management Platform (AMP), which can simulate air-quality monitoring in a town. Data collected through gateways can be analysed in real-time, allowing towns to display up-to-date information on air quality to the public.

“Swindon does not have any air-quality monitoring sensors,” said Mark Green, Intel’s technical engineer. “So, in this lab, we have simulated the monitoring sensors that check the air quality and pollution in the region in real time. The local authority can use the findings from these systems to crank up congestion charges in areas they want to deter people from entering or to control pollution level. That’s the kind of smart transport use case that IoT is beneficial for.” Green said.

The lab had other IoT systems, such as one that did real-time Twitter analytics on a specific topic, and another system that displays customised, targeted adverts based on who is watching the screen without identifying personal information.

IoT initiatives by UK enterprises

Tim Taberner of Eurotech, a company that builds supercomputers and offers the technology behind London’s Oyster cards, is planning to use the lab to collaborate with other players to develop smart buildings and retail. “It’s like an ecosystem where all providers can converge and build services that will add business value,” says Taberner.

But Taberner identified several challenges in enterprises’ IoT journey. “We have been evangelising IoT a lot but we found that either people don’t get it, or they disappear for three to four years to think about a grand idea for implementation,” Taberner said. “There are others that find a specific use case and develop implementation timescales – take for instance creating a smart car park.

But soon they find there’s silo of data and there are funding models that don’t work for IoT and the project comes to a halt.”

According to Taberner, IoT is like a “leap of faith”. He said: “CIOs want specific value. If they implement something, they want immediate value out of it or find ways to monetise it, but for IoT to deliver value, it takes a long time to get it right."

He said traditional businesses will not throw away their existing IT kits for IoT services: “For instance, British Gas will not change its legacy systems. And hence, a gateway is fundamental to help IT implement IoT projects.”

Every morning we can check if my parents have woken up, whether they have had their medicine

Gerry Hodgson, Cascades 3D

He also said enterprises are not thinking about underlying infrastructure while creating machine-to-machine (M2M) projects: “They may buy a shiny new IoT-enabled device but will use HTTP or cellular connections, which are not very reliable.

"The network may have dropped but they won’t realise and continue sending data to the machine. That’s very inefficient.” 

He urged enterprises to consider MQTT networks. MQTT is a machine-to-machine/Internet of Things connectivity protocol. “For instance, Facebook uses MQTT for its messenger application and that’s the way forward.”

Another company, Intouch, plans on using the lab to develop IoT services that manage drainage in gullies in UK villages and avoid them from becoming flooded. 

“Floods are caused by changes in weather patterns and, as population density of UK increases, we cannot grow our infrastructure, so we must manage the existing infrastructure smartly,” said Simon Dawson from Intouch. Using devices and sensors to monitor the weather changes and the state of gullies can help local authorities avoid flood hazards, he said.

Other companies had ambitious IoT projects in the healthcare areas and were at the Intel lab to see how the company could help them achieve better social care. 

Gerry Hodgson from Cascades 3D, the company that analyses big data wants to take his micro-scale IoT project to a wider scale. Hodgson uses the app Mimo, which gives him an interface to check live feeds from his aged parents’ home. 

“Every morning we can check if my parents have woken up, whether they have had their medicine etc,” Hodgson said. 

The interface just tracks activity around the sensors and does not have cameras to invade privacy. “There are sensors that look at the temperature in the kitchen which help us know if my parents have forgotten to turn the hob off and that’s very useful information.”

The recent trend to centralise applications, to reduce costs and increase security, is incompatible with the IoT

Joe Skorupa, Gartner

Now Hudgson wants to take this data analytics to a wider scale where such information will be useful for hospitals and drug companies. "Currently it is on a personal level. But using technology from IoT providers, we want to take it to a broader level," Hodgson said.

Karen Lomas, Intel’s European director of Smart Cities, said: “Hospitals are already showing interest in this because data like this saves them money.” 

How IoT is challenging enterprises

According to Gartner, the magnitude of network connections and data associated with the IoT will accelerate a distributed datacentre management approach that calls for providers to offer efficient system management platforms. 

Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said: “Datacentre managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in security, network and server areas to be able to meet the business priorities associated with IoT." 

"IoT threatens to generate massive amounts of input data from sources that are globally distributed. Transferring the entirety of that data to a single location for processing will not be technically and economically viable," said Skorupa.

"The recent trend to centralise applications, to reduce costs and increase security, is incompatible with the IoT. Organisations will be forced to aggregate data in multiple distributed mini datacentres, where initial processing can occur. Relevant data will then be forwarded to a central site for additional processing."

Experts urged businesses looking at IoT to consider security aspects early on in the process. “Retrofitting security elements will be complex and inefficient,” said Intel’s O’Shea.


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