Vodafone Business - Extreme E

IoT hits top gear with Extreme E in battling climate change

All-electric car racing series teams with Vodafone Business to combat growing threat from global warning, through long-life IoT solar-powered sensors connected to a mesh network to warn of environment dangers

As the outfit’s CEO and founder and former Formula 1 champion looked on from the paddock, scorched by the near 40-degree heat baking the former Nato base in Sardinia, Nico Rosberg’s X Racing (RXR) team took the win at the Island X Prix II of Extreme E Season 2.

It would have been the team’s third victory of Extreme E Season 2, but despite valiant efforts in dragging to the finishing line a car missing its entire front wing, RXR suffered a heavy time penalty after the smash-up that caused the damage to its own car and to that being driven by racing legend Carlos Sainz, father of the namesake Ferrari F1 driver.

And so ended another chapter in Extreme E. But away from the thrills of the race, there was also a serious element to proceedings, with the event designed to highlight and attempt to alleviate sadly real and present environmental damage. And advanced networking technology is front and central to this aim, not only in making the racing event possible, but also in contributing to solutions to prevent and minimise issues arising from climate change.

Fundamentally, the Extreme E series hopes to raise awareness of the climate emergency by mixing sport with a purpose to inspire change. It aims to leave behind a long-lasting positive impact through its legacy programmes and showcase the performance of all-electric vehicles in extreme conditions. Specifically, the five-race global voyage aims to pave the way to a lower-carbon future through the promotion of electric vehicles, draw attention to the impacts of climate change and the solutions we can all be part of, and accelerate gender equality in motorsport.

The locations Extreme E visits are all, in some way, affected by environmental issues such as desertification, deforestation, melting ice caps, plastic pollution and rising carbon emissions. By holding races in areas that are suffering as a result of the environmental crisis, the organisers hope to raise viewers’ awareness and interest in environmental issues.

Racing to stop forest fires

In addition to the action on the scorched terrain, the Island X Prix in June 2022 highlighted how Sardinia was one of the areas hardest hit by wildfires in Italy in summer 2021, which devastated forests across the Mediterranean region. The fires blazed through 20,000 hectares of land, displaced more than 1,000 people and killed around 30 million bees. Wildfires such as these are calculated to be responsible for 20% of total global CO2 emissions and cost $5bn to fight.

As a result, the Extreme E team embarked on a legacy sustainability project, including a fire prevention campaign, within the local communities in the area of Montiferru. This was carried out along with Extreme E’s official technology and communication partner Vodafone Business.

The three-year collaboration will see Vodafone Business capabilities in areas such as 5G, mobile private network (MPN), the internet of things (IoT) and mobile edge computing (MEC) integrated into Extreme E’s global operations, with full involvement in the purpose-driven elements of the series and special prominence on Extreme E’s legacy programmes and the science laboratory on board the event’s base on the ship St Helena.

Assessing the extent and nature of the partnership with the new all-electric car racing series, which furthers its reach into motorsport after having been involved with Formula E, Amanda Jobbins, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Vodafone Business, says the enterprise arm of the telecommunications giant is, like Extreme E, on a journey as it embarks on its mission to provide businesses with solutions beyond connectivity as part of their digital transformation journey.

Yet Jobbins emphasises that the firm is very keen to maximise the potential of the full Vodafone brand. “You know the old adage, ‘no one ever got fired for buying IBM’? The brand is very important to the positioning for Vodafone Business, because we’re known as a consumer company, but we want customers to realise that we have these enterprise capabilities, we have business solutions for them. So [the partnership] is a fantastic brand opportunity.

In Sardinia, Vodafone Business has deployed IoT sensors to quickly detect a fire and promptly send an alert to the authorities

“Our Formula E relationship was just a team sponsorship, and we weren’t really getting the amplification out of that [given] there’s so many brands involved with Formula E. We’d heard about Extreme E and we knew a lot of the drivers participating with Nico and [others], so we began a conversation and [found] the purpose pillars of our organisations aligned 100%. It just seemed like a fantastic marriage essentially. We have an opportunity to really help them.”

Through its IoT solutions, Vodafone Business has committed to helping with sustainability efforts, including agriculture, forestation and decarbonisation of energy grids. Specifically in Sardinia, Vodafone Business has deployed long-life, low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) sensors to quickly detect a fire and promptly send an alert to the authorities.

The bespoke technology inside the sensor uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect gases in the smouldering phase of a fire, resulting in alerts in hours rather than days. The centralised cloud platform leverages big data tools to monitor, correlate, analyse and send these alerts to firefighters, public authorities, forest owners and scientists.

The IoT gas sensors operate without the need for cellular coverage and will be installed in trees to detect the smouldering phase, before the fire takes hold, which will preserve the forest footprint by shortening reaction times in the “golden hour”.

Vodafone believes that using a mesh gateway to connect to a cloud-based alert centre means this is a much faster-acting solution to the problem of wildfire detection than using cameras or satellites. It expects the partnership to benefit the local area and the environment through reduced cost of firefighting, reduced impact on the economy, reduced insurance costs, and saving lives and wildlife species.

Creating a smart forest which can detect ultra-early warning signs of a forest fire is an innovative use of IoT, helping to mitigate the impact of climate change, says Reuben Kingsland, head of product management at Vodafone Business.

“Long-life solar-powered sensors using distributed LoRa gateways connect in a mesh network via border gateways to the cloud which enables large-scale and cost-effective deployment in remote parts of the world,” he notes.

“Large areas of remote forest can be monitored 24/7 by sensors communicating with one another and relaying sensory data back to a Vodafone LTE-enabled gateway which sits at the edge of the forest – which, in turn, connects to the cloud platform. This near-real-time insight enables faster, safer and more cost-effective decisions to be made to prevent the spread of fires.

“As a secondary benefit, general forest health can also be monitored over time as the sensors collect temperature, humidity and air quality day and night.”

Activating and amplifying

Meanwhile, back on the track, Vodafone Business is also offering the technology for the race’s Command Centre where teams monitor the progression of their cars around the circuit. Vodafone Business has supplied a wireless network offering basic connectivity of 200Mbps, through three microwave links going from the track and back to the Command Centre.

But the event needs the next level of connectivity, notes Jobbins, and Vodafone Business is currently in discussion with the Extreme E head of IT.

“Here at the track, they want a basic connectivity, because it’s only season two. They’re still ironing out the kinks of their own championship. And they’re looking at how to activate it better. Activation for them really requires connectivity and applications – and that’s where we want to help.

“We’re exploring the art of the possible – right now, they don’t have communication with the driver in the car, for example. They’ve got a medical car they’re going to roll out and it will need communication. We could start with the basics and build up: get a solid infrastructure in place, like we have, and then build on the hierarchy of needs. So that would be driver communication, medical car communication, then it’s the next layer, which is going to be around data and analytics.”

Again, in this regard, Vodafone Business sensors and trackers will be used in vehicles, and the data generated could be used in the fan experience, for example. There are also possibilities within asset tracking for the vast array of technology, machinery and other products at use at one of the events.

“I think you have to work overtime to think about how to bring the experience to the people and then also to amplify after the race and in other locations,” Jobbins adds. “I’ve got this concept of a digital twin for the legacy programme. So, we’re hearing about the legacy programme here, and suddenly around wildfires. As I mentioned, wildfires are happening all over the world. Why couldn’t we have a twin experience in those locations at the same time [and act like] a smart city?

“So [with assets] we want to tag it and track it, and run data analytics on it, so that they can optimise the performance of the cars and then optimise the championship. They can get more fans engaged and together we can amplify the message of climate change and why it’s so critical people pay attention now.

“We keep hearing the doomsday messages [and so] don’t wait. We know we’ve got to really keep the pressure on everyone to keep the pressure on all organisations essentially to meet these targets. For us, that first step [is] bringing more innovation into how Extreme E grows the championship, and we want to grow together, going forward.”

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