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CT companies increasingly tap ‘Internet of Things’ for innovation

BY John Stearns

9/11/2017
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Alan Venitosh, ops director at South Windsor’s Telefunken Elektroakustik, demonstrates camera security functions throughout the company’s office.
The Internet of Things is evolving rapidly as more devices connect to the internet and each other, but businesses are already exploiting IoT to help manage operations and collect data — a trend expected to continue as connected devices and the data they produce proliferate.

Comcast last year — in announcing its new IoT network service, machineQ — cited a study on IoT growth by Machina Research, which estimated machine-to-machine connections will grow from 6 billion in 2015 to 27 billion in 2025, with 20 percent of the connections originating in the U.S.

Today, examples of business use of IoT include using surveillance cameras linked to computers and smartphones not only to monitor security, but remotely manage by sending employees home if cameras show business is slow or seeing if parking lots have been cleared of snow without driving to the scene.

IoT also enables remote control of lights and thermostats to conserve energy.

"The advantages to businesses with the Internet of Things is you have portability or mobility now," said Ross Nelson, vice president-Northeast for Cox Business.

Business owners can access their security from anywhere in the country, see it, protect it, unlock doors, "you can do a lot of advanced things now because of the Internet of Things — so it's given people convenience," Nelson said.

Owners can remotely monitor their business via smartphone, iPad or computer and make adjustments if needed.

"Instead of working in your business, you're working on your business," said Khalil Al-Amir, a manager at Cox Business Security Solutions.

It's using technology on everything from checking if doors are locked and who's in the building, to managing efficiencies, Al-Amir said.

For example, at Telefunken Elektroakustik, a South Windsor manufacturer of high-end microphones, Director of Operations Alan Venitosh uses video and alarm service throughout its 16,000-square-foot plant.

He can remotely track all the motion and doors in the building, with time-stamp and freeze-frame capability linked to each employee's alarm code, but he also finds the system useful for finding employees in the building if they have a call or are needed at a project.

"It's just not for security, but it also just helps us see around the building at all points," said Venitosh, who is a Cox Business Security Solutions customer.

Al-Amir said other common IoT uses among its customers include remotely turning thermostats on-off, up-down without having to actually physically be in the building.

Surveillance cameras have proved particularly useful, for example, among property managers checking snow removal, Al-Amir said. Other camera uses include documenting liability, including slip-and-fall incidents.

IoT, of course, also has enhanced voice communications.

In the past, if the phone rang at one's business and no one answered the call, it went to an answering machine and that was as advanced as it got, Nelson said.

"Now you can make your phone ring in any place you want," he said.

If a call isn't answered at an office number, it can be routed to a cell or home number, ensuring calls aren't missed.

Industrial uses

Industrial and commercial applications for the IoT run the gamut, said Christopher Allen, president of Avon-based iDevices, which designs, engineers and manufactures connected products for the home.

Shelton-based Hubbell Inc., a manufacturer of electrical and electronic products for non-residential and residential construction, industrial and utility applications, acquired iDevices earlier this year.

The combination aims to leverage iDevices' experience in developing and designing smart home technology with Hubbell's expertise in manufacturing and distribution across residential, commercial and industrial markets.

For the IoT in industry, machine sensors can detect operational issues early, sending messages to managers via computer or phone to prompt scheduled maintenance instead of reactive maintenance, reducing cost and down time, Allen said.

"Predicted down time is a lot easier to manage than unpredicted down time," Allen said. "So IoT has a benefit directly to the bottom line."

Commercial uses of IoT include occupancy or light sensors that are installed in offices, schools and other buildings to regulate lighting based on the amount of ambient light that's coming in and adjust blinds up or down based on heat.

In the residential market, connected devices tend to be used for convenience, comfort and security, Allen said.

"In terms of the technology itself, I do believe that not everything needs to be connected, nor should it be, even if it could be," Allen said.

But Allen believes using one's voice, for example through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Siri, can be game changers in smart home and commercial and industrial applications.

"Being able to simply talk into the air and have various things happen is a much more natural interaction than taking your phone out and having to go into an app and turn something on or off or check on something," he said.

Connected devices also mean harvesting significant data, which will be a huge benefit to companies, Allen said.

"Being able to understand your customer in a new and unique way and truly understand how they utilize a product will allow you to design a better product and understand that consumer's wants, needs and desires better," Allen said.

Comcast is looking to exploit IoT through its machineQ it launched last fall in a joint venture with Semtech.

MachineQ is focused on building a business-to-business platform for the IoT, and as part of the service, Comcast is working with its commercial partners to enable businesses and cities to gather, transmit and analyze data about the operation of connected devices distributed throughout their locations.

Industries interested in machineQ include health care (patient monitoring and laboratory sciences tracking), public utilities (remote utility metering), automotive (asset tracking and telemetry), and smart cities (outdoor lighting, waste management and utility grid monitoring), Comcast said.

Smart cities technology could include sensors in dumpsters to alert trash haulers when they need to be emptied, saving unnecessary trips, for example, said Paul Savas, vice president of Comcast Business for the Western New England Region.

There's IoT for all sorts of device management and measurement, he said, and municipalities seek to be smart cities with the devices, including for traffic optimization, and managing building lighting and temperatures.

"We believe the business-to-business segment of the Internet of Things market is going to expand rapidly over the next decade," Sam Schwartz, Comcast Cable's chief business development officer, said in a statement announcing machineQ.