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connectin the Dots: The IoT Revolution

January 18, 2018

Author: Bernie Batt

Everyone knows about the Internet. It connects us and provides one of the best methods to proliferate information and opinions. But, what is the Internet of Things (“IoT”)? Enabled by sensors and electronics, this is the connection of devices and their processes to the Internet.

As I write this article, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is in progress. CES has long been considered one of the best places to see upcoming devices of the year and more experimental technologies that may eventually come to market, or alternatively, may not be commercially viable. For the last two years, Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, was one of the biggest and most ubiquitous technologies in the show. In the show this year, Google’s Assistant was reportedly everywhere in devices and speakers.

More than just voice assistants, IoT allows remote control of devices and intelligent settings to eliminate waste. My smart thermostat saves money by setting the temperature according to my historic preferences with the least energy possible. The smart locks on my doors allow me to digitally send a key to my house. I can control these things by asking the Google Assistant in my house.

Locally, FreePoint Technologies is a company in which the Southwestern Ontario Angel Group has invested. FreePoint focuses on the Industrial Internet of Things (“IIoT”). The company has a B2B business model that allows them to connect any piece of equipment to the cloud. Unique to FreePoint, it can connect both new and old equipment, and its platform, under a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model, allows its customers to monitor, track and make decisions on key metrics. Understanding the capacities and limitations of equipment allows for more timely maintenance and more intelligent decision making on production runs, which in turn will save these companies money. The great thing about FreePoint’s offering is that it is brand agnostic. Companies do not need to stick to a single brand or upgrade all equipment at once in order to get good quality analytics.

FreePoint aims to solve the three main concerns of manufacturing operations: low cost competition from other regions, high cost of replacing legacy equipment (85% of equipment is 28 years old or older) and difficulty attracting a young workforce as the older workforce retires.

When I asked Paul Hogendoorn, President of FreePoint, why he started his business, he replied that it was the right time – it was clear that the technology pieces, including sensors and processing equipment, were becoming commodities.

IoT is a rapidly growing space. Gartner Inc. forecasts that “8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Total spending on endpoints and services will reach almost $2 trillion in 2017.” FreePoint hopes to help make London Canada an epicentre for IIoT, leveraging our location (the centre of our manufacturing industry), our college (with a focus on gaming software developers) and our university (with its focus on advanced manufacturing and business leadership).

What Enabled the IoT Movement?

Moore’s law has enabled the exponential increase in processing power in a miniaturized form. The accelerating availability of high speed internet has enabled two-way communication and collection of data. Big Data, the process of collection and analysis of vast amounts of data leveraging the advances in data storage and processing power, has historically optimized large operations that can afford it by looking for patterns and efficiencies in data. In recent years, the cost of Big Data has dropped drastically, making these efficiencies not only an option, but a necessity in order to compete in the industry in 2018. Artificial intelligence has allowed the processing of information in an intelligent way, leveraging today’s processing power and big data capabilities to extract useful information faster and more accurately.

Catalysts for Further Development in the IoT Space

The motivation to increase productivity, to limit waste and to act on better information is going to drive IoT further. 5G connectivity promises to virtually eliminate latency, the delay in data transfers. The continuance of Moore’s law promises smaller and more battery efficient processing and higher-powered centralized computing. Exciting new battery technology promises to drive these devices further for longer.

What Does the Future Hold?

With no latency, self-driving cars become a possibility. Smart cities planned around sustainability make sense. Literally, anything that can be connected will be connected. Health data can be tracked and processed instantaneously and assessed for level of risk. From life changing events like heart attacks and strokes to assessing risk of diabetes, these harmful consequences can be greatly reduced with better data.

A recent article written by Paul Hogendoorn, refers to Industry 4.0 – the creation of a “Smart Factory” – where the whole factory is motivated by decision making and the data collected. This could result in local competitiveness with countries with low cost labour. Tesla’s “gigafactory” is an example where they have engineered the factory to an extreme which made economics work for electric cars, a market that needed critical advances for viability.

Angel Investors in IoT

Angel investors can be motivated by many different things. They often feel a sense that they should give back to the community or accelerate Canadian industry. Others are motivated by causes such as sustainability. The IoT movement provides opportunity to do all of these things.

When asked about how Angel investment has impacted his business, Paul Hogendoorn replied, “Angel investors are a critical part of the start-up ecosystem. They bring a pure entrepreneurial perspective and help bridge the gap between founders/friends/family and traditional lenders and investors. Their participation as investors often brings access to other sources of funds such as OCE publicly funded agencies. It also brings mentorship, advisory boards, critical connections and often, added credibility. SWO Angels, and some local early adopting manufacturers, are a critical part of FreePoint’s success.”