IoT News Roundup

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Intel launches Joule dev kit at developer forum; Xylem buying smart meter maker Sensus; a big week for connected car news; LPWANs growing around the world; new LoRa dev kit by MultiTech; Kepware upgrades KEPServer software.


Intel Unveils Joule IoT Developer Kit
At its annual developer forum this week, component maker Intel announced Joule, an IoT development kit targeted at developers, entrepreneurs and established enterprises. The keystone of the kit is the Joule module which comes in two versions: the 550x, which is based on a 64-bit, 1.5 GHz quad-core Intel Atom T5500 processor, and the 570x, 64-bit, 1.7 GHz quad-core Intel Atom T5700 processor with burst up to 2.4 GHz. Both include an Intel HD Graphics card with 4K video capture and display; 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 radios; USB 3.0, MPI CSI and DSI interfaces, and multiple GPIO, I2C, and UART interfaces; a Linux-based OS; and support for the Intel RealSense cameras and libraries. RealSense cameras are a 1080-pixel HD camera with an integrated infrared camera, and infrared laser projector. It is designed to support applications that enable the user to “see” like the human eye, sensing depth and tracking human motion.

Water Technology Provider Xylem Acquires Smart Meter Maker Sensus for $1.7B
Xylem, a New York-based firm that sells pumps, controllers and wastewater treatment technology to the utility market and other water managers, has acquired smart meter manufacturer Sensus for $1.7 billion. Sensus reported $837 million in revenue in its last fiscal year, and says that a total of more than 80 million Sensus meters had been installed globally to date. Xylem says the purchase will enable it to expand into IoT markets through Sensus’ FlexNet, the IPV6-combatible communication network that allows utilities to remotely access meter data. Sensus also sells meters that can be remotely accessed via a cellular modem. Xylem says it will keep the 3,300 Sensus employees, located in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, Slovakia and China. The majority—70 percent—of Sensus’ revenue is generated in the United States.

Bevy of Connected Car News
A number of carmakers and technology firms made news this week about autonomous operation and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology advancements.

Carsharing service Uber, which last year hired alumni from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center to begin developing a fleet of autonomous vehicles, said this week that in Pittsburgh, it will begin rolling out modified Volvo XC90s—which Uber users will be able to summon through their Uber apps. Drivers will be present to supervise the vehicles, but the cars, the company says, will drive in autonomous mode. Eventually, however, Uber plans to fleets of autonomous, driverless vehicles. This is the first step toward that goal, and one that is coming far sooner than most industry pundits expected. (In July, Uber also purchased a started called Otto, which has designed a retrofit for 18-wheeler semi-trucks, for $600 million.)

Ford, which has been developing and prototyping autonomously operated vehicles since 2007, said this week that it plans to mass-produce the vehicles by 2021, at which time, its CEO, Mark Fields, told reporters, they will be put into service in a car-hailing network. Fields did not elaborate with any specifics on that general plan, but did announce that Ford has acquired SAIPS, an Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company, for an undisclosed sum; forged partnerships with Nirenberg Neuroscience, another machine learning company; and invested in Civil Maps, a Berkeley, Calif.-based developer of high-resolution 3D mapping techniques.

Also, Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu paired up to invest $150 million in Velodyne, a Silicon Valley manufacturer of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor technology. Ford has been using Velodyne’s products since 2007, when it developed its first autonomous prototype vehicle, and announced in January that it would continue using the company’s LiDAR—the newest iteration of which is small enough to mount in a car’s side-view mirror—in its Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicle fleet, which the automaker used to test virtual-driver software in both urban and suburban environments. Baidu has expanded its business footprint into the automotive space and is testing a fleet of autonomous vehicles in China and is using the investment to accelerate its autonomous driving program. Velodyne says it plans to use the investment to expand its design and manufacturing efforts.

TechCrunch spoke with Toyota about its rollout of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) Connect system, which equips a vehicle for both vehicle-to-vehicle communication (assuming the other cars are also equipped with ITS) and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. In the latter scenarios, a radio mounted in a traffic signal may transmit data to the car to indicate the number of seconds remaining before the signal changes color, or ITS-equipped cameras mounted on light poles might be used to warn vehicles to the presence of pedestrians. In Japan, Toyota is selling three models–Prius, the Lexus RX, and a luxury sedan called the Toyota Crown—with ITC Connect its available as an option.

Audi announced that it will integrate a vehicle-to-infrastructure feature to inform nearby drivers of changing traffic light status—an in-dash display will show the number of seconds before a red light will turn green—in its 2017 Q7 and A4 models (built after June 1, 2016). The feature will also warn drivers when a light they are approaching is about to turn to red—telling them they should brake because, based on speed and distance, they will not be able to safely cross the intersection before the light changes. The carmaker says traffic lights in five to seven U.S. cities (which it did not disclose) will support the feature by the end of the year.

Ingenu, LoRa Alliance, Growing Respective LPWAN Networks; MultiTech Selling Starter Kit

Ingenu (formerly On-Ramp), a provider of low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technology, has installed access points in the Texas cities of Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Combined with its existing installation in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the new deployment will enable Ingenu to provide IoT connectivity to more than 50 percent of the state’s population, the company says. Ingenu has also built out its network in Phoenix, Ariz., which has a population of 3.1 million, where it provides coverage to an area of more than 1,850 square miles.

Ingenu’s Random Phase Multiple Access technology employs a proprietary RF modulation scheme and transmits data over the 2.4 GHz band. An end node, integrated with a sensor via a serial peripheral interface, can transmit up to 100 kilobytes of data per day to access points located at an average maximum distance of 25 miles (these figures vary widely based on geography and the presence of structures that may block the RF signal—in some cases, an end node can communicate with an access point up to 50 miles away).

In Taiwan, telecommunications provider Asia Pacific Telecom (APT) is launching a dual network to support both 4G cellular and LPWAN communications. APT has partnered with IoT platform provider Actility, along with electronics manufacturer Foxconn and chipmaker Semtech, to deploy the LPWAN technology, which communicates using the LoRa Alliance protocol. According to Semtech, APT has already installed the LPWAN access points in Northern Taiwan and aims to start building out the network across the entire island in the third quarter.

Also, gateway manufacturer MultiTech is offering a LoRa starter kit designed to help end users build LoRa-based LPWAN modules and connect them to a network to perform proof-of-concept testing. The kit includes the MultiTech’s Conduit LoRa gateway; end-point modules and development boards that are certified by the LoRa Alliance and contain chipsets manufactured by chipmaker Semtech; a handheld network performance and site survey tool; and cables and antennas. It is available in either an 868 MHz version, for use in the European Union, or a 915 MHz version for use in North America and other regions that allow use of that band. The kit is available now from MultiTech for $899.

Kepware Upgrades KEPServer for ThingWorx Users
Kepware Technologies, a company that sells industrial-automation software designed to enable manufacturers to deploy IoT technology in their factories, has upgraded its KEPServerEX software platform. In KEPServerEX 5.21, the company has integrated the ThingWorx IoT platform native client interface (manufacturing software maker PTC owns ThingWorx, and PTC acquired Kepware earlier this year). Customers using ThingWorx can now easily access Kepware’s library of 150+ communication drivers to provide real-time, bi-directional industrial controls data and more easily connect and configure ThingWorx-developed applications through KEPServerEX. This extension automatically configures a KEPServerEX template within ThingWorx and provides services to browse, read, write and interact with the configuration. It is provided free of charge with the KEPServerEX installation or through the ThingWorx Marketplace.