Alibaba Cloud Brings myDevices’ Internet of Things Technology to China

The IoT in a Box solution enables companies to mix and match sensors and applications for a turnkey solution that employs LoRa technology, gateways and software on a cloud-based server.
Published: October 3, 2018

Alibaba Cloud is the latest company to sign a partnership with myDevices to offer a turnkey Internet of Things (IoT) solution for remote monitoring, known as IoT in a Box. Alibaba Cloud’s agreement with myDevices will help to introduce the wireless technology to the Chinese market, including businesses in health care, food service, retail, education and hospitality. American IT product distributor Ingram Micro has also signed up to sell the service.

Alibaba Cloud is the cloud-computing subsidiary of Alibaba Group. With the new partnership, announced earlier this month, the Chinese company will sell the IoT solution through its own IoT Business Unit to bring sensors and wireless technologies to customers in a packaged, subscription-based product, according to Kevin Bromber, myDevices’ CEO.

The system includes myDevices’ LoRa-based sensors and gateways that can be mixed and matched to meet a customer’s need. The solution is aimed at making IoT offerings affordable and easy to deploy. In fact, Bromber says, it brings the cost of wirelessly tracking temperatures, leaks and other conditions down to about $29 a month.

MyDevices, launched in 2013, released its IoT platform two years later. Its Cayenne IoT software was introduced a year after that, and in 2017 the company began adopting LoRa technology as the transmission frequency to be used between sensors and a gateway. Because Cayenne is a free, open platform, Bromber says, many companies have developed their own solutions using it with LoRa-based products.

“Our belief is that IoT is not bought,” Bromber says. “It’s sold.” That means myDevices has developed systems packaged and ready for customer use. Until now, he argues, the IoT industry has been too fragmented into specific technology providers, depending on a particular use case. MyDevies, according to Bromber, hopes to break that pattern with a solution that works across many vertical markets. In that way, it brings down the cost of installing, for instance, a refrigeration-management system at a hospital. There are already multiple versions of the IoT in a Box solution for that purpose, in fact.

For example, a health-care facility could sign up for the system, provided by a third-party vendor such as Alibaba Cloud, then deploy LoRa temperature sensors from myDevices in cooling units to ensure that temperature levels do not stray too high or low, as that could damage the medications, samples or food stored within.

A gateway installed in the building could typically receive and manage data from approximately 100 sensors. Therefore, 1,000 sensors would require about 10 gateways. The sensors and gateways can be provided by a variety of technology manufacturers, Bromber says. “We’re technology-agnostic,” he states, as long as the devices can transmit data using the LoRa frequency. The read distance of the LoRa system can be long (LoRa typically has a longer read range than active RFID), covering thousands of square feet across multiple floors.

The sensors capture temperature data at preprogrammed intervals and transmit it to the gateway, which filters and interprets the information before sending it to the cloud-based server via an Ethernet or cellular connection. The IoT in a Box application collects the temperature data, provides a dashboard and reports regarding the sensor readings at each cooler, and can issue alerts via text or email messages in the event that temperatures fall outside of acceptable parameters.

Once a company is using one type of sensor, it can also introduce others. For instance, if it is monitoring temperature levels, it could add other sensors that transmit data to the same account in the cloud, for such applications as leak detection, the opening or closing of doors, or the presence of rodents or other animals in traps. The IoT in a Box solution includes up to 95 different sensors, the company reports.

By offering a solution to a customer such as a hospital, Bromber explains, Alibaba Cloud or another solution provider can “rinse and repeat,” as he puts it. In other words, the same solution can be sold to other businesses at an affordable cost. “As the use cases emerge, they can verticalize them” for different industries, he adds. Hotels, for instance, may want to track temperatures, but also might wish to know if hot water is reaching all of the guest rooms, or if any doors are ajar. That data could all be collected on the same site for a monthly fee.

Ingram Micro also offers the solution for its 200,000 resellers and systems integrators, for use in refrigeration at hospitals, pharmacies, food companies, meat packers and restaurant chains. A reseller would first identify a potential client, then register with the Ingram Micro portal, after which the firm would assign a specialist to oversee free trials to evaluate the solution at a customer’s site. The reseller company and the Ingram specialist would work together to help develop and prove the return on investment and cost savings, based on the trial’s results.

Ingram Micro and myDevices offer free trials to companies that are unsure whether or not the technology would benefit them. “Usually,” Bromber says, “within a couple of weeks, they say ‘Okay, I’m in.'” MyDevices also offers services with the solution, including the replacement of sensor batteries.