Actility’s IoT geolocation helps to protect workers and assets

lorawan for IoT connectivity network in underground train tunnels

The Actility Blog

Actility’s IoT geolocation helps to protect workers and assets

lorawan for IoT connectivity network in underground train tunnels

An IoT connectivity network has been installed in the tunnels of a commuter transit line in France to help monitor and protect the safety of workers and to track tools and assets below ground. Our client selected a LoRaWAN network powered by Actility’s ThingPark Enterprise connectivity platform to provide the underground IoT geolocation connectivity required. This, in turn, allowed the operation to run smoothly and to the required timeline.

An evaluation of a low-power consumption LoRaWAN communication network for connected objects was set up during several tunnel maintenance and upgrade projects. The positive results of these tests led to the decision to deploy a complete industrial and scalable solution in the underground tunnels between two stations on the line.

This deployment allowed the clients’ engineers to explore the applications of IoT in a transit environment. At the time, the train lines were closed to normal traffic between several stations to renew all the ballasts which support the rail tracks. The intensive project required approximately 400 people working non-stop on 12km of tracks for several weeks.

To ensure the security of workers located in dangerous zones, working in or near machinery and to be certain that no-one remained in dangerous zones during prohibited times, almost 250 LoRaWAN tags were deployed to map and secure hazardous areas, and a hundred tracking sensors were placed on objects or people for real-time geolocation.

LoRaWAN provides low power connectivity to devices in underground or remote indoor locations where access to regular 3G or 4G networks and electricity is extremely limited or even impossible, especially along the stretches of train tracks. To take LoRaWAN underground through the stations and along the tracks, multiple gateways and antennae are positioned to enable the penetration of the network, and the tracking sensors and tags then communicate through them.

Following the success of the underground IoT geolocation trial, which clearly demonstrated the value of the IoT in managing a large-scale underground project efficiently and safely, the client opted to deploy LoRaWAN technology more widely, selecting an industrial solution powered by Actility’s ThingPark Enterprise network connectivity management platform.

Actility’s ThingPark platform is already deployed in around 40 global, national or largescale LPWAN projects around the world. The ThingPark platform supports the major IoT connectivity standards: LoRaWAN, LTE-M and NBIoT.

Interview Olivier Hersent: What will the consequences of electric vehicles (EV) be on the aggregation market?

Interview Olivier Hersent: What will the consequences of electric vehicles (EV) be on the aggregation market?

The Actility Blog

Interview Olivier Hersent: What will the consequences of electric vehicles (EV) be on the aggregation market?

Interview Olivier Hersent: What will the consequences of electric vehicles (EV) be on the aggregation market?

Electric vehicles will soon have a fundamental impact on flex markets.

It is astonishing to realize that as soon as 2020, Paris and London will brim with electric buses and that the charge power of these would total the equivalent of a nuclear reactor output!

We can say today that electric vehicles will have three fundamental impacts on the aggregation market:

1. As they charge, EVs present an instant flex power between 3 to 20kWs, sometimes more. Like any other vehicle, they spend most of the time parked, so the average availability of a pool of EVs is very high. Control is standardized via Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), and the potentially complex problem, on the one hand, is to take into account the constraints of the distribution grid, and on the other is to be able to pool large numbers of charging stations. Actility is working to solve both issues:

The Smart-EV product, now nearing the end of our New Product Introduction cycle, acts as an OCPP proxy and is able to model in real time the distribution grid.

Our large-scale demand response control algorithm, « DaaS », which we have continued to improve since 2012, can now manage large pools of largely random loads.

2. After being removed from the market, EV batteries present a large residual capacity, at virtually zero cost as they are fully amortized. Old EV cars, like the very first Renault ZOE, have already begun to return to manufacturers and large pools of batteries stack up, ready to participate in flex markets.

3. The automotive industry is known to be the ultimate cost killer. With its gigantic purchasing power and volumes, this industry forces any technology to follow an accelerated curve to extreme commoditization. Batteries will follow that trend, although a fundamental shortage of rare metals will ultimately be the limit. Already 2019 EVs will double the capacity of 2013 EVs, for the same retail price. This means that base battery packs, also used in large container systems designed for grid stabilization and flex markets, will see their costs decreasing too. This should soon cause these systems to get mainstream.

Actility is expecting these trends to corroborate and should be well prepared, thanks to our prospective R&D. We are looking forward to benefitting from new opportunities that arise from EVs! Sure enough, Actility is ready to embrace the increasing use of Electric Vehicles and take part in this burgeoning aggregation market!

Sweden raises the bar for LoRaWAN

ThingPark Baltic Sea User Forum

The Actility Blog

Sweden raises the bar for LoRaWAN

ThingPark Baltic Sea User Forum

Our client Blink Services recently took the opportunity to combine hosting the second ThingPark Baltic Sea User Forum with their own customer event. It was held the 19th and 20th of September in Gothenburg, Sweden and welcomed new participants from Russia and Norway who have joined Actility’s operator community in the Baltic Sea region.

Actility CEO Olivier Hersent attended to present his views on the market, where Actility has been successful since the start of 2018, what we have learned and our product strategy for the future. Each operator got the opportunity to share their experiences over the last six months. The progress with the expansion of coverage and range of use cases on offer is inspirational. Deploying national and regional LoRaWAN networks is by no means a simple exercise, but the close collaboration between the operators and Actility has made it possible.

Blink Services’ customer event had over 150 participants and brought together many partners from the Nordics and Baltics. They have set the bar high for the next forum in Spring 2019, which Digita has offered to host. The User Forum’s members are Actility, Blink Services (Sweden), Digita (Finland), ER-Telecom (Russia), Lattelecom (Latvia), Levikom (Estonia), Lyse (Norway) and SEAS-NVE (Denmark).

IoT geolocation enables asset tracking for logistics

IoT asset tracking

The Actility Blog

IoT geolocation enables asset tracking for logistics

IoT asset tracking

Railway cars, truck trailers, containers: tracking valuable assets on the move is a pain point for most large distributed organizations involved in logistics and supply chain, typically relying on partners such as distributors to correctly register check-in and check-out events. This registration process at specific checkpoints is usually manual, intermittent and subject to human errors. To tackle this issue, an IoT low power asset tracking system using LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) trackers brings a “timeless” checkpoint solution. Specifically, LoRaWAN™-based trackers, because of their low power, low cost and lightweight infrastructure, provide a first truly reliable tracking solution allowing to reduce downtime during transportation. 

The challenges involved

In the logistics sector, many business cases involve additional costs due to inefficient utilization of assets. Transport companies need to invest in freight railway cars, car logistics companies need to invest in truck trailers, and of course there are the standard containers and pallets.

“The profitability of these business cases directly depends on the minimization of asset downtime: every day or hour lost in a warehouse, parking or rail station reduces the number of times the moving asset will generate profit in a year.”

However, measuring this downtime is also a challenge. Traditional solutions involved cellular or satellite trackers, which require significant CAPEX, but perhaps more importantly also ongoing OPEX due to battery replacements and connectivity costs. In some cases, trackers are located in hard to reach areas especially when mounted on railroad cars, or in oil and gas rigs, which makes it very costly to replace batteries especially if there are several hundreds of thousands of trackers deployed in the field. The battery replacement is done by humans and is one of the dominating OPEX factors in overall Total Cost of Ownership ( TCO) of the whole solution. These replacement costs actually made it difficult to justify the mass adoption of conventional geolocation solutions in the logistics sector.

LPWAN trackers: a game changer 

LoRaWAN  is a very recent development leveraged by Actility, the industry leader in LPWAN connectivity, to create disruption in both the technology and business models. On the technology front, the main impact is on drastic reduction of power consumption, which reduces battery usage and ultimately also OPEX related to ongoing maintenance. It also creates new opportunities for more dynamic tracking, as communication events are less costly. On the business model side, logistics companies can now trade off between CAPEX and OPEX: most LPWAN systems operate on an unlicensed band, for example the leading LoRaWAN™  technology operates in the 915MHz band in the US, the 868MHz band in Europe and equivalent ISM bands in other parts of the world. This means that logistics companies can invest in their own wireless networks to reduce or eliminate variable connectivity costs.

“The cost of LPWAN radio network gateways has decreased due to higher production volumes and are now affordable even to very small logistic centers, such as a car distributor. “

Next generation LPWAN trackers

The potential of LPWAN-enabled tracking requires a new generation of hardware. The lower radio frequency power consumption is only a part of a massive effort to decrease overall power consumption of the whole system. And rather than focusing on geolocation technology, Abeeway, Actility’s subsidiary,  took the path of developing a smart multi-technology geolocation system fully optimized for LoRaWAN™. Ultra-low power technologies such as TDoA LoRaWAN network triangulation, WiFi sniffing, or BLE beacons, will be used whenever possible, along with the classic GPS optimized through techniques such as Low power GPS and D-AGPS (learn more about our Low power GPS technology here). Trackers from Abeeway were the first to reach sufficient maturity to be deployed in a use case requiring tens of thousands of units, with relatively low-cost assets (such as scooters), which means that reliability, low cost and low power were an absolute must. In the case of asset tracking, dedicated modes such as Start/Stop reporting have been developed: logistic application developers, can trigger the reporting events only when motion stops or starts, but also periodically to increase resiliency.

LoRaWAN and LP-GPS (AGPS/GPS) significantly increases battery lifetime

LPWAN LoRa low power geolocation

Merging an IoT network solution such as LoRaWAN with  multi-mode geolocation technologies for outdoor and indoor positioning increase by at least a factor of 10 the battery lifetime compared to the standard cellular solution using GSM/AGPS. Source: Actility

Designing LPWAN-based asset tracking: a system view

  1. The first step in designing a mobile asset monitoring system is to list all potential stop points for the asset, e.g. for railway cars, these would be freight railway stations and triage/transit centers, or in the case of car distribution companies these would be the distributors.
  2. The second step is to deploy a wide area wireless data collection system: each stop point will be equipped with one, and rarely two or three, radio base stations connected to the internet, usually leveraging existing on-site connectivity or cellular modems. All base stations are coordinated by a central network server, hosted by a service company or owned by the logistics company.
  3. The last step is to equip all moving assets with a LPWAN tracker, typically with a long-lasting primary battery, like the ones offered by Abeeway. These trackers will report stop and start events, so that downtime may be measured, but may also periodically report at rest or in transit to maintain continuous tracking.
  4. In some countries, roaming agreements with public LPWAN networks also allow precise monitoring during transit. Any large or small businesses can deploy a hybrid LoRaWAN™ private/public model using Actility’s ThingPark platform.  And even more, in order to enable new multi-country use cases, Actility partners with network operators worldwide to launch ThingPark Exchange, the first LoRaWAN™ international roaming hub for instant packet roaming between their networks (click here to learn how it works).

If you are interested in experiencing low power tracking devices for your use cases, you can test Abeeway trackers using one of our Low Power Location Trial Packages here. 

How to control energy processes at home with LoRaWAN

Smart energy for the smart home

The Actility Blog

How to control energy processes at home with LoRaWAN

Smart energy for the smart home

Fulfill domestic energy needs

Welcome to Oud-Heverlee in the Flemish Brabant region, home of 10 000 people. This Demo 1 shows how storage can change the way to fulfill domestic energy needs. In a first phase, Actility was able to take control of the heating of the house by applying a dynamic pricing model based on the Belgian energy market (belpex) prices.

“For more than a month, we managed to cut the total energy cost for the heat pump while taking the control boundaries such as comfort temperature into account.” 

A high-tech heat pump

A high-tech Danfoss heat pump (soil grid/water) was installed in a house as a central heating unit and for providing domestic hot water. The heat pump provides heat for floor heating circuits that use the heat capacity of the concrete of the building. The Danfoss heat pump can be controlled and monitored via a standard ModBus interface.Our Belgian IoT integration partner Smartlog helped us a great deal by providing a ModBus to LoRaWan converter.

“Building on our experience in connecting industrial assets with LoRaWAN, we were happy to provide Actility with a ModBus – LoRaWAN device as well as a cloud platform to control the heat pump.”  Lise Vandeborne, SmartLog

heat pump
The heat pump is connected via a Modbus LoRaWAN converter and becomes a smart grid device

ModBus LoRaWAN converter

The ModBus integration of the heat pump shows the potential of connecting a device after it is built. The heat pump is connected via a ModBus LoRaWAN converter and instantly transforms the heat pump in a smart-grid connected device. The manufacturing cost of this device is largely covered by the gains of additional services of the heat pump after connecting to the cloud.

Self-consumption model

Building on this first success, we decided to extend this dynamic pricing and self-consumption (limiting the energy exchanged with the grid of a house or the complete neighborhood) models to a whole neighborhood ie 12 houses. This is the goal of the Demo 2 in Oud-Heverlee in the coming months.

This concrete example shows how beneficial it is to optimize residential electricity consumption today in a single house. We are now integrating the whole neighborhood into our optimization what will likely lead to even better results!