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! 

“If you build it, they will come!”

The Actility Blog

“If you build it, they will come!”

Unless you are a Baby boomer or Generation X, this may mean nothing to you! “If you build it, they will come!” Is a famous quote from a great movie of the late 80s called Field of Dreams. It’s a movie about baseball, the great American sport, and I imagine most Europeans have no idea what I’m referring to, even if from the right generation!

Actility has built it! We are launching ThingPark Enterprise at Mobile World Congress. ThingPark Enterprise is the most powerful and advanced dedicated Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution. The making started a few quarters back with a vision, as in the movie, a vision in which few believed, and many were skeptical.  

We needed to arm ourselves with research and data. And we did a lot of research! The reports from Orbis Research stated the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) LPWA Connections were to Grow at a 206 Percent CAGR to 2021 and HIS Markit said LPWA networks are expected to make a significant contribution to the M2M and IoT ecosystem, with an estimated $23 Billion in service revenue by 2020. This told us which direction to go, and at what speed. And mostly researched you, the customer. By doing our own surveys, and analyzing reports from OVUM that state:

“By 2018 we expect to start seeing see significant numbers of LPWA enterprise contract awards and the proliferation of application use cases.”

Start small and you will grow

With this deep insight, we analyzed your needs. We concluded you needed not a connectivity platform, but a solution. A complete, secure, manageable solution, that would give you what you needed to improve your process, to facilitate your day to day, improve the services you deliver, help you manage your valuables, your assets. We agreed this had to be a cost-effective complete solution, which would include the hardware required, the software, the installation, the services and the support. We knew we had to make it simple, flexible, accessible. We took into account we had to make it scalable, as we know you will start small and you will grow. And that is what we did!

Think of your ThingPark Enterprise network in the same terms as your WiFi network. For certain objects, in certain places, connecting to public WiFi is best. And in other cases, you deploy your own WiFi network. We designed the user interface (UI) to give you a graphical view of your solution and enable you to drive data from each device independently, or in groups, to the applications of your choice.

Transform business, industries and processes

IIoT is what we do! Who better to build this for you? The Actility IIoT connectivity platform, tools, and fast-growing ecosystem enable customers to create solutions that transform business, industries, and processes. The ThingPark LPWA platform connects sensors gathering data to cloud applications on any scale. 

Our ThingPark Wireless LPWA platform is the most deployed solution in the world, operated by leading service providers offering public connectivity. ThingPark Enterprise responds to the natural evolution of the market, addressing the Enterprise segment, where public connectivity is not available or does not fit the requirements.

If you build it, they will come! We built it! and we deliver this to you via the Actility Distribution Partners. Your trusted SI will be trained and certified to help you start your digital transformation and bring you to the field of dreams.  We already have a few early adopters, and we look forward to having you join them.

Come see ThingPark Enterprise on our stand at Mobile World Congress in hall 8.0 C3. Our team of experts is ready to present the solution to you.

Smart National Park 4.0: Thai students preserve wildlife using LoRaWAN

CAT Telecom IoT Challenge

The Actility Blog

Smart National Park 4.0: How Thai students use LoRaWAN to preserve wildlife

CAT Telecom IoT Challenge

From 6-13 January 2018, the Top Gun Rally gathered 300 Thai engineering students to join a five-day hackathon. The Thai Embedded Systems Association (TESA) created this annual “rally” to boost national student skills and provide the industry with talented engineers. Participants are getting morning lectures and are challenged with development problems in the afternoon.

This year’s event is sponsored by CAT Telecom, I had the chance to be invited to support CAT’s team with my LoRaWAN expertise and our ThingPark developer tools. Being with Actility Asia Pacific sales engineering team for two years now,  it was the first time I was joining such an important developer event and the vibrant energy from all the participants was really amazing and exciting.

The challenge was to turn Khao Yai, the country’s third largest park, into a “Smart National Park 4.0”. To understand this choice, I turned to Professor Vara Varavithya from King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, who was responsible for the event’s technical set-up.

“The Government is pushing the country towards Thailand 4.0 and this IoT project with a national park was an ideal opportunity. The Department of National Park loved the idea and we found with TESA the perfect candidate for it: Khao Yai.” Professor Varavithya

The reasons are threefold:

  • The Kingdom’s Government wants to transform the Thai economy into an innovation-driven, Thailand 4.0
  • Tourism and IoT are two key industry focuses on this initiative
  • The National Park department was keen to use this initiative to explore the interaction of large animals with tourism; to improve the management of tourism during peak periods and to enhance scientific studies on wildlife.

World Heritage Site

The national park is located three hours North of Bangkok. It spans over + 2,000 km and welcomes 5,000 people (visitors and staff) each day. Khao Yai is part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO. This pristine natural environment suffers from illegal logging, poaching, and traffic accidents.

“This IoT challenge leverages embedded systems, sensors and communications to come up with a solution to monitor the incidents in the park and alert the relevant park rangers. CAT Telecom provides participants with LoRaWAN connectivity, that is both low-power and long range”, comments Dr. Nuttawit, Executive VP at CAT Telecom.

For this kind of use case, students needed to create energy-saving devices because batteries can’t be charged or changed easily. The LoRaWAN technology was a perfect fit then: wide coverage, low energy consumption and it’s cheaper than cellular connectivity.

All 41 teams used LoRaWAN dev kits offered by CAT Telecom to create sensor-based solutions. he students could integrate and test them with the different tools available on ThingPark partner portal.

“We certainly want our LoRaWAN service to be 100% available and reliable, and with Actility’s support we ensured that the network was always up and running during the event.” Dr Nuttawit, CAT Telecom

Real problem-solving

During this hackathon, I’ve discussed with one of the teams, the “Hookworm”. The five members are 4th year engineering students at King Mongkul’s Institute of Technology Ladkraban. It’s the second year in a row this team is taking part in the Top Gun Rally. In 2017, they ranked 3rd in the competition with a smart monitoring system using image processing for a durian farm.

For this year’s project, they had to develop a solution using accelerometer and temperature sensors set on trees to detect major vibrations or shocks and send an alarm to the park staff when:

  • Big animals like elephants are around or crossing (traffic accident prevention);
  • Air temperatures soar (forest fire detection);
  • Trees are being logged (illegal logging).
“The LoRaWAN technology is easy to use, and so is device provisioning with the ThingPark developer tools. The platform is user-friendly.” The Hookworm team

What do these five students take away from such development events? Their list is long…

  • Get experience with real problem-solving in the real world
  • Use it as real work experience
  • Improve their technical skills but also project management, team communication, experiment with scrum and agile methodologies
  • Network and meet other students from dozens of universities across the country.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the award ceremony on Saturday 13 January…  but I was glad to learn that the “Hookworm” came first and see the award pictures online.

A sample of a huge community

Catching up with Dr. Nuttawit at CAT Telecom after the event enlightened me about the scale and needs of the IoT developer community in Thailand:

“There are almost 300 students/IoT developers from top engineering schools around the nation that CAT Telecom and Actility have supported during this event. Based on the numerous requests of LoRaWAN technology training we received recently, we believe that the number of IoT developers in Thailand is huge.”

Feeling all the energy and commitment from the Thai development community, as well as from the education and industry towards innovative low-power smart solutions was very exciting and inspiring. I would like to thank all the CAT Telecom team and Dr. Nuttawit for the invitation, the TESA team for their warm welcome and all the professors and students I met during the event.

Actility launches Click & Go to facilitate IoT adoption

Click & Go package

The Actility Blog

Actility launches Click & Go to facilitate IoT adoption

Click & Go package

It’s no news to anyone that the IoT is still a fragmented market. When you want to deploy a dedicated LoRaWAN network, you have to find and buy from at least three different parties, three kinds of solutions:

  • Hardware: gateway and devices
  • Connectivity: a network server connecting to the LoRaWAN network
  • Application: data visualization and treatment

Test, deploy and scale

How do you make sure that these bricks are compatible and integrate smoothly? How tricky, long and costly is it to set them up?

That’s the kind of questions professionals who want to test, deploy and potentially scale IoT solutions stumble on. They are often deterred by a long buying cycle and complex implementation process.

Ludovic Callier, Head of sales and business development at Sensing Labs, Actility’s long-standing device partner, confirms: “I meet companies all the time that want to test our LoRaWAN sensors for one or several vertical use cases, but they struggle to figure out the other bricks they need to implement their use case … Complexity and no single point of contact means that decision-makers can’t make a choice and stay in a wait and see mode. For us IoT providers it’s a big loss of business!” 

Over the past year, I’ve witnessed the story repeat… frustrating, huh?! Well, it gave our team as well as our hardware and application partners an idea: orchestrate the service for users. In other words, they need a pre-provisioned, integrated and packaged solution!

Same vertical needs

To kick off this service, we’re launching ten packages available in Europe and in the US. We focus on the most popular vertical needs such as agriculture, building and facility management, smart environment, and industries.

“End users ask us for the same vertical solutions all over Europe: smart metering, smart building and operations/supply chain optimization. It made perfect sense for Sensing Labs to leverage its large product folio to address these needs by offering our LoRaWAN sensors within Click & Go packages.” Ludovic Callier, Sensing Labs.

Each solution is packaged in a single box and includes a set of devices, one gateway, a ThingPark Wireless subscription for a LoRaWAN managed the network and a subscription to WMWLight to visualize, analyze and process the data of your assets through dashboards and graphs.

IoT apps built in a few hours

The trickiest part of building end-to-end solutions is the application layer. We partner with WMW, that builds vertical tailored IoT apps within a few hours. Bert Vanaken, the founder of WMW and his team, have been key supports to build Click & Go.

“ We see Click & Go as a POC in a box that could help boost end-user adoption. We specifically made an automated app-creation-engine to ease the experience for the end-user. This does not only allow us to showcase the power of our software framework but also delivers us a means to offer full end-to-end starter packages to our customers.

“Process optimization and simplification is what we love doing most, naturally, a one-stop shop concept like Click & Go fits perfectly into this.”  Bert Vanaken, WMW

Discover Click & Go here