Broaden your horizon @ IoT Tech Expo Europe 2017

So, last week I visited the IoT Tech Expo Europe in Berlin[1]. The conference was running for two days offering a wide range of all kinds of IoT stuff - socializing time with a nice, cold beer included.

To be more specific there were 3 main focus areas:

  1. IoT: Developing, Testing, Enterprise, New Technologies, Connected Industry, Smart Cities
  2. Artificial Intelligence: AI in Enterprise, AI for Consumers
  3. Blockchain: New Blockchain Technologies, Blockchain in Enterprise

The air was filled with so many buzz-words, I could barely breath! But seriously: The Expo was really worth going to. There were great talks, workshops and I got insights into various different fields and industries. Let me share some of the stuff I saw with you here...

Let's talk: Blockchain!

Since we did the InnovationLab about Blockchain and Smart Contracts in October 2016 a lot has happened. Be it technology-wise, where more and more crazy ideas pop up, or from the product perspective. When it comes to crazy new technology ideas there is for example Bigchain, a project that tries to combine Blockchain with big data using no-SQL databases. Sounds weird? - Look it up!

Interledger: "exchange of exchanges"

Interleger - the "exchange of exchanges" - is a protocol that will make the current money exchange-platforms obsolete, because everybody can just participate and offer asset exchange. What sounds crazy is actually a great idea, that really has potential. As part of the ripple community the Interledger projects has smart heads contributing - many of them using the opportunity of meeting at the expo to discuss and develop together in a workshop. Really great for those not that familiar with blockchain technology: The Interledger explain-Interledger-to-a-5-year-old guide!

For my part the most interesting part of the Interledger workshop was the discussion about routing within the Interledger universe. Why routing? Well, imagine a system where anybody can offer the exchange of one asset (usually a currency) to another at a self-defined rate. It would then be possible to do transactions over the borders of ledgers, banks - basically any platform that offers exchangeable assets can be connected by an "Interleger plugin". Interledger works as a distributed system, that anybody can run. There is no central server or service planned that would register possible "exchangers" (called connectors) and users. The routing question pops up when you start designing the lookup algorithm for connectors within the network. Let's say you want to send Bitcoin to Ether. As a user you want to find the connector that offers you the "best rate". But: How shall the (distributed) system determine the "best rate"? Should it be possible to allow hops via other currencies? How to rate transaction fees? Are there time-constraints concerning the cross-ledger transaction that have to be taken into account? - And then the discussion unfolded... ⊙▽⊙

modum - certifying shipments using Ethereum

Besides the technology driven advances and new platforms there were finally some use cases that made it into products! For me the most impressive one was modum, a company that tracks pharmaceutical shipments and certifies them using Ethereum smart contracts.

The modum use case - gif from

  • Sensor creation: When a shipment sensor is manufactured it gets a private key embedded, that will be used to sign the transactions. Only the sensor holds that private key.
  • Shipment creation: When a shipment is created a smart contract is created for the shipment. The sensors within the shipment register at the contract. The public keys of the sensors have to be known to the contract.
  • Shipment monitoring: There are sensors in the shipment that constantly track e.g. temperature, humidity (...). If the temperature exceeds a critical threshold the sensor will record this.
  • Shipment checkpoint: When a shipment reaches a checkpoint and is scanned by phone the sensor and the phone will pair. The sensor will pack up the information it collected and sign is with the private key it holds. Then it will hand over the signed information to the phone (used as scanner).
  • Shipment certification: The phone will take the signed information from the sensor and send a transaction[2] to the Ethereum smart contract. The contract will validate that the information sent came from a registered sensor and can then evaluate the status of the shipment. Since the contract holds all the information to decide if a shipment still meets the requirements it acts as a certificate for the shipment.

Now the big question: Why is modum recently not happy with Ethereum as platform for their use case? And the answer is... Ether value went up. Like, really, really went up. But wait, the modum customers actually don't have Ethereum wallets... Only modum has an Etheruem account, but in the end the customer will pay for the certification in a fiat currency. Not fun when the Ethereum transactions suddenly become so expensive that the use case does not scale any more. The solution: They are thinking about creating/utilizing a smart contract ledger that has fixed transaction costs. Good luck guys, love your use case!
A big thanks to Malik from modum who took the time to answer all my questions and really went into depth explaining the use case and product!

For those students out there that always wanted to write their own smart contract: Join the Smart Contract and Blockchain Code & Play at the end of June (★^O^★)

Moving to: Artificial Intelligence!

As mentioned one of the main tracks was about AI. The talks ranged from general introductions into enterprise AI over product talks like amazon's Alexa or Philip's new connected health platform till panel discussions about AI in consumer services.

We are getting closer to the vision of the star treck computer.

... to say it with the words of amazon's own Max Amordeluso (EU Alexa Skills Set).

Chatbots FTW!

On the Friday morning I was randomly walking around sleep depraved from the night before. I ended up sitting down in the AI room, where a panel discussion about chat-bots in customer service took place. Win! - Good discussion, great insights.

One thing that surprised me was what Richard MacDonald-Keen, principle engineer @ Skyscanner, said: That customers actually prefer bots over humans. If one starts thinking about it it actually is obvious why: Bots don't make mistakes and they can offer a solution faster and more precise than any human. Furthermore they will always offer exactly the same solution for the same problem. Provided, that they understood the problem...

That was something that was generally stated a lot in the discussion: Bots are great, but even a trained bot has its limits, thus there should always be the possibility for the user to switch from bot to human - even better: Offer that choice in the very beginning and then keep offering it during the complete customer service experience. One other thing that was brought up was bot-personalities. It was again Richard McDonald-Keen that pointed out that Skyscanner had got very mixed feedback from customers, some even been offended by certain bot personalities. For the future the panel proposed, that customers might be able to choose from personalities of bots before they start their customer service experience - if we think AI there are many use cases hidden in there again.

Maybe the most upcoming, experimental and very powerful feature of bots is: They can react in more complex, meaningful ways than humans. Humans are always bound to their brain being able to cope with one thing at the time, while bots are machines that can do various things in parallel. A bot can create a chart for you while you are talking, or search for an image or video, or create a process chart that really helps you understand what he tells you. And those are just some of the use cases that are currently in development. Interesting: According to the panel, China is leading in customer service chat-bots. Maybe I should move there after all. (⊙ꇴ⊙)//

Connected health by Philips

You thought banking was a very regulated business? Then you never worked in healthcare...

For those who did not know (like me...): Philips is actually doing really a lot in healthcare, medical research and connected health. With healthsuite as cloud platform they are among the first innovators that try to connect patient, doctor, hospital, government regulator and more. As part of the visions patients will be able to decide who they share which data with and can see their complete medical history - from the user perspective that does sound like something I'd like to have.

Besides the patient platform Philips is working together with hospitals in various fields of medical research. They for example did a project on tuberculosis detection using deep learning approaches.

Richard Vdovjak, Principle Scientist, Data Science and Artificial Intelligence gave interesting insights into the healthcare sector - like structured data versus doctors. One of the biggest challenges that one faces building a health platform is, that doctors still like to write unstructured text. AI can help to overcome obstacles there, by converting text into structured data that can be processed and used to build model for learning. Besides the huge amount of un- or not-well-structured data the patient data is usually scattered over various institutions and there are very strict privacy regulations - quite a challenge for a healthcare platform. I asked Richard when we can expect the platform to be fully available to the end user as described in his vision. Since there are different government regulations in every country the answer was as expected: Expect the platform within the next two years. Don't expect it to be available in your country right away, though... (;一ω一||)

Finally: Some good ol' IoT Stuff!

All in all I liked the IoT topics presented, although I have to state that the panel on testing in the IoT and the whole "Developing for the IoT" track did not hold any groundbreaking news for me. I was expecting a little bit more there. The talks given by companies presenting their work in the IoT field were really good however.

From telco to Smart City

There were several interesting talks on Smart Cities - let's take a look one I really liked here.
The talks name was actually "From Big Data to Smart Data to traffic optimization" and it was given by Raphael Rollier of SwissCom. The idea is fairly simple, the outcome really cool. SwissCom is a telko provider who's goal was and is:

Connect them all!

With all their telco equipment (base stations, antennas, ...) already in place, why not use it for traffic- and throughput monitoring? How many cars are coming into the city? Where are they coming from? Do they stay in the city?
What SwissCom is doing is simple, but the benefit is huge. They take the telco data of mobiles, triangulate the positions of the phones out of it and animate the data. The animations are then used as a basis for city planning. Ongoing projects in Montreux, Fribourg and the canton of Geneva already show results.

In the future the system might be extended to live traffic monitoring and traffic control for (and together with) cities. Additional data provided by the cities leads to traffic models that show bottlenecks and help to make decisions like: Should we build a new bypass road. Besides that it offers a great new business model for SwissCom. b( ̄▽ ̄*)

Drones, drones, drones!

Meet Rombit, the company that develops solutions for emergency monitoring in the harbor of the city of Antwerp (Belgium) using... yes: drones. The drones are regularly flying over the harbor area measuring toxic waste levels in the air as well as detecting and monitoring emergency situations. In case an emergency situation is detected they support the fire brigade by live footage from above. That's some pretty cool shit.
Besides drones Rombit also works with wearables in the harbor mostly to increase the harbor-worker's safety, but also for worker-capability and assignment use cases. The wearables together with sensors on vehicles can for example warn in dangerous collision situations. 彡゚◉ω◉ )つー☆*


Concerning cool IoT stuff, Conichiwa was noticable - being one (already grown) startup that provides services IoT services and solutions in the connected access and customer experience sector - mostly for hotels. As I like to say: It's all about context!
The Connichiwa idea is to...

create a completely new customer experience, where the hotel already knows when you - as a customer - are nearby and can react to your personal needs without you saying a word.

The package also includes smart locks that can be opened via bluetooth - guess I have something to hack for the next Senacor DevCon. (>y<)

My conclusion

IoT Expo Europe: Definitely worth visiting if you want to broaden your horizon and see what's currently ongoing in the IoT enterprise world, as well in research. I liked the balance of the expo. In the end the most difficult part was: Choosing which talks to visit and which ones to skip... (┛◉Д◉)┛彡┻━┻

  1. IoT = Internet of Things (for those noobs that don't know) ↩︎

  2. To be correct the phone actually passes the signed information to a server that runs an Ethereum node that then sends the actual transaction - but that might not be needed in the future. ↩︎