Big Brother is Everywhere
Were you excited about a robot that knows how to clean the floor by itself? Meet the streetlight that guards a parking spot and the washing machine that notifies the manufacturer of a malfunction. An Israeli company that began operation with the support of the Israel Innovation Authority enables common daily products to communicate with us.
If we ask you if your faucet is connected to the internet, you will probably think we are joking. But for the people who work at Cloud of Things, an Israeli startup operating today in Europe and the United States, it's a perfectly legitimate question.
Cloud of Things offers its customers a systems development infrastructure for managing IoT. In other words, the technological platform that the company has developed enables regular, common day-to-day products to become smart and connected devices, capable of communicating with each other and with a central management system, and managed via a user controlled application.
Alon Mantsur, co-founder and CEO of Cloud of Things in the United States, explains why it's not strange at all that a faucet manufacturer would need the platform the company has created: "He's a manufacturer whose target audience is large complexes such as terminals, shopping malls and education institutions. These centers naturally contain hundreds, even thousands, of faucets. When they are connected to the internet, they create a wealth of extremely useful information for the company managing the center."
"Take a large shopping mall for example. Via the faucets scattered throughout the building, the complex's management company easily knows with ease how many times the toilet was flushed and accordingly, how many people used the bathroom. A very simple application installed on the maintenance team's telephone can notify them of unusually high activity in the bathroom and of the need to clean it."
"Another example: it turns out that when a faucet isn't used for more than a day, bacteria build up which are then released with its next use. In other words, the first pupil using the school drinking-fountain after the weekend break is drinking water with bacteria. By contrast, if the faucet is connected to the internet, there's a way to cause a drip every one or two hours, thereby preventing the buildup of bacteria."
"The bottom line is that thanks to the internet connection, the faucet manufacturer can sell his customers smart services that aren’t otherwise available."
What does the Refrigerator do all Day?
Cloud of Things was founded by Eliav Gnessen and David Chouraqui in 2015. Mantsur joined the company and the field of IoT after more than 20 years in the computer world and a career in the field of information security. In January 2018, he opened the American branch of Cloud of Things together with Dr. Philip DesAutels, one of the world's IoT pioneers, with the aim of replicating the company's European success in the US.
"The world is progressing towards a point where a great many devices will be connected to the internet – including those that we wouldn't have imagined as 'smart'. It started with applications like the smart iRobot which cleans the house using a software program that manages it, on to fields like healthcare and autonomous vehicles and extends to entire smart cities."
"As far as the devices we use daily are concerned, automation and applications have many advantages both at the level of the manufacturer and that of the users. For us as consumers, it means that the refrigerator will notify us when the milk is finished or that we will be able to activate the washing machine, turn on the air conditioning and open the blinds even before we get home. For the manufacturers, who are our customers, it creates infinite opportunities. A manufacturer will be able to predict a fault in a product and offer their customer a solution even before he contacts the service department, or to offer instruction on a product's specific functions if an incorrect use of the product is identified."
Cloud of Things operates in the world of the manufacturers who are interested in connecting the devices they produce to the internet domain. As Mantsur explains: "We supply these manufacturers with several end-to-end solutions. In other words, we enable them to take a device – like a refrigerator, air conditioning unit or even a smoke detector, which is a component with a very small processor – and connect it to a computerized system. For that to happen, you need a device with a sensor component and a system that will be capable of receiving and analyzing the data – so that the manufacturer will not just receive a list of meaningless texts – and naturally, an application that will enable control of the device."
"In fact, our development is an open system which facilitates the execution of multiple actions. We have two important advantages which are expressed in two patents we have developed. The first is the client software and the second is called CloudSwitch™."
"Our most important patent is client software called DeviceTone™ that can sit on one of two devices: a large appliance such as a refrigerator or a small device like a smoke detector. The difference is that the larger appliances usually have a strong computer processor on which a software component can be installed while in the smaller devices the computer component is a small thin chip. We can sit on any type of hardware and talk via any kind of communications protocol, not necessarily wi-fi. Our competitors usually have no client or end software and are limited in their communication capability."
"For example, we can place the component with a camera on something small like a doorbell or the peephole in the door. It connects to the private phone via wireless communication and so we can be aware of someone coming to the door and see who it is even if we are somewhere else."
"Our client software, which is installed on the device itself, includes seven layers of software, communications, hardware and information security, each of which is a world of its own. One of our huge advantages is that the DeviceTone™ client we have developed allows for quick connection of devices and systems to the internet – a process that takes time with any other development. This client also enables a high level of information encryption and is capable of interfacing other sensors connected to it. Using it, we can sit on any type of hardware and talk via all kinds of communication protocols at an especially high data transfer rate. In turn, this enables the manufacturer to quickly and efficiently make his products both smarter and connected without any prior knowledge or resources."
"The second patent is CloudSwitch™, for which we received funding from the Innovation Authority, and that enables us to store vast quantities of data. In the past, I set up bank control rooms which receive huge amounts of information security reports from the computer systems but even I was surprised when I saw that a home refrigerator generates tens of thousands of pieces of data each day: a rise or decrease in temperature, power consumption, opening of doors etc."
"The Authority supports technology companies with high potential for attaining commercialization and growth in Israel", says Aharon Aharon, the Authority's CEO. "Informed decision-making through analysis of data that comes in from a wide range of sensors, technological innovation, and leading unique markets at an international level are necessary conditions for companies to prosper, succeed and establish themselves here in Israel."
"When we talk about connecting devices to the internet, we are talking about vast amounts of data", says Mantsur. "Cloud suppliers have a specially designated array of servers– IoT Cloud – that receives the IoT data from the various components and then performs analytics. With the help of the CloudSwitch™ component, Cloud of Things can transfer some of the data to the cloud and leave some of it behind, thereby enabling us to fix versions using the client and to update it remotely. It is also possible to transfer some of the data to one cloud and some to a second cloud. The result is that the customer can balance his data traffic and attain an optimal level of trouble shooting."
"We supply three components which together constitute a complete solution for the manufacturers. The first is hardware – a component that sits on the device itself. The second is a management system which receives the vast amounts of data transferred from the devices and performs the analyses necessary to generate useful information. The third component is the Gateway - a router – which is an intermediary component that can talk with multiple devices and appliances in the home, for example, washing machine, refrigerator and an oven. The router allows us to achieve high operating speed because it fills in information for the customer, analyzes and processes it, and transfers it to our management system. The manufacturer can use the data received to decide what he is interested in looking at: one may want a prediction of malfunctions, while another may want to improve service etc."
Manufacturers Learning from the Users
"There is a whole world of possibilities", Mantsur promises. "Each of the manufacturers who is a customer of ours uses the data for the purposes relevant to him. The customers we are currently approachare the various manufacturers in the fields of lighting for buildings, faucets, solar heating units and kitchens."
"One of our main customers today is a kitchen manufacturer who sells kitchens that include all the electric devices. He markets it as a 'smart kitchen' which enhances family safety because it knows when to issue warnings of smoke or when it detects an overly-high temperature in the oven."
"We have also decided to focus on smart lighting because it’s a very large market. The world of lighting is presently undergoing a tremendous revolution. As part of the transition to smart cities, many cities have discovered that it's possible to upgrade the lighting infrastructure and achieve several objectives via its automation. The first value is a saving in energy costs – thanks to economizing and the transition to LED lights, together with the introduction of laws made possible by smart systems like ours, electricity costs can be reduced by 90%. Furthermore, our solutions in the field of street lighting facilitate its control, and in addition sensors and services beyond the lighting such as internet for the residents, and even information on parking spots: we attach a sensor with a small camera to every lamppost on the street which is capable of identifying whether an adjacent parking spot is occupied or available."
"One of our customers, a company called Tondo, creates smart lighting solutions for buildings and entire cities. With our product, it can control all the lights inside or outside a building; it can cause a light to turn on only when a certain number of people pass by, enabling a saving of both energy and money. On the other hand, our system can also identify when a light has been turned on in an office building that is supposed to be empty – thereby indicating a possible security problem. The lighting solutions Tondo creates use DeviceTone™. With our help, they are able to receive continuous data from the sensors on whether it's cloudy or clear outside and adjust the lighting accordingly."
"Aside from the obvious advantages, this also represents a fundamental change in the relationship between the manufacturer and the customers using his products. The kitchen manufacturer explained the difference: 'Until today I would install a kitchen and that would be the end of my relationship with the customer – unless there was a problem and he contacted customer service. At best, he would come back after ten years to buy a new kitchen. Now, thanks to the IoT, I have constant contact with him. I can study how customers use my product and this helps me in retaining their business, assists me in planning the next model while adapting it more precisely to the customers' needs.'"
"Our services help the manufacturers learn from their customers and create significant value. Once he sells thousands of refrigerators for example, the management system located in his office receives data from each one of them and utilizes it to predict faults. In certain cases, he can identify a problem even before the customer uses the device – and even see if it is specific to that device or relates to all the refrigerators of a certain model."
"One of our customers in Germany sells washing machines. Using our sensor, he can receive a notification from the washing machines about a water leak, identify a problem and send the information to the customer. It's even occasionally possible to repair the problem causing the leak from a distance. A refrigerator manufacturer on the other hand, can detect that the refrigerator door has been open for too long and notify the user. Naturally, everything is subject to regulation and to what the customer wants to receive."
"Regulation is a crucial part of the entire connectivity issue. There is an invasive element here simply because personal information is being sent to the manufacturer, and so at Cloud of Things we have invested substantial resources in highlighting information security by toughening up the product and the granularity of the type of data transferred. It should be remembered that the issue of personal exposure also came up twenty years ago when it was decided to connect the banking and healthcare systems to the internet. Exposure undoubtedly exists but it is addressed with the application which receives precise definitions of who can see what. In other words, the washing machine manufacturer doesn’t receive details on the clothes put in the machine but only their technical details. It is personal information but with limited exposure."
"If in the past, 'big brother' was in the cameras – today he's everywhere. What's important therefore is very clear regulation that enables optimal use for human benefit together with organized security. The regulators gradually defined the boundaries and rules regarding use of the internet. I am certain that we will see the same thing happen in the field of IoT over the coming years."