Spark IoT Podcast

Ep. 1: Twenty Billion Things

July 08, 2019 Russell Brown Season 1 Episode 1
Spark IoT Podcast
Ep. 1: Twenty Billion Things
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A great introduction to IoT, this first episode covers the brief history of IoT, including a Kiwi connection right at the very beginning of things. 

IoT pioneer Peter Munn shares his story and experience, then futurist Frances Valintine and Spark’s Paul Caples chat about the game-changing opportunities of IoT for Kiwi businesses.

Russell Brown:

Kia ora koutou. I'm Russell Brown and this is the "Internet of Awesome Things" brought to you by Spark and this is a sound you probably haven't heard in a while: [dial-up modem sound] We don't have to dial into the internet anymore because we're always on, but it's not just us out there. It's 14 billion devices, not counting phones, computers, tablets or TVs. Those devices are collectively the internet of things. It's already twice the size of the internet of us and according to analysts at Gartner next year we'll grow to 20 billion things. In this podcast series, we'll look at what those things are, what they do for us and what they could be doing for your business. But first, where did it all come from? The first thing and the internet of things actually appeared years before most of us got online and it wasn't just a gimmick. It solved a real problem. The programming team at the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, like coders the world over, liked their caffeinated beverage. For most of the 1970s there was a popular Coca-Cola vending machine in the department's main terminal room. But when the department expanded, most of the programmers found themselves on a different floor to the Coke machine. Nobody liked going all that way to find the machine empty. So in 1982 a couple of staff worked out a solution. They installed sensors in the machine and connect them to the main departmental computer. They could check the machine status without having to walk there . Bazinga! But there was more, someone knocked up a server programme which showed how long the Coke bottles had been on each shelf, which told the team how long the bottles had had to chill. So they not only knew whether the machine was stocked, but where to find the cold ones. Access to this mission-critical data was soon extended to any network computer at the university, and in the process, anyone on the internet's forerunner, ARPANET. A lot has happened since then and the internet is to put it mildly, a whole lot bigger. But that first system performed a task inventory management, which is still relevant and essential to many businesses today. The system was broken when Coca-Cola hauled the machine away and replaced it with one that could accommodate a new bottle shape. It was a while before anyone got around to hacking the new machine, but the next chapter was already brewing thousands of kilometres away in New Zealand. In 1990 Peter Munn took voluntary redundancy from Telecom New Zealand and set up a new venture, Harvest Electronics in his garage in Masterton. Harvest's first products were alarm-diallers, devices that picked up an electronic alert and transmitted it over a dial-up data network. Over a couple of years, those diallers evolved into something much bigger: a system that would allow Coca-Cola to monitor the status of its own vending machines. By the end of the decade, Harvest technology was helping the company monitor and restock 60,000 Coke machines across New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. That part of the business was spun off in 2000 and is now owned by Coca-Cola itself. But inventory management and asset control are still fundamental applications for the internet of things. But who is this guy, Peter Munn? Well, he's with me right now from Masterton. Peter, it's 1990. You've just taken redundancy and set up a new business in your garage. How did you gravitate towards what we now know as the internet of things?

Peter Munn:

Well, I guess I was looking for ways to turn my, you know, love of electronics into a business opportunity. I had knowledge of alarm-monitoring companies. And I knew that they used dial-up phone lines, you know, people like Armourguard use that in order to get all the alarms through to their central control room. And every time someone set or unset an alarm in it, it incurred a toll charge. So I'd been involved at Telecom with packet switching – and it was used by EFTPOS machines – and I knew that was a very low cost way to get data around the country, you know, alarm data. So I approached Amourguard and they seemed very interested in the idea of an alarm panel that they didn't need to pay toll charges for. And I hired a young graduate electrical engineer who was way smarter at electronics than I am, and software. You know, Steve Jobs couldn't have built an Apple computer without Steve Wozniak. Well, Gary Anderson is Woz. He's still with me after 29 years. Anyway, we spent six months, we developed this packet switching alarm panel, took it up to Auckland to Armourguard, introduced it to the guy that we'd been working with, who loved it. He introduced it, introduced us to his boss and his boss said, "It's very interesting what you're doing, but it's not the direction of our company." And I was utterly gutted because I'd spent six months nearly broke and I had a product that no one wanted. So two young children at the time, my wife told me to get a real job. It was getting pretty frustrating and I sort of wondered what else could we use this alarm panel for that we'd developed. And I thought about Coke machines. I thought about, you know, maybe they'd be interested in getting alarms if someone broke into their Coke machine or whatever. So I approached Coke in Auckland and didn't get much joy, rang them up every month and then after about six months, they said, well, actually, technology is developed by Coke in Australia. So I called Australia, the guy over there said, "Oh , um, would this work in Australia?" I said, "Yes, it would." And he flew over the next week and met with us in the PARKROYAL and, took us out for dinner, was very interested until he said, "I'd like to come and see your facility tomorrow." And I said, "Well, my facility is just my garage." And he didn't seem too fazed. So , anyway, they came to see us. Gary and I showed them what we'd done and they gave us enough money to make 20 monitors to fit into Coke machines in Wellington. And then shortly after that, they gave us an order for 2,000 in Sydney . And that's how the whole, project began to roll.

Russell Brown:

When you had this idea, were you aware of the history of the Coke machine in this space? The famous one at Carnegie Mellon ?

Peter Munn:

Yeah, of course. You know, I'm an electronic engineer. And in the '80s, I was building a personal computer for myself before the IBM PC had even come around and I get it, got a magazine called BYTE, that was the big deal for in the '80s. And of course that reported extensively on things like that. So yes, of course I knew about that. Yep .

Russell Brown:

Is the key to this, and the fact that worked, that you were addressing a real issue, stock control, you know, something that needed solving. Yeah. Yeah, it is. And you know, Coke got a huge return on their investment. It wasn't a gimmick. It was something that they needed, except , I approached them initially because I thought they might want to monitor security, but they were not interested in that. They were interested in stock. And so we very quickly had to change direction at a hundred miles an hour. And we got there. And so we solved a problem that they really, really wanted, and needed. And that's true in what , and all the other things we do, you know, our largest market segment is vineyards and kiwifruit, you know, doing frost alarms and the losses there can be huge overnight if they miss a frost. And we also do KiwiRail level crossings, monitoring the lights and the bells and stuff like that, you know, and they used to visit them every two weeks and now they visit them every two months. So with technology you can increase the productivity of the same stuff . Do you think that's a key for a lot of internet of things? Applications? There's a bit of mouth track element there isn't there ? This is an existing business issue, but this is a better way of doing it. Yeah, it is, but IoT unfortunately has got a lot of gimmicks and a lot of you know, products like, you know, internet of things light bulbs and, you know, but enduring industrial products , I think, will be the things that mostly improve company's productivity. Now at first all your Coke machines were wired that packet switching network, but you moved pretty soon to wireless solutions. And that was at the time before most of us even had mobile phones. What was so compelling about going wireless?

Peter Munn:

Well, when we started hooking up Coke machines to phone lines, it drove us crazy because we had to get permission from every company to tap into their phone lines. They might've hit a PiBX, they might've had to go through the computer department to make sure, you know, what we were doing was safe. If they moved the Coke machine from one side of the staff room to the other, we had to go back and rewire it. And so we decided to go to cell phones even though we were using infant, you know, technology, cell phones, analogue cell phones, it cost more, but it gave us total control. We could put them anywhere we wanted on the street, in a you know, staff room, wherever, and it just worked and we controlled it. That was the big, that was the big breakthrough.

Russell Brown:

Are there technology improvements that are making a difference? I imagine better batteries is quite a big one.

Peter Munn:

Yeah, we're still using lead acid batteries because we changed over to lithium batteries and you can't ship them. You're not even supposed to air freight them around New Zealand. And certainly we're in 10 countries and you're not allowed to fly them around the world. So we've gone back to brand-name, you know, lead acid batteries, sealed lead acid batteries like you have in a motorbike or a scooter.

Russell Brown:

What's the longest you've had a device out in the field? Of the ones that are out there at the moment, what's been there the longest?

Peter Munn:

Oh, we've got, we're still getting farmers sending gear that's 15 years old and it frustrates me that i t's still working. You know, we'd like to sell them something new. But I think that that's another thing i n there, there's a lot of junk that's coming on the market. People, you know, even phones, you know, they don't want it to last more than three years. Whereas farmers and agriculture sector expect everything to last at least 10 years.

Russell Brown:

Now, you sold that vending part of the business in 2000 on a high. You must be proud that it's still doing its thing.

Peter Munn:

Yeah , I am, although I think if I was still there, I think ... you know, Coke's got about 8 million vending machines around the world and they're still only monitoring about 60,000. I mean, I think it's a no-brainer that every Coke machine should have a cell phone inside it because the cost of the technology has tumbled, the cost of the data communications is a fraction of what it was when I started doing it. And so I believe every Coke machine should have monitoring inside it .

Russell Brown:

And that actually seems to be a key to why we're seeing a wave of IoT applications now, is that the cost of everything has passed through that barrier. Suddenly a lot more things are possible.

Peter Munn:

Yeah, that's true. But there's still, you know, I used to worry about some Chinese company copying what we're doing, and at a fraction of the price, but the thing that you can't replace with technology is support. You know, so, I've got 35 staff, but nine of them are full-time technical support. So they're answering phone calls and emails and they're helping people set up new systems, fix faults, add additional sensors, and that part of the whole IoT thing can't be replaced by just technology and cheap price.

Russell Brown:

Since the sale you've focused on farming applications. Was that just a matter of being in the Wairarapa or was there something that made you think there was a market there?

Peter Munn:

No, I recognise that, you know, agriculture is, you know, one of the major exports and a major part of our economy. And so I started hunting around and then we came up with the idea of a frost alarm for vineyards, and so ... And it's different to just a single sensor. So we put sensors in all the lowest parts of the vineyard and these days we wake up about 5,000 people on a frosty night. And that was quite a breakthrough, you know, being able to do that reliably for vineyards and kiwifruit as well. I mean, they're our second biggest customer.

Russell Brown:

Now, you're at Field Days recently, touting your products. What was your impression of farmers' attitudes towards this kind of technology? It seems that they get it. There's uptake there, isn't there ?

Peter Munn:

Yeah, it's slow. You know, six years ago when we were at Field Days, a farmer would talk to us about our products and when he found out that it was an ongoing monthly charge for data and support and stuff they'd swear at us and walk off our stand, you know, but nowadays they are much more accepting. They recognise software as a service. You know, they pay their Sky subscription every month . There's lots of things they pay for on a monthly basis. So they're now getting it, but it's still the younger guys who are more interested in technology than the older guys.

Russell Brown:

Yeah. That's interesting, isn't it? Part of getting the most out of IoT might be recognising that there are different business models and you might, have to embrace those.

Peter Munn:

Oh yeah. Things, you know, you've got to adapt to to fit the market. Of course. Yes.

Russell Brown:

What do you think of the key opportunities as we move forward into this new era of IoT? Well, it'll be somewhat more of the same, but ... for instance, we didn't use to do soil moisture probes, but nowadays, farmers, particularly in Canterbury, dairy farmers, they'll put in a million-dollar centre-pivot irrigator, and they'll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the water. And yet they don't know exactly how much water's down in the ground. And if they know that they can optimise the electricity they use for pumping, they can optimise the amount of water they use, they can not drive the fertilizer down below the root zone where it's not as efficient, and so they actually save money and produce more grass, and dairy farmers are basically grass growers. Yeah. That's interesting, there's a business logic to it. You just have to get your head around it, right? Correct. And it takes a while for, you know, farmers traditionally run the irrigator till they see puddles, you know, but that's not a good model. What are the challenges in the uptake, do you think ... obviously getting people to understand how it works is one, but are there other challenges?

Peter Munn:

Yeah, and I think it's taken us a while to recognise. We used to advertise at Field Days that we did weather stations and no farmer buys a weather station, they all buy weather sensors, but they don't come to us for weather station. They come to us for a solution to getting rid of their effluent or monitoring the milk fat or their grain silo, or their pastures, you know. So in other words, we've got to focus on solutions, not just a simple name of a product.

Russell Brown:

Yeah, that's interesting. It comes back to that bit , the mouse trap thing, isn't it, that the problems themselves might not be new, but there are better solutions now.

Peter Munn:

Correct. Absolutely.

Russell Brown:

Just finally, Peter, do you mind if we call you "New Zealand's internet of things pioneer"?

Peter Munn:

I guess so, yeah, I mean we, we certainly were the first ones to use cell phones. We're the first ones to use data on GSM cell phones and , and we saw all the bugs of that and we're seeing bugs now with as we move to IoT modems. I mean, it's the kind of the bleeding edge again, but it's fun to be there.

Russell Brown:

Yeah. Well, best of luck with moving forward into the future you helped create.

Peter Munn:

Thank you very much.

Russell Brown:

Cheers, Peter. Peter Munn, New Zealand's internet of things pioneer. So where is the internet of things heading? How broad are it implications and what should you be thinking about for your business? With me now are two people whose job it is to think about all that: Spark's product owner for IoT, Paul Caples, and futurist and educator Frances Valintine. Welcome to you both. Now Paul, the concept and to some extent the technology of IoT isn't new but in 2019, now, we're seeing an explosion in use cases. Untangle this for me. What's going on here?

Paul Caples:

It's one of those things , a lot of different events have occurred in the market over the last several years. There's been a lot of investment and I think it's on the back of ... there's 7 billion smartphones out there and that's meant that there's been a lot of development of sensors which has dropped the cost of all those sensors. There's been a lot of chip development, so the cost of the chips have dropped dramatically, and that's along with the development around the Microsoft and the AWS cloud services that focus on IoT. That means that a lot of the toolings there. So a lot of the barriers of entry to actually do stuff have disappeared.

Russell Brown:

It seems to me that we have this technology now and we have it affordably in part because a lot of it has been developed for mobile phones, so mobile phones to some extent have made the internet of things possible.

Paul Caples:

They created the market and the volume in the market that has allowed the price points to get down to the position whereby it's, it's quite cheap to actually go out there and to assemble the component pieces that you need today to actually solve some of the problems that businesses are looking to solve. Which, many years ago it was really expensive. But over the whole market, the new networks that we're bringing into play, the cost models that we can put around these type of things today, it just , it's a game-changer.

Russell Brown:

One thing that struck me particularly talking to Peter earlier was, was how deeply functional the internet of the things is, you know, as far as you know , as technology hypes go , this one is, is about just stuff that works mostly, isn't it?

Paul Caples:

Yeah . Unfortunately it's generally invisible and it's stuff that happens around us, we don't necessarily need to engage with it directly. Most of the use cases that you hear publicly spoken around or talk around consumer, but it's in the business world where there's a lot of deployment of technology to solve real-world problems around what they meant having to manage around the production life cycles, the things that they've got to look after, the maintenance contracts, all those really boring things that need people to assess today. Technology can do that at a fraction of the cost.

Russell Brown:

Yeah. Now Frances, you're the futurist and so far we've talked about meeting existing, even kind of traditional business needs about just being functional. Tell me something about IoT that's going to blow my mind.

Frances V.:

Look, I don't think there's one thing I could say that's really going to blow your mind. I think there's visibility across so many segments and so many sectors is going to blow the minds of people who are making financial decisions. If you think about a great example I heard the other day, there's a New Zealand company who are putting sensors on the lines that go from the keg of beer to the pourer at the bar and they are be able to measure how many of those drinks are basically given away. So they're removing theft from the system. So you know, even just a simple connection like that with information coming back, it means you certainly can start looking at your business in a totally different way. I think i t's incremental i n many ways, but actually incremental changes can be huge in a business.

Russell Brown:

D'you think we'll see new business models enabled by it?

Frances V.:

There are new business models already been enabled by IoT... And it comes back to people want better information, and it doesn't matter if you want the ideal smart house scenario where you know exactly how much power you really need and what rooms you should be heating and what the utilities are doing and how things are being processed. Actually all the information is going to make people's lives better. And then of course businesses will pop up off the back of that. They'll start seeing, providing like a SaaS model, a sort of a software as a service model behind it, saying, well, we'll give you that visibility, we'll give you that dashboard view so you don't have to go and buy a whole lot of different IoT devices or connections and we'll, you know, we'll basically provide a consumer a sign-up process to do that for you.

Russell Brown:

That's one thing I actually found quite mind-blowing was yeah, we're kind of used to SaaS. We're used to ... software products that we subscribe to. IoT seems to open the possibility of hardware products that we subscribe to.

Paul Caples:

I think if you look at Facebook, social media as a platform has created a complete new market. The same's going to happen in IoT around what the sensors enable people to do. The likes of Uber with location, knowing where, you know, knowing how to schedule cars and all that sort of stuff. We're all very familiar with it but then there's all these other competitors that come into the market, which stimulates more and more services that can be delivered in those ways. Using this last-mile transport options is ... there's a lot of activity in that space.

Frances V.:

So a black-box scenario's a good one to focus on. So if you think of telematics, you've got providers who are actually putting a box into vehicles, into cars and trucks and then they're providing the SaaS model off the back of that. And I think that's where we can start to see people providing hardware and software solutions. And if you look at a local company for example called Tether and they're putting devices into houses to measure dampness or moisture readings so that the landlords or Housing New Zealand know what's going on inside that house. But they're providing both ends of that equation, the hardware and the software.

Russell Brown:

And I also wonder whether that's where the opportunity cost of not doing anything lies, is that they will be new markets.

Frances V.:

I think wherever there's opportunity, there will be new markets and I think the opportunity right now, it's just not a huge cost industry to get into until you start talking about like industrial internet of things. I mean, you know, you can start providing consumer-based products quite simply with some very low tech. And it can be just off the back of, you know, providing visibility of air quality within a complex or it could be about, you know, thinking about the ultimate way of using energy in your home or your electric vehicle. It could be literally the really simple solutions could be created at low cost.

Russell Brown:

Paul, this is a broad, expansive opportunity. What Spark's niche in this, if niche isn't too small a word? What is Spark targeting? Oh, Spark's doing what it's always done. It makes those large investments in the technologies that enable our New Zealand businesses to get out there and do stuff. So, you know, the IoT networks that we're bringing allows all these devices and this technology that is now available to be used to explore some of these use cases, the noise, the vibration monitoring, all those t ypes of things that are ... were difficult to do in the past. Compliance. There's a whole range of things that can be done now. So Spark's enabling customers to get a head and do that stuff. We need to work on the education side. We need to make sure we're providing the information that enables it to be an easier journey. And it strikes me that you have a role here. Whether we're talking about IoT devices that are OEM and ship with the car or whatever else or whether it's part of the service you're providing because you are the network provider.

Paul Caples:

Yeah, well, we play in both areas. We are obviously a connectivity provider and talking about the cars is , there's a whole range of international operators who are looking to bring those types of connectivity services into the vehicle, not just for the telematics side but also for the in-car experience. And so we have got to be conscious about how they want their business orals to work in the context of how consumers are operating within vehicles. So it's quite complex. Some of the work we actually get involved in those spaces. The way it shows up for consume is just, it's "I can use these features in a vehicle".

Frances V.:

Yeah. Actually can I just add to the vehicle one? I think we can see so many positive aspects to that in having better visibility, but there are also people who think about telematics and giving better information also means, if you're telling your rental car company that when you hit that wall you are driving at 50 k's an hour and the telematics actually tells them, actually you were going 72 k's an hour . You know, there's going to give both the good and the bad in terms of visibility. So there's no longer the ability to hide from what you know, said you did versus what the data tells what actually happened.

Russell Brown:

Yeah. This is one of the implications, isn't it? There's going to be a lot more data.

Frances V.:

Exactly. Yeah.

Russell Brown:

Do we actually have even have the systems to work at how to use all that data?

Paul Caples:

I think that's one of the biggest challenges there is a lot of data coming in, and the skills that you need around data analytics and the interpretation of this information into a context that means something. It's one of those areas where you're gonna see new jobs being created, which is great.

Frances V.:

Yeah. I think the data is also becoming now one of the key aspects of the value of an organization. So you just see for some of these, you know, big unicorn companies are really based upon the data they hold and they're getting, you know, they've worked out how to use it and increasingly value in, say, New Zealand business is about those intangibles. Things like, actually what information do you really know about your customer and what can you predict from that? And what is , you know, what is their behaviour and sensors are a big part of it and the internet of things and you know, going away from those sort of very tangible assets that people once had, which was, you know, bricks and mortar, and a couple of trucks and some stock, you know , it really is a different world and data is valued so highly. It's critical.

Russell Brown:

Just to help people who are listening think about how ... what this landscape looks like, how can we divide up the different kinds of IoT applications? There's OEMs, that's telematics and cars. There's aftermarket devices that increase the value of those devices. And I guess the standalone things like weather stations. Am I on the right track there?

Paul Caples:

I think the devices are everywhere and this is the problem that you're trying... everyone's trying to put a category around IoT, but the application of the sensors and the ability to sense the real world ... is just, it's there. And so trying to find those niches or find the actual areas that are ... to categorise it in a that way becomes a bit relevant.

Russell Brown:

Yeah, that's interesting. And Frances, I get the impression there's a lot of IoT happening around us as individuals that we don't even realise is going on.

Frances V.:

Yeah. I mean look, just in terms of security and safety on the streets and what's happening on our roads and looking at transportation systems, I mean, it is ... it's all-encompassing. It's everywhere. And I think, you know, there are, there are New Zealand companies playing in the world stage around things like air quality, but also measuring things like if there is a gunshot in a major city globally, you know, what triggers, you know, the internet of things will notify all relevant parties, including the pedestrians on the street. You know, there are ways that they're using it at scale. And the scenarios are really so broad and I actually wanted to just share a little story. Last week I was clearing some things at work and we had all sorts of electronic stuff, like there was just so many of these sort of Arduino kits and robotics kits and things lying around. And there was a couple of kids who were in the office and I was trying to get my head around what these things all were cause they're all just bundled together. And one of these children, must have been seven years old, came up and said, "Oh, so that's the Raspberry Pi , but these sensors do this and this sensor does that. And if I connect that sensor to my internet, then I can turn the lights off at home without getting out of my bed." And I suddenly realise d that these little kids actually fully understanding the power of an internet-enabled sensor. You know, this is just the beginning. Y ou can just imagine where it's going.

Russell Brown:

That's often the case though with new technologies like this, is kids don't have any preconceptions. And they just see how it should work.

Frances V.:

Yeah .

Russell Brown:

Yeah. "Hang on, this works." Yeah.

Frances V.:

And it's just going to create, you know, new uses and new categories and new, you know , all sorts of ways. And I think, you know , just to the point and not wanting to categorise, you could just go into this medical internet of things and break that down into probably 50 different categories. It's just enormous.

Russell Brown:

Tell me about the medical internet of things, because that's something that people probably haven't thought about.

Frances V.:

Well, you think from every part from preventative type, being able to measure people from, how are they feeling, what's their heart condition, you know, everything from a range of medical pre-existing and potential conditions, right through monitoring inside of hospital. You know , how do you know without having to go ward by ward, patient by patient and get accurate readings back into a centralised sort of dashboard view and in a monitoring centre. And actually over time so people can actually monitor and maintain health based upon real-time information. And look , there's all sorts of crazy uses I've heard of, including things like ... there's not really an easy way of putting this, but basically a pee measure, like, go to the bathroom and it basically tests the urine as it's hitting the pan and telling you any conditions that you might have, or things that are brewing or, "Did you know, you've got the flu?" You know, we're just gonna start seeing things so differently.

Russell Brown:

This sounds like the ultimate TMI scenario. [All laugh] Paul, you've been doing some of this already , haven't you ? Working with St John, I gather?

Paul Caples:

Oh, St John. So, ambulance is a really interesting. They have got sensors galore in every ambulance that's running around the country. They are one of the biggest customers and they're continually pushing the boundary around what they are trying to achieve: building their own end-to-end IoT platform, integrating all of the health sensors that they use on a regular basis. For them it's all around just the efficiency of getting the information that needs to give back into the people that need to know it before they get there. And that's just a simple example of local people doing stuff in that area , globally. The in-home monitoring as you were talking about there, blood pressure . So you don't have to actually go into the hospital to get that regular blood pressure tests done. You can do it all on a daily basis. And so you get much more granular information about health conditions without the inconvenience of having to travel.

Frances V.:

Yes , so I guess so people can understand that, at its most basic and personal, this might be the smart watch that monitors your blood pressure or heartbeat.

Paul Caples:

We love the smart watch.

Russell Brown:

And you go up from there.

Paul Caples:

Yeah.

Frances V.:

Yeah. And the percentage of the people who have a wearable now is enormous. I mean, they're talking about millennials, it's something, you know, something between 40 to 50% of all of them are wearing something that's giving information back. And it could be their phone, they may have set ... it could be a pedometer on their phone and they're measuring actively how far they are walking every day. But for more and more it's actually something they're wearing and we're not really thinking about. It just becomes part of normal life.

Russell Brown:

And I guess thinking about that also makes make means the social shift in the way we think about information about ourselves. Because we are generating quite a lot of information about ourselves, aren't we, with devices?

Frances V.:

And I think when we look at that, it means we can think about personalisation of, say, for example, an insurance policy differently. Like, if you are prepared to share your information with your insurer and they say , well, you know, you really are of good health. You're not just telling us you're in good health. We will amend positively (or in some cases negatively) based upon actual information. So, for somebody who is trying to reduce their costs of the policies, it'd be a great way to say, "Well, hey, hang on, you're penalising me on the law of averages instead of actually what I'm doing and here's the proof".

Russell Brown:

Is there any regulatory response do you think needed to these new capabilities? Oh, look I think in a perfect world the answer would be yes, there'd be some form of regulation. But you know, as we've seen with most disruptive technologies, they, you know, the , the technology comes before any compliance or regulation kicks in, so they don't really ever get a chance. I think there's been laws testing all sorts of things around private data that people haven't realised they've been sharing. And sometimes that was with large multinational companies and sometimes it's with things like insurance providers who haven't realised what they're using information for. Yeah, I think it's going to be challenged a lot, a lot more in law , as we start to understand what people might do with information we didn't necessarily know we were sharing. But I guess the key point here is this is something that's already happening. It's up to us, and also I guess to companies, to have the conversation with their customers.

Paul Caples:

Yeah, I understand. Or at least share with the customers what that information is that they're gathering and what they're doing with it and how they're using it. A lot of these terms and conditions that we agree to, no one actually is going through the detail. So that transparency does need to be there.

Russell Brown:

And there's also going to be, I think Frances hinted at this before there's going to be differences in the way we operate our cities and the way our cities operate. And Spark, I gather, has a little experiment with that going with the smart street. Can you talk about that?

Paul Caples:

Yes. So that's a really interesting example of bringing in a whole bunch of different vendors who are doing smart city related stuff into an environment where we can start to bring it all together and start to infer information from a range of different sensors. We've got streetlights , bins, bin sensors, parking, noise , humidity , people counters. And when you put all that information together, you're gonna get a good understanding of what's going on in our environment. Is it healthy? Are we seeing the type of behaviours that you'd expect to see in those areas? Are we doing the best we can for the public? So we are really interested in seeing how that one sort of plays out over the time there's in place.

Russell Brown:

Where is it?

Paul Caples:

Down the Viaduct down there, part of the 5G environment that we've developed around the Lab down there to support the America's Cup activity. And so we'll be using a few 5G technologies as part of the mix of that, as well as a lot of the existing cellular IoT networks that we have available today.

Frances V.:

Actually, another great example of that is, I was in London a couple of months ago at the Visa Innovation Lab and they were showcasing a really simple technology, which was just a sensor in a car park and when you drove over a park in it, it immediately debited your card for the amount of time that you're parked there . So no, nothing needed more than just park your car. It recognised your car, it recognised it against a credit card. And so you know, the most simple user experience you could imagine, but actually in it , you know, when you're a busy person, something like that can change your day. And you know, I think it's really simple.

Paul Caples:

And you're right, it's the experience that makes a difference. If you can use the technology to deliver a fantastic customer experience like that, the acceptance of that type of technology is going to go through the roof. That's a challenge for companies, obviously. They've got to make the experience over the technology more important.

Russell Brown:

And also I think not just companies, but local government, especially when the things we're talking about, parking, emptying the bins, all those kinds of things are the job of local government.

Paul Caples:

Absolutely. Yeah . And we've got to help them to provide those tools so that they understand the experience that they're trying to deliver or they can actually realise the experience. The technology's there, it's just a matter of deploying it.

Frances V.:

Yeah. And I think the other part of this as the crowd-based aspect where, you've got everybody now with the smart phones in their hand, most people have the Bluetooth set on. And if you look at an application just simply like Waze for traffic, which is owned by Google but has a different set of maps, in a lot of it now as about the gathering or the clumping together of people's connections to showcase where people are hanging out. So it's like a red spot if it's a really highly populated area and perhaps less illuminated if it's less people. So you can start to even plan your day about, you know, if you're somebody who just wants to avoid crowds, you might be, "Do I go to the park now with my kids? Oh no look, the playground's at capacity. I'll go a little bit later when I know that my kids could get on the jungle gym." You know, it's just the really simple things can be changed just by literally people holding a phone.

Russell Brown:

It's an interesting extension of something that we're already used to doing with Google Maps. It tells us, "You might not want to go that way because traffic's heavy, or you might want to travel later because traffic's heavy." We can get that kind of useful information relating to various other walks of life.

Frances V.:

Yeah, well I think the Google Maps versus Waze is a good example though because Google Maps, if I went to the airport right now would tell me the fastest way to get the airport without thinking necessarily about any things that's going on: an accident, traffic control, a booze bust, whatever it might be. Whereas Waze will take it, that layer and then overlay it with the actual users who are inputting data on top of it. So they're actively sitting in their car saying, "Hey look, there's a tree across the road here. Don't go this street." And it will take you the fastest way, beyond not just the most direct way, but it will take you literally back streets and make you avoid things like for example, there might be like at the top of this road right now, lots of traffic cones and traffic-managed situation where you might be stuck in traffic for five minutes while you're waiting for your turn to go.

Russell Brown:

That's interesting you should talk about that, because I directly myself had that experience this week, trying to get back to Point Chevalier from Ellerslie at 4:30 in the afternoon. And Google Maps was, "Yeah, traffic's heavy but still go on the Southern Motorway." And of course I could see with my eyes that there was a 500-metre queue just to turn left to get onto Greenlane. And "Google, you're not from 'round here are you?" So you're saying that kind of thing is gonna to work a lot better in future.

Frances V.:

Yeah. And so if in that moment you'd find out Waze as an alternative, you will start to see people telling the exact story, "Hey look, there's a massive queue to get on. Take a different route. This is the way we suggest you go."

Paul Caples:

Crowd-sourced information. You know, if you sit in there, you've got the time to put that information into those type of systems and it pays off for everyone else that's around there .

Frances V.:

Yeah. So is this a doubling effect between the actual hard information of what the data's saying and what the sensors are saying and then there's a crowd, you know, almost double-checking in, saying, "Hey, it's blocked, yes. This is why."

Russell Brown:

Can we talk a bit more about telematics? I mean ... I keep hearing that new cars are going to increasingly sell with more and more telematics features. What will those features do?

Paul Caples:

The ones that I like have the concierge features, the ability for you to be in the vehicle. You might be travelling in an area that you're not familiar with. You wanna book something, you push a button on the dashboard, it connects you to a help desk who's there to ... who knows, has local knowledge. They're able to provide the hotels, the recommended places to go and eat, do all the bookings. And the interesting thing, a friend of mine was driving around in a luxury vehicle down in Queenstown and had that same experience. So these things are here today, but they're not fully deployed across all the fleet. We'll have to wait a time until the fleets s tart to pick up all those types of features. But they're there.

Frances V.:

Yeah, and I think the ability to, you know, pre-order if you're on a, on a mission and you want to be able to pre-order takeaways and stop in and stop out and you're doing it all from your car through the connectivity is a really big saving feature. But if you're looking forward just a few months, Tesla's has come out now and their ... in all of their cars that have the autonomous mode enabled, you'll be able to summons your car. So you'll be able to, say at work and it's raining outside and you'll be able to call your car to you. Now, you know, the , the amount of sensors needed to do that? You know, from the LIDAR that actually detects things right through to all the sensors that are telling you all of the issues. And I think once we start to see more autonomous cars on our roads – and at the moment it's still very much in an early stage – we will really start to understand how reliable these sensors are, because we'll start trusting those ... that driverless car more than one that's been driven. And at that point, you know, it's really every possibility will become real, because people will trust at a level we don't right now.

Russell Brown:

And yeah, it's interesting. There's , this is something that is just going to happen and we will get used to it. Paul, I wonder, where you see adoption by business happening first. Well , it's already happening obviously, but ... Yeah, telematics has been around for a long time, driving fleet efficiency. But that has been focused just on the vehicle. Where we see IoT coming into play for fleet is when they're starting to look at what they're actually carrying and getting a lot more granular with the items that they need to monitor and being able to monitor beyond just the, the car, what's in the car, where's it going, who's around it, what are they needing to do? Creating an ecosystem of connectivity from a vehicle and the things that the business is needing to do in conjunction with that. Telematics is just the early entry point for that. We've seen a lot more smarts coming into transport and logistics and how they're managing the actual packages from place A to place B. And that all feeds into a better experience for the customer around, "Is this stuff going to arrive when I expect it to arrive?" At the moment, once it goes into a depot, do you know when it's gonna come out? It's all a bit hit-and-miss at the moment. If you've got that tracking end-to-end, the experience that they can deliver as is massively improved. Because it has to be said that parcel tracking right now is, uh, an imperfect process.

Paul Caples:

Horrifically imperfect.

Frances V.:

If I can build on that though, if you think of transportation, if you look at some of the recent arrivals in New Zealand, with different scooter companies and car-by-the-hour type scenarios or like an Uber Eats type delivery, all of those are replacing companies in New Zealand who have always been playing that. We've always been able to rent bikes by the hour and cars and rental cars and we've always been able to get food delivery. What is different is the companies who have come in from offshore have really early on, early adopters of the internet of things. They've put all these ... they're utilised all the sensors in the phone and actually enabling it to sit on a platform and so that people, you know, actually can have these services delivered. And if you look at the delivery of an, let's just talk about an Uber Eats, we know down to the minute when they're arriving. So it can be done. So packaging and logistics can be at that level of detail. You could literally know that your courier driver is literally driving down your street. So what we've got to make sure as a country is that we don't keep assuming that our competitors are local. Because if in the case of, let's start with a Lime scooter, you know, for every scooter company or bike rental company who thought that they were looking at the competitor down the road and suddenly out of nowhere they were just knocked off because of basically technology.

Russell Brown:

But you still think there is enough space in this emerging field for New Zealand companies to be innovators? Oh, I think it's, we're in a really good position because actually I think we can get going faster . There's so few barriers in this space, it's really being able to think big enough to go from small scale to big scale and being able to think about, you know, in the end, if you're a software product, you're only going to be moving zeros and ones, you know, you're not, you're not physically having to shift things. And so I think what we need to be thinking about is what problems can we solve through better visibility. And if you took that frame, a frame of reference into the innovation cycle, I think you could come up with all sorts of things. You could sit in a room and think about five things right now which could be improved upon. What are the opportunities that excite you, Paul?

Paul Caples:

I'm really looking forward to the evolution into 5G. There's a whole bunch of technologies that come into play in conjunction with that. You're gonna see artificial intelligence and machine learning being deployed more ... effective leaves the edge into a whole lot of more devices. 5G removes a lot of the latency that you see today in a lot of the applications. I think augmented reality becomes real once you've gotten rid of that latency problem. 5G for us is going to solve the volume of connections we can have on cell towers massively, so we can scale a lot better. And so when you take the scaling, the lack of latency, more smarts at the edge and the combination of those elements, it really, it changes the way that people can develop services, develop products. And so that's, that's the sort of stuff I'm really interested in watching. We've got V2X-type technology coming through with the latest releases in LTE, which is a V ...

Russell Brown:

V2X. V2X is vehicle-to-infrastructure? Yeah, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-people. So it describes all those interactions and the methodology to enable vehicles to communicate with other transport elements. And if you can combine it successfully through software in a way that adds values. It takes the Waze type approach and makes the autonomous vehicle world a lot more interesting and a lot more safe. The goals around V2X is to reduce congestion and reduce carbon footprint. That's why it's been developed. The adoption of that will obviously take time, but those are the type of technologies that are coming. Is part of the excitement for you that this isn't a mature market? I mean I went into Spark and talked to some people and I did get the impression this is the start of the journey for the company as well. Yeah, so we've been doing end-to-end for a long time, but the proliferation of devices in the IoT space due to the fact that the scale that's there and in the volume of enquiries and customers and business's use cases that are coming through is ... it's really interesting. There's a lot of companies in New Zealand doing some crazy things out there that make our job fantastic, 'cause we're here to support them and make sure that they're successful. So it's really early days. Do you get that feeling too, Frances, that it is early days, that it is the start of the journey? This is only just beginning?

Frances V.:

I think for the average person, they're probably not aware, because it is such an invisible technology. I think once they start to understand how these things are working and what it is that's giving this better information that you'll start to see more people really embracing the opportunities. And I think it will come also with the, just simple solutions. And one I could think of for example, is, if you just had a small accident and you thought like A&E to go to and just to be able to go and know which A&E has currently little, very few patients sitting in the waiting room and not having to sit there for four hours because you just don't know which one to go to. Or in a case of a disaster, can you imagine how much better it would be to deploy solutions when you know what's happening and where it's happening with one dashboard view? And I think once we start to see the benefits, people will get really excited. But right now when you talk about this sort of technology, often people go back to a smart home or an Alexa device or their wearable that they're wearing and then beyond that they really don't know what's going on. And you know, telematics as you know, most of people have no idea what that is.

Russell Brown:

That sounds to me like it's not going to be one thing that makes people realise that this is actually pretty exciting and there are new opportunities. There are things happening across the spectrum.

Frances V.:

Yeah. If, if you think back to the early days of the internet and you had those sort of, you know, those early adopters, people talking about get excited and everyone else was looking like, "I can't see how it's ever going to effect me. I don't see the benefit." And then you know, a year later they're probably, you know, been to a few websites and things, and suddenly something will be the tipping point. They'll suddenly do something, they go, "That was so easy." It might've been the first time they booked a flight online or did it an online banking transaction or whatever it might be. I think it just really comes down to when people first experience it to benefit them personally. There'll be like those early internet people that some will, you know , probably half the population within five years will fully appreciate it and the rest of the population may take another 10 years before they even think about it. It really comes down to how open you are to seeing that this is an entirely new business world based upon a technology we can't see.

Russell Brown:

I've actually thought that myself, and Paul, I saw your, your grin of recognition earlier when, when Peter mentioned BYTE magazine.

Paul Caples:

Oh, absolutely.

Russell Brown:

You know , and I get the feeling this isn't just an interesting business opportunity, but it's something that warms the heart of someone who's , who's a technologist.

Paul Caples:

Oh, absolutely. See, when Peter was talking about BYTE, I mean I learnt about microprocessor design from reading that magazine and this is another world that we're stepping into. There's a whole lot of information that you need to learn about how IoT works effectively. And for me, in a technology role, it's great This is what gets me up in the morning because it's, it's, it's interesting stuff. And we noticed it's producing tangible outcomes for people and businesses. So what's not to like?

Russell Brown:

Well, that's a wrap for this first episode of the "Internet of Awesome Things", brought to you by Spark. Thank you to our guests, Frances Valintine , Peter Munn and Paul Caples. You can subscribe for more at spark.co.nz/iotpodcast or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you've heard, please rate us. We're keen to hear your thoughts and questions about what we're doing and you can get hold of us via iot @spark.co .nz. In the next episode we'll take a closer look at how IoT is already helping with the crucial business of knowing where your stuff is, when. From high value assets to courier packages and keys. I'm Russell Brown and I'm looking forward to catching up then because you and I, we have 20 billion things to talk about. [dial-up modem sound]

Meet Peter Munn
Meet Paul Caples & Frances Valintine