About this article:The Internet of Things includes so many use cases, in this article I focus in on using IoT devices to find things, and how one company (Wirepas) makes this easier for institutions like hospitals.
Company Info & Tech Check:
Lost keys, glasses and hospital equipment
There's two things in our house that get lost all the time. Keys and glasses.
Since we don't drive much at the moment, keys are less of an issue, but the hunt for either my, or my wife glasses is something we both take part in at least several times as day.
Whilst not being able to easily respond to an email without squinting or having to wait to start the movie for ten minutes whilst we search every book shelf, window sill, table top and kitchen side, most often than not, our inconvenience is temporary and doesn't develop beyond mild-frustration.
There are, of course, places and times where the loss of something can be significantly more than frustrating.
Finding things with the Internet of Things
The idea of having "things" connected via computer networks and having those things communicate with other things is a concept that has been around for quite a while.
Of course those things could be computers or mobile phones, and I think we all have a basic grasp of how computers and phones are connected to this thing we call The Internet. But beyond this there is a whole mysterious world of gadgets, devices, systems and stuff (I'm trying to avoid using the word "things" too often ) that are connected and talking to each other without us realising it.
When my career in telecoms started, we used to call this Machine to Machine (or, because everything needs a TLA, "M2M"). In recent years this has garnered significant new attention in the last few years when it was given the catchy name "Internet of Things" and now the market is forecasted to reach more than half a trillion dollars by 2022!
When you start thinking about how machines can talk to other machines, and do things without necessarily requiring human involvement, direction or supervision, you can find some pretty amazing (and whacky) ideas.
Finding Really Big Things
There's a telecoms company I know that kept loosing really big things. I won't say what these really big things were, but they are as large as a small car, and cost about as much.
These things kept getting lost in various warehouses or storage yards.
The telecom company implemented a simple asset tracking solution using its own connectivity network and now saves £5 million pounds a year by not loosing big things.
Sample IOT Use Cases
Finding Beds, Wheelchairs and dialysis Machines
Achieving efficiencies in health care is always a big topic, but even more so in the current climate.
I remember my grandfather was a foreman at a major London hospital for many of my younger years. He would often tell us of how things would go missing. From toilet rolls to manhole covers. (Oh! the stories I could tell you). So it would appear that hospitals have always suffered with things "going walkies" (as he used to say).
It turns out that a typical modern NHS hospital has more than 5,000 assets, many of which are much more mobile that a manhole cover. According to the article I read, nurses typically spend 23 days a year searching for things that are not where they should be.
These could be a wheelchair that was used in an emergency, a blood pressure monitor that is hidden behind the lockers or the keys to the medicine storage that were handed over to Sue, who gave them to Jack, who should have given them back to Matron, but now are ... well, who knows where?
Tag and Trace
In a previous life, I spent a lot of time working in the Location Based Services industry, helping bring the technology to smartphones today that we all use for navigation.
Back then, Asset Tracking was reserved for the big things that had a power source, like vehicles. But nowadays, IoT technologies bring us new connectivity and communication options which open up the possibility of many other things being tracked.
The low power, wide area networking (LPWAN) technologies that are now available mean that small devices can communicate across much wider geographies with significantly lower power consumption. Couple this with what's called "Time of Flight" information, you can find the (approximate) location of these little devices through triangulation.
Little sensors like the one in the image above (whose diameter is just a touch over 5cm) can not only connect, but gather data like temperature, movement, humidity and more. When these things are attached to other things that you want to keep track of, you can not only find them, but turn them into data gathers too. Meaning that not only can you find where these things are, but also the condition they are in. Which is very helpful in the hospital use case discussed below.
Oh, and by the way, that little battery in you see in the image will last 2 to 5 years without any maintenance.
There's so many different ways sensors of this type can be connected.
The Finding Big Things example I used above was using a network called "LoRA". Mobile networks are rolling out nationwide IoT networks as part of their 5G networks, including a standard called NB-IoT to sit alongside LTE-M and 2G networks that already support an Internet of things.
Whilst there are a lot to choose from, each has its pros and cons, but there can still be a lot of overlaps to understand.
The telecom-led options will be game-changers - when they have the coverage - until then, many companies are looking for ways to get the benefit and value from connecting their things without having to deal with the patchy coverage they might get from a mobile operator at their building or facility.
Of course, if you've got patchy coverage across your campus, the operators will be only too keen to help you fix that, if that's what you want. If not, there are other options, for example, wireless mesh network technologies like those from Wirepas.
Wirepas Mesh Networking
Mesh networking relies on many things being connected to a wireless network, and each of those things actually being a piece of that network.
Unlike your home WiFi where your laptop, smart speaker and Internet-connected-washing-machine connects to your WiFi router. In a mesh network, each of those devices can also act like the router.
Also, unlike your home network scenario, in a mesh network if one node stops working for a while, the others pull together to pick up the slack and keep the network going.
Wirepas' mesh network technology also enables each of the devices to intelligently understand the state of the network, thereby being able to route traffic across specific nodes to improve efficiency and speed.
As you might have also experienced in your home network, the neighbour's "noisy" WiFi can interfere with yours, causing things to slow down or become unreliable. Again, Wirepas has an answer for this, with each node able to dynamically change the frequency it operates on across the network.
Wirepas' mesh network is a proprietary network technology that uses similar radio frequencies as WiFi, but due to the unique software it provides significant improvements for IoT deployments that improve scalability , reliability, and cost-efficiency. In fact, one Wirepas network can support 4 billion devices!
Mesh Networks In Hospitals
Mesh networks aren't suited for all applications, but in places like hospitals they can deliver much needed results.
Wirepas has a case study on their website about the work they did with the UMC Utrecht hospital, which you can download here.
In this project, they worked with their partners to deliver a number of different IoT use cases around the hospital.
The lighting was, of course, connected up, meaning that lights had autonomy of control, but could also be managed and monitored centrally.
The lights also became special nodes in the mesh, meaning each became actively involved in managing the network and allowing other, battery-powered devices to connect more easily, more ubiquitously.
Combining the network, the devices connected to it and some smart indoor-navigation software in an app, the hospital found they now could more easily navigate patients and staff between specific locations throughs the building.
Having applied Wirepas-enabled tags to equipment, they were able to create a real-time floor plan of the hospital, showing exactly where equipment was. This enabled them to find wandering wheelchairs, broken beds and abandoned infusion pumps, saving staff time and improving patient well-being.
IoT Drives Data Innovation
With so many sensors dotted around, all collecting data, all sending information to a central server, the amount of data that is captured is immense. This is one of the other aspects of IoT - the wealth of data that can be collected.
As mentioned in the Wirepas case study, once you start collecting the data, new possibilities open up with how to use it.
This kind of optimisation involves complex data science that goes beyond your every-day statistical analysis. But when collaborating with some hospitals and R&D facilities in Denmark, it is amazing what you can achieve with hospital IoT. This of course lies way beyond the scope of project UFOund, but they do now have technology available that enables these kinds of use cases in the future.”
Find out more
If you want to know more about WiFi Mesh Networks, or how Wirepas could help, pop over to their site here. They've been going for more than ten years now, and have experience across all sorts of sectors - from smart offices, to underground networks, smart metering, logistics and industrial IoT.
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