With thousands of end points, IoT is killing bugs and doing more

You might not have noticed, but the 14th annual World IoT Day is coming up on April 9. This year’s theme is “AI/IoT for Good.”

While the celebration might sound somewhat desperate-- like an insecure teenager craving attention and a big frosted cake on his birthday-- some members at the IoT party are seeing strong growth in the past 12 months after years of fits and starts and plain-old uncertainty. Anything but desperate.

“It’s clear we’re at a pivotal moment where IoT is making significant contributions across several industries,” declared Bryan Witkowski, head of product and strategy at MachineQ, an enterprise IoT company inside Comcast.

“I’ve been 100% focused on IoT for nine years and I think the biggest inflection point was the pandemic,” he told Fierce Electronics. It was a period in which companies and governments started pilots in IoT but needed a better sense of the return on investment.

The recent arrival of generative AI and better recognition of IoT by CIOs and CTOs, along with things like far better battery life for IoT gizmos in the field, have lately led to a shortening in what once was a two-to-three year decision cycle for IoT projects from inception to launch.

By any measure, MachineQ’s role in IoT sounds impressive. MachineQ is six years old and boasts 300 or more paying customers, 500,000 connected devices and double year over year revenue growth. (Comcast, however, doesn’t split out MachineQ’s revenues.) It splits its main focus across food services, hospitality and life sciences/health, but also supports bespoke applications. Low power LoRaWAN is its primary network transport, but the sensing at the end points is also key: there are temperature sensors to detect if refrigerators are cold enough or meeting rooms are warm enough and water sensors to monitor leaks. Motion sensors track outdoor assets, while air quality sensors keep the indoors safe.  

Also, there’s bedbug detection, if that’s your fancy. See more below.

Network transport runs over LoRaWAN on top of MachineQ hardware like MQflex and asset tags as well as third party remote hardware from partners are enabled by a customer UI in almost all cases.  Bluetooth might be a part of a total system but is not used for backhaul, while MachineQ offers cellular or ethernet backhaul. 

In one customer success example, MachineQ helped a quick service restaurant in North America install more than 114,000 small devices with temperature and humidity sensors in nearly 10,000 stores. The data is collected every 15 minutes and if the temperature (not humidity, in this example)  falls for some reason, real time alerts are sent. MachineQ estimates the stores are saving 85 million minutes a year because employees no longer have to constantly monitor temperatures every four hours. That boils down to a savings of 25 minutes per store per day. 

A bonus: the devices rely on a battery that now offers 10 years of service, up from five years in the prior generation.  Batteries in remote devices typically can add 2% to 15% of the materials cost, but the biggest concern is the time and cost of replacing batteries, Witkowski said.

MachineQ is also working with GP Pro, a division of Georgia-Pacific, to support KOLO Smart Monitoring for smart restrooms. Maintenance staff are notified when maintenance is needed, including restocking of paper products.

In December, MachineQ announced it had teamed up with Spotta to help hotels detect bedbugs in guest rooms.  Spotta, based in the UK, offers Bed Pod sensors that are installed underneath mattresses. The trap uses a pheromone with no discernable odor to lure in the bugs. If a bug is detected, a camera is activated that uses Spotta’s AI detection to analyze the photo and validate a bedbug is inside the trap.

If detected, the image is sent with time and location to the cloud using the MachineQ network, and then a real-time alert is sent to hotel employees to take action.   The network is active in the US.  Bedbug infestations cost more than $100,000 a year per US hotel, so stopping them early is key. (Bedbug-detecting dogs will be put on notice.)

For early water leak detection, MachineQ is working with LAIIER and its Severn WLD device for use in commercial properties, including hotels.  In addition to water detection and bug detection, MachineQ’s network can help support hotel staff who send an alert that they are in duress.

Asset tracking is another area of IoT growth. In the past RFID tags might have helped track valuable equipment in pharmaceutical companies, but RFID tags struggled with accuracy.  In a 1 million square foot lab, there can be 15,000 assets, but LoRaWAN and Bluetooth asset tracking tags can offer sub-room accuracy to improve equipment inefficiency and protect against hoarding.

The tags can be bi-directional and can be upgraded with a temperature sensor, Witkowski said. That kind of approach with multiple sensors and an efficient network makes the IoT platform concept more holistic for customers. “It’s a very open space and the market hasn’t been seen as holistic,” he said. “We see huge growth in indoor tracking but companies find it very difficult to talk about it publicly.”

More efficient and long-life batteries are one example of finding technologies that help IoT success. “IoT cost matters and we spend a ton of time to make it as cost-effective as possible and how to make this equation work with the right battery and our work with OEMs. So many companies are getting better at it.”

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