What do vending machines and garbage cans have in common? ¬†They both are in public places; they both need a regular visit, to fill or to empty them; and there are lots of them. ¬† There are companies now that will add sensors to them, and use cloud computing services to keep them serviced.
Once data about a process is collected and analyzed, the process can be improved. Most of the time, it’s improved in more than one way at once. Cloud feedback applications nearly always have multiple paybacks.
There are a lot of home automation systems available today. Some of the¬†oldest go back five or 10 years, and these required a¬†local controller and a special display or a link to the home TV. Also, they were difficult or impossible to control when away from the home. ¬†More recent systems are more cloud oriented, employing¬†simpler hardware with browsers and smart phones for control. This¬†article will look at one system that exemplifies cloud feedback, called AlertMe.com.
Using cloud feedback, almost any system can be monitored so that the owner of the system can prove that it performed as expected. This is often a major benefit of cloud feedback. ¬†Here are a few examples:
Regen Energy is a Canadian company that uses cloud feedback for energy management. They make a small device about the size of two packs of cards that monitors electricity demand at a single air conditioner or heater, and adjusts the electric use to save energy and money. ¬†It publishes the data to Internet web servers to enable additional savings. ¬† Read the rest of this post »
Keeping track of reservoirs and rivers is a well-established use of cloud feedback. ¬†The use of communications technology to monitor water goes back a long way, and has been transformed by the Internet.
When I lived in Australia in the 80s, I visited a dammed lake in the Tablelands above Cairns. The office of the water authority that managed the lake was about 50 miles away. They kept watch on the water level of the lake with a sensor that floated on the lake and sent a simple radio pulse every few seconds. The time between pulses varied based on the height of the water. The radio signal was picked up in the office¬†by a machine that had a pen and a moving piece of paper. The pen went down every time the signal came in, so the distance between the strokes on the paper conveyed the height of the water. ¬†Based on these readings, the water authority would plan releases of water to farmers downstream.
Ten years later I moved to Palo Alto, California. ¬† Read the rest of this post »
Fat Spaniel Technologies has provided cloud feedback services since 2003. ¬†It attaches monitoring and¬†communication¬†devices to wind and solar generators, which send data via cell phone or other networks to their cloud service, which processes and displays the data. ¬†They provide a number of ways to use the data. ¬†They have grown rapidly, and are expanding to other forms of energy monitoring.
Cloud computing refers to the placement of computer applications in shared data centers on the Internet. ¬†I’ve written and spoken about cloud computing elsewhere, and there are many good summaries online.
Cloud computing provides facilities and systems that benefit many applications — especially feedback applications. ¬†Here’s a list of the key benefits: Read the rest of this post »
GreenRoad is an interesting example of cloud feedback. ¬†GreenRoad installs a device inside a car, truck or bus to monitor the driving and fuel consumption of the vehicle. ¬†Plugging into the vehicle control systems that are present in most modern vehicles, it records speed, driver actions, and fuel consumption. ¬†It analyzes the steering, braking and acceleration of the driver, and it notices frequent turns or lane changes or sudden acceleration or braking. ¬†The device matches the data against a claimed 120 patterns to evaluate fuel¬†efficiency¬†and driver safety. ¬†It displays these quick calculations as simple green/yellow/red lights for the driver.
It also conveys all this information via cell phone data networks to servers in Greenroad’s data center. ¬†Drivers get periodic reports and personalized driving tips. ¬†Using GreenRoad’s portal, the owner of the vehicle (e.g. a bus fleet manager) can see trends in the data as it accumulates. ¬†The information is graphed to show which drivers are the most efficient or the most safe, and the ones that are getting better. ¬†The combination of local feedback to the driver, and cloud feedback to both driver and owner, results in significant improvements in energy efficiency and safety. Read the rest of this post »
Whenever we use a machine, we measure something to get feedback about how it is performing. When I drive my car the speedometer gives me instant feedback on how fast I am going. I get slower feedback when I refill the car and find out how much gas I’ve used. If I run a store, my cash register will tell me what is selling and what I need to restock. When I use an exercise machine, it may measure how long I’ve exercised, and when I step on scales I get a measurement of how effective the exercise has been been.
The more things I measure and the more frequently I measure them the better the feedback; and the better the feedback, the better the results of whatever it is I’m trying to do. Naturally it makes sense to put a computer in the loop. ¬†A computer can keep track of the feedback automatically, it can compare feedback with the past, and it can even tell other machines (“actuators”) to take action based on the feedback.
As recently as five or ten years ago, it was very costly to computerize feedback systems. It involved placing a computer at the same location as the thing being measured, usually with a wire installed to connect to the sensor, and with a custom-designed user interface to deliver the feedback to a human being. ¬†If off-site access to the feedback data was needed, an additional remote access network had to be employed. ¬†Now things are different. Internet access is ubiquitous, thanks to wired, wireless and cell phone networks, so the computer can be located almost anywhere. ¬†Today, the feedback interface is easy to to build, since any Internet-capable device with a browser will do.
When a computer is in the feedback loop, and it runs in a data center located on the Internet, I call that “cloud feedback”. ¬†The computer is “in the cloud” and its program will deliver feedback about any machine or process in the real world. Cloud feedback computer applications are growing rapidly, primarily due to reduced costs. ¬†The cost of computing in the cloud has dropped dramatically (between 10X and 100X) in the last ten years. Meanwhile sensors that can detect things in the world have also gotten much cheaper and smaller.
The purpose of this blog will be to identify a number of examples of cloud feedback systems, and to look for common patterns in their purposes, design, and implementation.