Bits and Joules – Solving Global Problems Through IoT Solutions
This blog was guest-written by Tanuja Ganu, Co-Founder and CTO at DataGlen
For more than 80 years, people have envisioned a world where inanimate objects and animate beings operate together in harmony, enabling a safer and smarter planet. Today, with the wide availability of connectivity, low-cost sensors and powerful machine learning algorithms, that vision is fast becoming a reality.
These technologies have the potential alleviate some of the most significant problems facing humanity, from water scarcity and hunger to a lack of affordable healthcare.
Dr. Richard Smalley, a Nobel laureate, recently listed the top 10 problems – energy, water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy and population – currently facing humanity. Cheap energy was near the top of his list, and Smalley argued that energy is the key to solving every other problem.
When I read his article for the first time, I completely agreed with his reasoning. Since I’ve lived in both developed and developing countries, I’ve personally seen how access to energy impacts a country’s quality of life and economic growth. In developing countries, an acute shortage of energy and constant power cuts are a part of normal day-to-day life. And in developed countries, wasted energy comes in the form of malfunctioning appliances or woefully inefficient operations.
Over the last few years, I’ve designed technologies that address such energy issues. After my graduate studies in machine learning at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), I started working with the Smarter Energy group at IBM Research in India, which applies various computer science and electrical engineering techniques to the world’s clean energy challenges.
While there, I became particularly fascinated with the concept of demand-side management (DSM). As part of DSM, a consumer can shift their energy demand and reduce overall grid load during peak hours, thus reducing the number of critical power cuts. Though traditional DSM techniques are effective in addressing peak demand, they are based on centralized controls that require expensive communication and computing infrastructure. I soon realized that such techniques are not practical for developing countries.
Hence, the major design challenge was to make these solutions simple, inexpensive and easy to implement so they would require no additional infrastructure or changes to existing appliances and grids.
Considering these challenges, I developed a low-cost approach based on autonomous, embedded devices under the theme of a “Smarter Planet in a Plug”. By working with a talented interdisciplinary team at IBM Research, I designed three devices – nPlug, SocketWatch, and iPlug.
nPlugs reduce peak load on the power grids by shifting battery charging and water heating from peak hours to off-peak hours. SocketWatches prevent appliances from wasting energy by monitoring their energy consumption patterns. And iPlugs help adoption of distributed energy sources by making optimal decisions between injecting the electricity into the grid and consuming it locally.
In evaluating prototypes of nPlugs and SocketWatches, we found nPlugs correctly defer loads to off-peak hours without inconveniencing consumers, thereby reducing peak loads by up to 45%. Similarly, SocketWatches are able to pinpoint malfunctions in air conditioners and refrigerators.
I wanted to go beyond research, though, and develop innovations that can succeed in real-life, commercial settings. So, I co-founded DataGlen, a company focused on IoT-based industrial asset management. These assets include solar plants, wind turbines, fleets of cars, and medical equipment; all of which can be operated optimally to increase their return on investment (RoI).
In the case of a solar plant, by using various data analytics techniques, the system can tell us a number of things: how much energy could be generated tomorrow, if any specific equipment is expected to fail, or if a particular set of solar panels needs cleaning. These techniques can help us find the root-cause of specific issues in the plant, making it easier than ever before to optimize operations.
And in the case of fleet management, a car can send an alert in the face of reckless driving or arrange for emergency services after an accident. In the healthcare field, connected devices can provide continuous monitoring and medical support for the ill.
As I work more in this space, I realize how these technologies will impact people, the planet, and society. In fact, many large corporations such as Cisco, GE, and IBM are investing heavily in those technologies. We need more and more people (including young men and women) who are passionate, creative and inspired to change the world by participating in the next technological revolution.
That is why I am participating in the Women Rock-IT Cisco TV series — to inspire young women to consider exciting careers in IT and to support them in their journey to address the global challenges of tomorrow.
Register today to take part in my talk during the session: “