The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Ville Mickelsson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CyberLightning, a Finnish technology company. Mickelsson described how platform technology will be needed to integrate various Internet of Things and smart city applications so that they can move beyond their “experimental” phase to become truly useful and widely adopted.
This interview has been edited.
Paul MacDonnell: How do cities use your company’s technology to become a “smart city”?
Ville Mickelsson: To move beyond the experimental, pilot phase every smart city, power grid, or distribution network, like a gas distribution network, that uses the Internet of Things will need an “Internet of Everything” platform upon which many technologies can operate and interoperate. Our focus and testing-ground during the past number of years has been developing systems for the energy sector: for example, monitoring, visualizing, and managing power output from groups of wind turbines that need to work within a mesh of other energy management applications.
Our energy sector Internet of Things platform is vertically and horizontally enabled. It functions as a communications and management platform for different energy sources across a wide geographical area while linking consumer-level information to information from power generation facilities. The architecture is open, and we have embedded our own geographical information system (GIS) technology that utilizes external databases, such as NASA databases. We have also scaled the technology in such a way that, using the right authentications and authorizations, a manager can view and interact with the system via a PC, tablet, or smartphone. The platform scales up to the cloud and also down to the individual micro-PC or gateway. What all this means is that the management of multiple sources of power or energy, such as electricity or gas distribution, can be both integrated as if they were a single source and intelligently distributed, between different professionals over a wide area, so that they can work together. This overcomes the complexity that is generated by the growing diversity of energy sources and energy providers and points the way to fully-integrated smart cities.
The technology can, for example, draw data on electricity and gas usage from individual households. This is the backbone for a smart city where different information sources are integrated.
MacDonnell: There are many companies making products for the Internet of Things and smart cities. How does Cyberlightning stand out?
Mickelsson: Wind turbines are a great demonstration of what our technology does. Our platform software, CyberVille, can be embedded across an entire wind turbine park to optimise its overall operation. Measuring things like wind speed, vibrations, and the grid’s demand for power each individual turbine can be fine tuned so that the overall operation of the park is exactly what is required, giving the whole set the characteristics of a virtual single generator.
Information sent, for example, from one installation in New Zealand can be sent back to turbine manufacturers and that data is then automatically available for all other windmills to optimize their operations in real-time together with an ability to improve the future deployment and design of wind turbines.
MacDonnell: CyberVille allows users to create 3D models of large data sets. What is the importance of 3D visualizations?
Mickelsson: Getting different systems to work together means a greater quantity of data and one of the things we have learned is that its value is diminished if it cannot be presented in a way that is easy to understand. So we developed a 3D graphic interface that displays information to utility managers in a way that enables them to immediately understand fast-changing complex situations. The presentation is such that priority streams of data cannot be missed.
3D visualization holds a mirror up to the real world. With an energy grid it can show you where the energy is flowing and, if there is a power cut, which individual houses are affected. When presented in a 3D visualization this information is much more quickly and easily understood.
MacDonnell: In January 2015, your company joined the Industrial Internet Consortium, a multi-industry collaboration to establish common architectures, interoperability, and open standards for industrial applications of the Internet of Things. What is the value of this collaboration in the growth of the Internet of Things?
Mickelsson: The industry needs to agree on standards. This is recognised by the main innovators and players. I co-chair the Energy Working Group in the Internet Industry Consortium and try to foster the collaboration in that context. We are also one of the key-contributors in FIWARE, an EU funded open-source future Internet platform project, which is another collaboration initiative that we see as being very beneficial. The challenge remains that we need to have as much standardization as possible and political decision-makers have to focus on this need as this is where they can make an important contribution.
MacDonnell: Smart cities are a relatively new concept, and the technology like yours to support them is still emerging. What does a mature smart city look like? Given that the Internet of Things will be a platform for innovation, can we even accurately imagine what a smart city 25 years from now can do?
Mickelsson: Smart cities of the future will not just have separate silos each supported with its own set of smart devices. The key thing about them is that there will be multiple new technologies but that they will talk to each other. For example, the fire or police vehicles can be enabled to alter traffic light sequencing during an emergency to provide quicker access to an accident or crime scene.
I see automated information being segmented between different layers. For example, a gas explosion in a pipeline would cause information to be relayed to utility providers that use it, local emergency services, and the general public who would be warned to avoid the area. Each of these messages would be different. But there will be also be ways for interactions between different services to enhance information that we can only guess at.