In an insightful and extensive conversation, Abhishek Mutha and Priya Ravindran of EFY got in touch with RR Bipin, vice president, Digital Services – IoT, Product Engineering Business, Tata Elxsi, to talk about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will play a major role in developing connected cars, telehealth and smart cities.
Why has ‘IoT’ become such a buzzword today?
A: The IoT has created such a huge buzz because the technology in it is very progressive. Affordable processing, newer power management techniques, connectivity at affordable prices, and most importantly, the willingness of people to invest in smart phones, has created the right platform. The possibilities of long-term evolution (LTE) and Internet Protocol version six (IPv6) present a large plethora of device connectivity at high speeds.
What would be the requirements to migrate from Internet Protocol version four (IPv4) to IPv6 for IoT?
There is a certain limitation that IPv4 imposes in terms of the kind of nodes we can support and the kind of scale we can support out of that. IPv6, a very logical evolutionary transition, calls for technology nodes, gateways and sensors to be designed accordingly.
With the number of connected devices exploding, would this transition be able to handle addressing issues?
Well, it depends on the combination of technology and business decisions. The technology part of it is addressable. I think the problem is in terms of breaking those investments to be able to revamp your existing systems and enable new systems that can actually take multi-sensor aggregation.
What are the broad trends you are observing with respect to the IoT?
The trends have largely been in terms of aggregating existing use-cases and possibilities, and developing interesting new ones.
Smart City. One of the largest talked about IoT use-cases in India, smart cities are a beautiful aggregation of connectivity technologies and a lot of areas that we focus on like connected cars, industrial automation, fleet and logistics. The leverage of an underlying platform that can help otherwise discrete systems to seamlessly talk to each other is key to its success.
Connected Care. Another growing area is connected care, largely known as telehealth. This is going to be a huge area for India owing to the number of doctors and medical facilities around urban centres, which would be a driving factor for migration of labour and people. Remote health care is also a thriving field.
What kind of changes is the IoT driving?
From computers to devices and sensors to nodes, there has been a technology upswing that has happened. There is a huge possibility of using big data systems and analytics to process data and make decisions in near runtime. These possibilities are the brainchild of the Internet age. Social media, varying nodes, distributed compute and cloud compute are all presenting various possibilities of managing varying loads without compromising on compute needs.
IoT is beginning to drive behavioural changes. For instance, consider the taxi scenario today. The whole approach of customers and the professionalism levels demanded of cab providers has gone up multiple folds, thanks to the intervening technologies around IoT. That’s the kind of change we are speaking about.
What do you think would be the biggest change that a smart city implementation would bring?
In a country like India, we have a huge history and culture to preserve in the transition of a city into a smart city. This migration is more of an organic process for us, where there is preservation and migration. It is more of a thematic problem.
What are the changes you are observing when it comes to connected cars?
Connected car, again, is a very classical case of IoT technology simply because, for some reason, people conceptualise IoT better when something is moving around. But at a fundamental level, there is a huge challenge in terms of aggregating multiple data that exists within the car itself; this could be sensor data, vehicle data, propriety data and general purpose or on-board diagnostics (OBD)-based data.
Today, the need for a connected car is driving the telematics unit. It aims at bringing in all of the data to the backbone, which connects to the cloud. There are also a lot of fundamental architectural changes to cater to enhancements, like enriching user experience, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication and programmable displays. The biggest trend is that cars are now being taught to understand the driver. The car continuously learns to understand the driver’s behaviour, driving style and preferences, and adapts to it slowly.
How about the market in India?
The interesting thing in India is the unique way in which premium features get blended into cars. Unlike the global market, you will see mid-sized cars integrated with many premium features, to satisfy customers. The Indian market is value sensitive, contrary to the notion of being cost-oriented. They are willing to spend eight to ten lakhs on a car if they can derive value from it. With such high-end features being introduced in lower-end cars, and openness to technology, this market is one to look out for.
Social media aggregation to connected cars is all set to become big. Connectivity is seeing a bright future. But the main question here is, “Who owns the car data? The automobile manufacturer or the Silicon Valley?”. Social media is with Silicon Valley, while car data is with the automobile manufacturer. These are very interesting trends in automotive IoT.
Could you share some interesting trends that you are observing in the healthcare segment?
Lifestyle diseases and care for the elderly are two areas of growing interest. The ability to access healthcare on a daily basis is important. By providing healthcare, we do not mean the emergency situations that need direct attention, but lifestyle diseases that are equally hazardous but very much under the radar. For instance, diabetes management or managing implanted devices like deep brain simulators for a person suffering from Parkinson’s. The battery power and device health need continuous monitoring. Our telecare platform aims at offering continuous monitoring, connectivity, data analysis and facility to alert users and primary care-givers, with sufficient margin for intervention.
Apart from monitoring, any other areas where you feel telemedicine would come into play?
Today, healthcare has moved into preventive healthcare. It is not about resolving a crisis, but the ability to predict it based on patterns that come from powerful analytics engines. An analytics engine continues to understand the person, learning the person’s behaviour profile, and predicting trends. Wearables is going to be the next big thing for telehealth.
The idea is, today, you are not diabetic. But given your lifestyle, you have a change in your body weight for the last couple of years and according to the patterns you have locked in, they tell you that you better start walking daily right away, rather than check your blood sugar level when you are 45 and realise that you are diabetic. What matters is how you derive value in a predictive fashion, and this is what the IoT is all about. These systems will bring you on track, because it is not just one data; you are analysing a larger database. You have the opportunity to look at millions of people around you and refine your learning engines accordingly. Hence, your predictions tend to be truer over a period of time.
Telehealth systems and consumer medical devices — which do you think would be more disruptive in the future?
We are in a process where everything is happening in bits and pieces. But then, you will suddenly feel the need to amalgamate it all, because it will become unmanageable. I think the kind of systems and designs that we do today aggregate. The question with off-the-shelf consumer medical devices is how many such you can buy and aggregate, and whether you will derive genuine value out of them. I think that’s the challenge. I have observed that technology always oscillates between segregation and aggregation.
Talking about aggregation, the Iot has begun a trend of partnerships between companies on a whole new scale. What would be your take on this?
Today, there are multiple technologies, telecom providers, device manufacturers, system-on-chip (SoC) companies and vertical solutions providers. But all of them come together offering connectivity to multiple base like the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the license to spectrum, the very specific radio frequency bands; all these together with connectivity technology. There are computer sources, and of course, you need vertical domain knowledge for each of these. What it essentially means is that no one guy can do it all. That is what is driving less of compartmentalisation and more of ecosystem partnerships, with each partner bringing in a fundamental value.