Revolutionizing the IIoT Industry One Streetlight at a Time

IIoT provider Ubicquia took its streetlight solution from a daydream to distribution

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For some, innovation can stem from a dream or scribbles on a cocktail napkin. For Tre Zimmerman, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ubicquia, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) provider, his next idea came from taking in the view one afternoon from his son’s bedroom window. At 2 p.m., Zimmerman noticed that a streetlight outside was still lit, when it clicked that that connectivity and power, nearby and readily available, were as accessible as the nearest street lamp.

“It gave me the sense that there obviously was power coming off the top of this light pole, and all we had to do was figure out how to tap into it,” said Zimmerman,

Up until that point, there were three major barriers that stood in the way of easy IIoT implementation for Ubicquia:

  • Power: Distributed power is necessary 24/7 to create, store and transmit data.
  • Networking: There is a shortfall of broadband capacity to meet IIoT demands.
  • Cost: The price tag of cobbling such systems together can be staggering.

When Zimmerman recognized that a light pole could potentially solve all three of those challenges, the idea for Kairo began to take form. Over several months, Ubicquia designed and built a wide range of microcontroller boards featuring a variety of sensors and actuators that could be housed in a form factor no larger than a soda can.

Sao Paulo industrial IoT Kairo Ubicquia

The Kairo Solution

Kairo took form as a customizable router that could plug into the cobra head of a light pole and access a city’s existing power infrastructure, enabling cities to become smarter virtually overnight. Kairo empowered sensor and application data to be harnessed by myriad of smart-city applications, delivering improved operations and planning, as well as better decision-making by city government.

For example, the Kairo solution could be used to create a network of pollution sensors that measure air quality in São Paulo, where air pollution kills more people than car accidents. It was also designed to perform other functions, such as:

  • Parking or asset tracking
  • Detecting gunshots
  • Guiding EMS response
  • Controlling lighting remotely
  • Providing security

Powering the IIoT

Ubicquia used the Kairo solution to address the current IIoT power challenge by tapping into an existing infrastructure. There is a light pole every 120 feet in every major city, yielding 255 million streetlights ready and able to be connected and networked. Since Kairo devices connect and interconnect, they can merge a local area network (LAN) into a single Kairo unit to aggregate and launch data over one wide area network (WAN) connection.

Installing a Kairo device on a cobra head takes a mere 15 minutes. Once the power supply is engaged, a simple twist activates the device, enabling it to call home to its cloud to authenticate and receive instructions. The device also has the ability to integrate software and hardware, and can work with big data over any cloud platform—no matter whom it belongs to—delivering actionable, big data in real time and promoting intelligent response. Additionally, Kairo handles digital sensors of all types, and contains the components necessary for networking, storage, communications and video surveillance.

Redefining the Networking Landscape

The wireless broadband shortfall in the IIoT market results in insufficient capacity to accommodate 20 billion devices. Kairo, instead, targets the LAN segment. Low power wide area network (LPWAN) standards are capturing the IIoT connections. The result is a seamlessly integrated, scalable and robust comprehensive platform, rather than a pieces-and-parts solution.

A Cost-effective Solution

The Kairo solution was also designed to eliminate network rental charges, enabling a whole city to be connected in just days. The city retains control of the network and can monetize the installation long term, while costs of acquiring, integrating and managing smart-city devices are substantially lower. Ubicquia’s Kairo delivers a complete and purpose-developed total solution that can be integrated and built at a cost that is approximately 60 percent lower than other solutions.

Taking Kairo Further

While it was clear to Zimmerman that he could connect smart cities overnight by tapping into the existing infrastructure of streetlights with a 10-person company, the reality of such a task was still quite daunting.

When Ubicquia reached out to Avnet to help identify necessary components, Avnet not only helped Ubicquia source the right components, it took the innovative concept much further, assisting in development, finding the best manufacturing partners, and optimizing the cost profile of the product. Ubicquia received the full power of Avnet’s IIoT expertise, supported by sales, supply-chain, design-chain and service teams.

In the case of Kairo, an example of Avnet’s value is seen with its suggestion to make the product customizable online. Given that the product is a stack of application-specific boards, all with different functions, it is easy to add a board or take one away. Now, you can go online and just click, drag and drop a variety of boards in place based on specific needs.

Adds Zimmerman, “I knew Avnet was a component supplier. I had no idea it was a full-service shop. Someone that can look at my plans and ideas and then help me figure out all of the logical steps needed to bring my product to life. Avnet didn’t just show us how to make the product. It showed us how to make the product better.”

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