IoT – Blockchain Platform For Automotive And Manufacturing

By T Murrali :

Irvine, California-based NetObjex provides enterprises and technology companies with the most comprehensive IoT-Blockchain platform. NetObjex was founded by an eclectic group of individuals from multiple disciplines including software and hardware engineering, product management, sales, and marketing.
NetObjex has teams in the US, Thane, India and Hanoi, Vietnam.  NetObjex provides a comprehensive end-to-end set of platforms for implementing IoT-Blockchain solutions and helps bridge the gap of connecting the physical world to the virtual world.
NetObjex focuses on four markets: Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Automotive, and Smart City.  Though there are overlaps among them, “we use IoT & Blockchain for digital asset tracking, tracing, performance, utilisation and efficiency. Digital assets vary from industry to industry. For example, for a logistics company with a fleet of trucks, the trucks will be the asset. For a supply chain company with goods in the warehouse, the goods would qualify as assets. So for every physical asset in the real world there will be a digital equivalent which is otherwise called as digital twin. The digital manifestation of the physical asset enables us to monitor this asset more closely,” Raghu Bala, CEO, NetObjex, told AutoParts Asia.

Linking The World Of IoT To BlockChain

Our platform is IoT first, with data is acquired from different sources.  Data is then transmitted through communication pipes such as 3G, 4G, LTE, Wi-Fi, LoRA, Sigfox, etc, to the cloud, where decision processing takes place.  During the analysis of the data, the platform can utilise AI and Machine learning, identify patterns and make necessary changes in processes to realise effective operations.  This technology can be applied to various industries such as health care, water distribution in smart cities, hotels and hospitality sector, and much more.
Blockchain, the second part of the platform, is used in order to have certified, immutable, tamper-proof data storage, he said. Blockchain is cryptographically secure. It is also decentralised as no one entity owns the data. “It is in a third place where both of us can see the data at the same time. In this sort of set-up there is no room for doubt. You put the data in a trusted place which is the Blockchain.”
Smart contracts are an interesting feature of several blockchain technologies wherein certain code is executed when a specific condition is met, for instance, record every instance when a truck driver exceeds the speed limit by 20kmph. “Blockchain is a combination of data, logic and networks,” quipped Bala.

IoT And Blockchain In Automotive

When asked, how IoT and Blockchain can reshape the landscape of automotive, Bala provided several examples.
“In automotive it can be used for smart parking. We work with a parking sensor company called PNI which has sensors on the road, under the asphalt. The car’s metal and the sensor couple so it knows there is something heavy sitting on the road and that the parking slot is taken, so you know how many slots are left. Using IoT we can calculate the parking charge based on the time taken. We extended this by incorporating the IOTA decentralized network and incorporated usage-based billing via cryptocurrency payments. The parking meter is just one example of how crypto-currency and decentralised networks are changing the world of automotive,” Bala said.
Bala highlighted the functioning of the fast-food chains in the US where drive-through is a very big business. “About 75 percent of all fast-food revenues in the USA is from drive-thru. If you move that up by just one percent it means billions of dollars of additional revenues. As cars become autonomous, the idea is to make cars an extension of the driver by equipping them with a digital wallet.  With this, the car can use crypto-currency to make payment at the drive thru and all the passenger has to do is to pickup the food and move on. This saves time and removes billing errors. In automotive, it is all about trying to make the cars smarter,” he said.
“We developed a prototype for Dynamic Wireless Electric Vehicle (EV) charging partnering with the automotive consortium ITIC (International Transportation Innovation Centre).  We demonstrated it in the city of Seaside, Florida to a major automotive OEM and they liked what they saw. We are in talks to take it forward. It is wireless dynamic EV charging where you drive your car in a particular lane that has coils underneath it. The car will have induction equipment to pick up the charge for the battery while in motion. Billing will be usage-based i.e. for the time spent in the lane, from entry to exit. In the long-term, I am sure induction charging will come into highways with some stretches of the lane having this equipment. You don’t have to halt and park, the vehicle will get charged while you drive,” he said.
In India, about the automotive industry, Bala shared this view, “Using our IoT and Blockchain platform, one can help reduce or prevent occurrences of odometer fraud. Odometers could be adjusted downward to hide the fact that a given vehicle travelled off-course prior to reaching its intended destination; in some scenarios where one’s compensation is predicated by the miles drive, unscrupulous drivers could also adjust the miles driven shown on the odometer upwards, in order to receive a higher compensation.”
In the odometer fraud scenario, an edge-device has to be placed in the vehicle as a tracking mechanism. Bala said, “In the automotive space we leverage OBD2 (On board diagnostics) port in vehicles and include firmware to push the relevant data upstream. About 80 percent of our focus will be on the platform, the back-end. When no edge-device exists, we develop the necessary hardware and firmware and have done so in several domains.”

Data Sharing In Automotive Sector Using Blockchain

As the world quickly progresses toward autonomous cars, a key area of concern is the sharing of data among automakers.  Bala commented, “Data sharing among automotive players in the eco system is very important as it involves safety and security issues.  One of the consortiums NetObjex belongs to is ITIC – International Transportation Innovation Centre, run by Professor Joachim Taiber, a former professor of innovation at Clemson University. He works with different car companies on test beds to experiment with different theories and concepts. One of the biggest areas he is focusing on is data sharing. ITIC is trying to get everyone to share data.”
“Sharing data can be accomplished in various ways. One of the ways is to collect it from all auto sources like OEMs, distributors, service groups, third party sources, etc and put it in a decentralised network. Crypto-currency and distributor ledger technology has really taken off in countries that have a socialist mindset; many countries in Europe don’t mind sharing data as they don’t believe in hoarding it. We must ensure that it becomes more broad-based to include more countries. You can share and still compete; companies need to think about that. You compete based not on the data but the algorithms, how you are able to synthesise such data to develop knowledge. Data should be shared universally,” he said.

Edge Computing, Cloud Computing And AI

In contrasting how decision making can either be performed locally (or at the edge) or done in the cloud, Bala illustrated with the following scenario. “For instance, in a transportation ecosystem,one can measure traffic patterns on the road through sensors. If there is vehicle congestion on the road, then the localised sensors may be able to provide feedback from a given traffic junction and make localised decisions, but each node wouldn’t know what is happening across the network. In order to ease the congestion, the cloud will aggregate data from all the nodes and make a decision to change the traffic pattern,by adjusting the length of each traffic light, so as to ease congestion. Aggregate decision-making would be made at the cloud level,” he said.
Bala also commented on how AI links in the decision making process.  “Artificial Intelligence (AI) has three main branches: machine learning, natural language processing and robotics. In the above traffic example, Machine Learning can be leveraged to figure out what can be done to improve traffic flow, which is very dynamic and changes with time (e.g. during school holidays the pattern will change significantly).
Another example may be the peak periods at airports.  One can easily draw a correlation between airline arrivals and departures to the traffic flow in the areas surrounding the airports.  Ola and Uber operators can utilize such data in planning their routes for pickup and drop-off.”

Manufacturing In India

Among its various new ventures, the company has started working with different types of kiosk manufacturers in the US. These are deployed at different locations for various purposes. Some are mobile charging stations for phones, some for gaming equipment.  Acknowledging the “Make in India” initiative, NetObjex has plans to manufacture some hardware in India.
“We have brought some hardware to India for mobile phone charging kiosks; now we are trying to manufacture them here because it is less expensive than shipping and paying customs duties etc. We are talking to a few companies for partnership,” Bala said.
He said the process is under way. NetObjex has its Indian headquarters in Thane, Maharashtra. Answering a question on how soon this would happen, he said, “We are doing it now. We have brought it to our office in Thane a month ago. We are in the process of reaching out to public locations with high traffic (malls, airports etc) to supply our mobile phone charging kiosks.  These kiosks are state-of-the-art IoT devices with finger print recognition that can be locked while your phone is getting charged, so that you don’t have to hover over your device while charging for the fear of it being stolen. We have also included an advertisement model – in exchange for charging your device, you will be asked to participate in a survey and/or watch an advertisement. The data collected in the process is monetizable, while it’s still free to the consumer. The ad campaigns will be run by the vendors wherever this is located or even national campaigns; the idea is to exchange data for charge. This is one of the things we are trying to bring into the Indian market – an interesting product, easy to understand.”
In order to illustrate further this point, Bala spoke of a prospective client in India who supplies heavy machinery tools to several companies. When a machine breaks down, it can significantly reduce labour efficiency as workers remain idle for short periods. This impacts revenues and bottom-lines of those organisations; the longer the equipment is down for a week the greater the impact. A combination of IoT and Blockchain can help prevent such occurrences.
“In IoT, there is a concept called Preventive Maintenance. In machines the temperature could go up, if the oil level is low or because of vibrations. You can gauge the temperature or vibration by using sensors that collect data in real time and transmit them to the cloud where our platform runs. We have edge-devices that compute all these.”

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