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The Importance of Location to the Internet of Things

Originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-location-internet-things-rob-sterpin

Internet of Things with location markers, a truck, a pipeline, and various devices

Location is often a key component of IoT. The location of a sensor is of critical importance in many applications such as pipeline monitoring, measuring cellphone reception, water transportation, and the shipping of fragile or hazardous materials. In all these cases, knowledge of location can greatly improve service quality, reduce cost, and even enable catastrophic events to be avoided, and modern registry technology can reduce the cost and the time to deploy the applications that will provide these benefits.

Monitoring

Consider the example of pipeline monitoring. Modern distributed fiber optic sensor technology makes it possible to sense gas, oil, or water leaks along the length of a section of pipeline, often well before these leaks are significant. However, the measurement alone is not very useful since it only provides a location in terms of a distance along the pipeline from some reference point. To be at all useful, this must be converted into some form of geographic coordinates. And even that is of limited use, since the operator also wants to know the specific component type (stainless steel pipe segment 4ft1) and the specific component instance involved in the leak (perhaps a pipe segment that was bent during installation). This can enable the operator to determine where, exactly, the leak is and if the component type involved in the leak exists elsewhere in their network. But still more is required for maximum usefulness. Sensors may be able to determine if there has been ground motion at the leak site, enabling the system to suggest this as a probable cause of the leak and then to determine if there are other areas in the network that might be subject to similar ground motions that could induce other leaks.

A modern registry can readily store the pipeline geometry and enable sensor measurements, such as leakage and pipe displacement, to be correlated with the pipeline component type at the leak point, and also determine where all other such component types are used in the network. Furthermore, it can store information about the ground geology to enable an application to assess the potential for causes of similar leaks in other areas of the network. Finally, it supports the automated delivery of this information to engineering and response staff.

Registries can manage all of the metadata concerning components and component types in the pipeline, as well as the pipeline sensors themselves, including location and component connectivity. This greatly reduces the cost and time to deploy a complete and useful monitoring solution, delivering key information to the operator’s engineering and response staff at the moment it is needed.

Usage Distribution

Another example of location in IoT is that of measuring the distribution of cellular signal strength for a wireless carrier.

As wireless services expand, service providers need to build ever more cellular signal towers, which are expensive to install and operate, and which are very often opposed by local residents. Optimizing on cell tower deployment is thus critical to the quality of service a carrier can provide its customers and to controlling its capital and operating costs. The measurement of cellular signal strength by the carrier’s technical staff can be quite expensive, especially in a city. IoT can solve this problem by measuring the signal strength and location using the cell phones of the carrier’s customers.

A simple app can capture both signal strength and location (GPS) and provide this information to a monitoring application built using a registry. Modern registries can readily capture and store both the real time data and the location of the cellular towers, and easily support the generation of alerts based on areas of very low or very high signal strength. Using this data, the carrier can then rapidly determine where new towers are needed and where they are not.

Logistics and Transportation

A third example of an IoT application where location is essential is the monitoring of goods in transit. Many goods are perishable and subject to damage or degradation if they experience significant shock, high humidity, or high or low temperatures while en route from the field or other point of production to the consumer’s home. Sensor chips can now be packaged with the product to measure the product’s environment while in transit. Knowledge of the location of the product can then help to either improve the transit process to minimize damage, or to apportion any liabilities or other costs to the right component of the supply chain.

Modern registries can store information about the product, the transit system, and the data acquired in transit from the sensor attached to the product, including its location. Registries can be embedded at various points in the supply chain, such as at the point of production and packaging, in shipping containers, and at the point of delivery.

Registries can also store metadata about the sensors attached to the product or the transit system, the shipping route, etc.

Since registries are web services supporting open standard protocols (see Standardizing IoT via the OGC Registry Platform), the data and metadata can be readily accessed for processing and display at any point along the supply chain.

Registries

Registries are a fast and low cost way to deploy a wide variety of IoT solutions. Since Registries are fully spatially aware, and support geographic data transactions and queries, they make an ideal platform for where location is an important IoT component.