Tag Archives: IoT

Virtual Shields

Arduino_logo2Virtual Shields — what’s that and why is that exciting (at least to me it is)? It has to do with the IoT (Internet of Things) and Microsoft’s commitment to it.

Microsoft yesterday announced at the Build 2015 conference two new collaborations with microcontroller makers Arduino: Windows Virtual Shields and Windows Remote Arduino.

What is a Shield

Arduino is famous for its Arduino Uno series of development kits used by so many who are active in IoT development (an example is shown in the photo).


By contrast shields are boards that can be plugged on top of the Arduino PCB – extending its capabilities. The different shields follow the same philosophy as the original toolkit: they are easy to mount, and cheap to produce.

That brings us to the virtual shields. Windows Virtual Shields for Arduino, which enables Arduino “sketches” (small programs) to access the built-in sensors on Microsoft Lumia phones. All that’s required is an Arduino UNO, a bluetooth module, a supported phone, and usage of the VirtualShield library and functions. The photo shows a prototype “weather station” controlled by a Lumia smartphone.

As Microsoft’s Steve Teixeira explains, “Windows Virtual Shield for Arduino enables developers to tap into the incredible power of Windows 10 devices through wireless protocols. A Lumia 530 contains well over $200-worth of Arduino shield sensors and capabilities, and we’ve made it easy to access all of those sensors and capabilities from an Arduino as if they were standard hardware shields. Imagine being able to create an Arduino project that includes GPS, Web connectivity/parsing, touch display, speech technologies and more. We’re particularly fond of the picture the weather project we’ve created that lets you bring your children’s drawings to life.”

For more information, see the full article in the Make: blog

Industry 4.0

Hannover-Messe-Logo_image_fullWhat on earth is Industry 4.0? It is a term coined by Hannover Messe, one of the most important industrial tradeshows today.

Essentially there have been four phases in industry starting with the industrial revolution. Today we are in the phase where information systems plays a major part, hence Industry 4.0.    Not surprisingly, the Internet of Things (IoT) features prominently at this year’s Hannover Messe.

Let Us Do Lettuce
A fascinating application of IoT is described on Microsoft’s blog as follows:

“One thing that will become clear this week: IoT is cutting across a wider range of industries than we’ve seen in the past. Fujitsu is bringing together its Eco-Management Dashboard, IoT/M2MP platform, Microsoft cloud services, and Windows tablets in a way that can enable managers, engineers, and scientists to improve product quality, streamline systems, and enhance functionality while reducing costs. For example, at its facility in Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan, Fujitsu is able to grow lettuce that is both delicious and low in potassium so that it can be consumed by dialysis patients and people with chronic kidney disease. They can track all of the plant info from their Windows tablets through the cloud. These solutions will also be able to help other agriculture and manufacturing companies transform their businesses through innovation.”

Who would have thought IOT and lettuce go together?

The Takeaway
Our world is changing rapidly. Because of the IoT there is plenty of opportunity for innovation. New West has plenty of innovative people. If one can grow lettuce, maybe one can track Fraser salmon too…?

Miele Smartoven
The Miele smartoven helping you cook


The Intelligent City

Microsoft's CityNextA hot topic these days is the intelligent city. So just what is it and how is it tied to the Internet of Things?

In this short post I will try and explain it by way of an analogy.

The Vending Machine Example
vending-machineWe have probably all seen and used a vending machine. You put your money in the slot, make your selection, and the corresponding soda drops down ready for you to take out and enjoy.

Behind the scenes there is an embedded microprocessor that is programmed to count the money you put in. If it is correct the program checks if there is a soda in the slot you have selected. Again, if yes, the program allows your selected soda to drop down.

Arduino Uno microprocessor card

This Arduino Uno is a typical microprocessor that can be embedded into “things”. It is very inexpensive and quite small.

It is relatively easy to program to suit your specific “thing”.


Now imagine that this microprocessor is connected to the Internet. Then a server at head office can communicate with the vending machine.

intelligent vending

The head office server can poll all the vending machines in the region and collate the information. The technicians can access this information while on the road via a laptop or smartphone and know what each vending machine needs for restocking.

If there is a technical problem they will be alerted so that they can go and fix the machine quickly – which is important for sales.

Head office will have powerful statistics on which sodas or popular, and that can allow them to purchase supplies intelligently.

In many cases the server is not physically located at “head office” but can be a cloud service provided by companies like Microsoft.

The Intelligent City
The vending machine example is fairly easy to follow. The same principles apply in many different areas of city infrastructure  and services. With intelligent microprocessors embedded into “things” like traffic lights, and turnstiles at stations and so on, one can improve traffic flow and public transportation. It is a big subject, you can read more in this summary wiki article.

People from all over the world are looking into Intelligent Cities:

Why is it so important? Increasingly people are living in cities, so it is important that we make these cities as efficient as possible. This is described eloquently by Florian Lennert in a recent TED talk:

While the concepts are not too complex, society is not there yet. A lot still needs to be done. That also means that for us as entrepreneurs there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

The Internet of Things

Picture by WikiPedia

IoT or Internet of Things—is it real? One reads about coffee machines automatically starting your toaster, and warming your car so it is ready when you leave for work. Is that what the IoT is all about?

Let’s take a closer look at where the IoT is really at.

An Overview
The IoT is certainly real and major companies are investing in it. It is too big a subject to cover in a blog post—please do read the overview paper in Wikipedia. It is a heavy read but not too technical, and gives comprehensive references.

Traditionally it has been we humans who have communicated over the internet. By contrast, the foundation of the IoT is “machine-to-machine” communication. Wherever there are a lot of electronic “things”, there is a potential for IoT. So for example, around a patient in hospital we have a lot of electronic equipment. It is not surprising to see IoT applications in healthcare with caregivers being informed of a patient’s condition via smartphones. For the same reason, we are increasingly seeing IoT applications in motor vehicles. Retail locations too are also increasingly applying IoT to improve our shopping experience.

Data Processing
It is the small applications like the tongue-in-cheek smart toaster/coffee maker example, that we normally read about in the press. But it is the large-scale applications that I find really exciting. A good example is the Underground system in London which allows operators to monitor the state of the system in real time and even spot potential problems before they occur.

The video below gives an overview of the New Orleans 911 system:

The key to making such large IoT systems work is cloud data processing and artificial intelligence technology. Large amounts of information are collected from IoT devices. This information needs to be processed and presented so that we humans can make sensible decisions. It is only logical that Microsoft is one of the leading companies in this field (see the Fast report).

Smart Cities
Like the London underground and the New Orleans 911 systems, there are many applications of IoT at the city level. Be sure to view the videos on Microsoft’s CityNext website of innovative examples worldwide.

The Takeaway
The IoT is real and is growing exponentially. It has the potential of enhancing our lives at all levels. But it also introduces vulnerabilities. Concerns include security and privacy intrusion.

A search on Google or Bing will return many thousand articles on the IoT and there are already many books available on Amazon.

If you are technical and like to tinker with things, then take a look at “The Internet of Things: Do-It-Yourself at Home Projects for Arduino, Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Blacknow available on Amazon.