Efento – monitoring of physical values based on wireless NB-IoT sensors

Short description of the innovation

Efento has developed a modern solution for monitoring of physical values based on wireless NB-IoT sensors and Cloud platform. Efento was selected as one of 12 European companies to develop NB-IoT based solutions in partnership with T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom.
Efento sensors are one of the World’s first NB-IoT sensors. Comparing to other wireless solutions, Efento sensors offer enhanced battery operation (up to 5 years), good signal coverage since communication infrastructure is provided by telecom operators and easiness of configuration and installation.
Efento’s products are mainly used by pharmaceutical industry, healthcare (hospitals, clinics) and food processing industry. Efento works on expanding its NB-IoT sensors portfolio by several dozen types of sensors, including motion, light, vibration, CO, flood.

 

NB-IoT Sensors communicate directly with Efento Cloud which is responsible for data storage, analysis and alerts.

 

 

Description of the innovation

 

Problem

In 2016, the value of products (mainly pharmaceuticals and food products) that had to be disposed of due to poor storage or transportation conditions was $ 80 billions. We found it worthwhile to solve this problem, and after analyzing the environmental monitoring solutions available on the market we came to the conclusion that most of them are complicated to use and their installation requires IT or industrial automation expertise. We wanted to prepare solutions that, despite being targeted to the professional market, would allow for quick installation and convenient operation. Moreover, many products sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, like drugs, vaccines, food need temperature control during storage and distribution. Manufacturers must comply with the product storage and  distribution requirements as stated in, the GMP and GDP requirements, ensuring its safety and security throughout the supply chain (cold chain).

Our goal was to develop a temperature monitoring platform which allows to monitor both buildings and moving assets and would be the most convenient for the user. Finally, we decided to expand the scope from temperature to other physical values too. Efento Nb-IoT sensors measure and send to the cloud platform various physical values including temperature, humidity, differential pressure, VOC, acceleration.

 

Application benefit & customers benefit

Using NB-IoT in physical values monitoring system reduces the cost of implementing and using the system by about 30-40% compared to popular sensors solution.

The key advantage of this communication technique is that the user does not need to build infrastructure needed for a sensors to transmit data to the Cloud – sensors use connectivity provided by the network operator (telcos). As a result, the installation and maintenance of sensors is much simpler and cheaper. Another benefit is that Efento NB-IoT sensors are optimised to operate effectively on battery (up to 5 years maintenance-free operation – depends on the configuration). NB-IoT has been designed to penetrate the walls well and to provide connectivity in places which are hard to reach (e.g ceilings) this allows users to monitor physical values basically anywhere.

Using a cloud platform to gather, analyze and proceed the data allows organizations to build more flexible models – e.g. company’s QA department can monitor temperature in warehouses located around the World or one person can monitor forests fire in whole region or a country. Moreover, a cloud platform doesn’t require IT expertise one customer’s side to install and maintain it.

Another important thing for customer is reliability – NB-IoT is the only LPWAN with SLA guaranteed by infrastructure operator. Efento Cloud platform is run on 12 servers which ensures full redundancy.



NBIoT communication

 

From customers’ point of view installing and configuring Efento NB-IoT sensor is quick and easy – all customer has to do is to register sensor’s serial number in the cloud platform. Sensors can be configured either remotely (via cloud platform) or locally, using a smartphone with Efento Logger mobile application.

We plan to deliver the whole solution as a service – customer buys monitoring service which includes all the components (sensor, calibration certificate, platform and connectivity) for a certain time (e.g. a year) and after that period, he will renew the subscription, get a new sensor with calibration certificate. This will allow customers to focus on their core business and only get the measurements / alerts from the cloud without taking care of the technicals.

 

Development of new applications

Both sensors hardware and cloud platform have been designed in a way that expanding it to new physical values sensors is easy.

Combining NB-IoT and Cloud computing opens new possibilities for monitoring conditions in remote places – for instance it becomes easy to monitor forest fire, temperature in high mountains, water level in lakes and rivers or monitor, if road signs and high voltage poles have not fallen down. Efento NB-IoT sensors are equipped with built in memory and can be also used for assets tracking and / or cattle monitoring.

 

Efento Sensors

Efento sensors are equipped with Bluetooth LE and NB-IoT. These two communication interfaces allow sensors to communicate directly with smartphone over BLE interface and to send the data to remote cloud platform / servers over NB-IoT interface. Sensors are powered by two AA, 3.6 V battery which, depending on configuration, can work for up to five years. Devices have built in memory, in which they store up to 30 000 historical measurements. The measurement period is configurable from 1 minute to 10 days. Efento sensors can measure various physical values including temperature, humidity, differential pressure, VOC, acceleration. Currently we work on adding more physical values, including motion, light, vibration, CO, flood.

Sensors’ key features

  • Two wireless interfaces – Since Efento sensors have two interfaces, they can communicate with smartphones and gateways over BLE (up to 400m LoS) and with cloud platform / servers using NB-IoT. Two interfaces give user flexibility and possibility to use Efento sensors in the way that suits his needs the best
  • Optimized communication intervals – user can set up upper and lower thresholds. If threshold is exceeded, sensor will immediately send data over NB-IoT to cloud platform / server. Otherwise, sensor will send the data periodically (e.g. every six hours) in order to save the battery
  • Optimized message size – when sending the data over NB-IoT sensors use optimized, protobuf based protocol. This allows to make the packet size smaller and optimize battery lifetime and data usage.
  • Encryption – communication over BLE interface can be encrypted with AES128, communication over NB-IoT is encrypted with DTLS and telco’s encryption on top of that.
  • Wireless configuration – sensors can be configured by a mobile application over BLE interface, remotely, from Efento Cloud platform or can be pre-configured when placing an order – in this case user just places a sensor wherever he needs and it sends the data to the cloud right after unboxing. There is no need to plug a sensor to a computer in order to configure it
  • Security – if a device detects strange attempts of configuration / changing settings, it will block access to its configuration. Unlocking access to configuration requires owner’s action
  • Over the air firmware updates – sensor periodically checks if there is new firmware version on the server and can automatically update it without connecting to a computer
  • Built in calibration certificate – sensor keeps the dates of calibration in its memory. When calibration should be done again, user will automatically be notified
  • Built in memory – sensor stores 30 000 measurements in its memory. Data can be read by a smartphone with dedicated Efento application. Moreover, if there are any troubles with NB-IoT communication, sensor will resend missing data automatically, right after communication is re-established
  • Ready for the World – Efento sensors support two NB-IoT bands what makes them ready to work around the World. BLE communication is compliant with standards and sensors can communicate with any BLE device

 

Efento Cloud

Efento Cloud is a cloud platform, hosted in Amazon Web Services’ data centers. Platform is hosted on 12 servers, what provides full redundancy. Platform is built of numerous microservices and each block is responsible for different functionalities. Efento Cloud is designed to handle large amount of data, which is stored in NoSQL database. Platform is constantly monitored and in case of any abnormalities, administrators are notified.

 

Efento Cloud design and technical information

  • Redundancy – each microservice runs on a separate machine or on few machines. In case of server failure, other machines will take over their job. For instance, Cassandra database, where measurements from the sensors are kept, runs on three instances. In order to provide users with the data, it must match in two out of three instances
  • Designed for Big Data – platform has been developed with Big Data in mind. The whole architecture is designed to receive, analyze and proceed large amount of measurements from the sensors
  • Data analysis – platform analysis every incoming measurement and can support user decision making process based on the analysis
  • Scalability – platform is developed to be easily scalable, depending on the number of sensors that send the data to it. We can easily handle a fast data growth by having a well working Load balancer and architecture which allows rapidly adding new instances or running code on faster machines.
  • Monitoring – there is a separate machine dedicated for the monitoring purposes. Monitoring software checks the state of other instances (e.g. CPU usage, RAM usage) and if it is to high it will automatically inform system administrators, Moreover, there are scripts running which can handle some potentially dangerous situations (e.g. restart a component in case of failure)

 

Comparison with existing solutions

NB-IoT is a technology designed to send small packets of data using mobile network and ensuring long battery operation. Its advantage over other LPWAN is that network infrastructure is built and maintained by a telco what guarantees service level (by SLA).
Our solution based on sensors and cloud platform is one of the World’s first physical values monitoring solution which uses NB-IoT. In our opinion, NB-IoT will be also the cheapest communication solution, due to large scale and milion of devices which will use it to communicate.
Sensors are equipped with two wireless interfaces what allows user to use them either with smartphones or cloud platform. User can select the working mode, depending on the use case.
Cloud platforms are the future of the monitoring – it is much more convenient for the user to only use the software, not to configure, maintain and update both machines and software. There is still a large number of monitoring solutions based on local servers and some of the existing cloud platforms are developed in a way that makes them not scalable. We believe, that Efento Cloud is one of the sensor platforms which offers the most functions for the users.

 

Importance of the innovation

The importance of our solution is that it combines the latest technological innovations and creates a modern monitoring solution.
Our solution is one of the World’s first physical values monitoring solution which uses NB-IoT. NB-IoT is a technology designed to send small packets of data using mobile network and ensuring long battery operation. Its advantage over other LPWAN is that network infrastructure is built and maintained by a telco what guarantees service level (by SLA).
On the other hand, its advantage over other GSM based technologies (2G, 3G, LTE) is battery lifetime – device can work for up to ten years on a single battery what makes deployment and maintenance of hundred of sensors quick and easy. In our opinion, NB-IoT will be also the cheapest communication solution, due to the large scale and milion of devices which will use it to communicate.
Moreover, for us, as a young company it is important that we could be one of twelve companies in the World, which were selected by Deutsche Telekom to develop NB-IoT based solutions.

All the data gathered by sensors is stored, analysed and processed in the Cloud platform this approach makes it easier for customer to use the IT system, without maintaining, updating and monitoring its current state – all above are done by our engineers and system administrators.

Efento NB-IoT sensors has been tested in Deutsche Telekom’s hub:raum with test Nb-IoT network BTS. Currently, we launch commercial tests with customers to get their feedback on how the devices work in real scenarios. We think that devices should be commercially available by the end of Q1 2018, depending on network rollout speed, availability of NB-IoT modules and tests required for CE certification.

 

Is the innovation on the market?
We currently started pilot program with few customers. Time of the product launch in certain countries depends on telcos readiness with NB-IoT infrastructure. For instance the Netherlands is already covered with NB-IoT, and in some other countries (i.e. Greece, Germany, Poland) the network rollout begins.

 

NB-IoT Temperature sensor – data sheet