Vodafone uses IoT across stolen cars, mental health, beer

Providing the connectivity behind IoT solutions has seen Vodafone help recover almost 1,000 stolen vehicles, assist hundreds of children unable to attend school, and keep track of beer kegs across Australia.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Vodafone's global Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity play is seeing it solve issues across stolen vehicles, children's mental health, and beer tracking, the carrier has said.

Speaking during the annual CeBIT conference in Sydney on Wednesday, Binary Beer CEO Michael Burton described how his company is using Vodafone Australia's narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network to transform traditional beer kegs into "smart kegs".

"We're developing a platform that makes sure that beer kegs never go missing, and they don't get lost, damaged, and stolen, and also that the beer they serve on tap ... is fresh, just as the brewer had intended it to be," Burton said.

"So to do that, we've developed these IoT sensors that attach to the beer kegs ... that can send data in real time back to the brewer."

According to Burton, this data then enables the brewer to make decisions on how best to optimise the supply chain, and also to recall beer if it hasn't been stored correctly and is at risk of going stale before it is served.

This protects brewing companies' reputations, Burton explained.

He added that from the very beginning, Binary Beer has always primarily been an IoT startup.

"Right from the start, we were an IoT company, and if we didn't implement IoT, I think we would probably be lost in amongst an already established industry," he said, pointing to companies that were already using technology such as RFID codes to keep track of beer kegs.

"I often say ever since man first put beer into a beer keg, man has wanted to track that keg to make sure it doesn't go missing."

In choosing to go with Vodafone's NB-IoT network for the platform, Burton explained that Binary Beer had launched at a time when LoRaWAN towers were being built; however, he said these were being rolled out "very slowly", with the company also concerned about needing coverage across the entire nation.

"The trouble was we wanted to go to market now ... even with some of the commercial providers that are out there as well, our issue is that these kegs can be just about anywhere, and we need to be able to track them no matter where they go," he explained.

"So the only way we could go to market quickly is to depend on the existing network of coverage that the kegs can talk to, and that means something like Vodafone's NB-IoT network."

Vodafone had revealed to ZDNet at CeBIT last year that it would be launching live NB-IoT networks in Australia, New Zealand, and Germany during the second half of 2017 following the launch of its NB-IoT network across six cities in Spain in January.

It then announced launching a commercial NB-IoT network in Melbourne and Sydney last October after running NB-IoT trials with Huawei for the past year.

According to Vodafone, tests saw "significantly greater coverage in terms of distance and depth" in comparison to its 3G and 4G networks, with the signal able to travel up to 30km and penetrate three double brick walls.

"NB-IoT offers customers a range of benefits including greater power efficiency, with devices able to run on batteries for 10 years or more on a single charge," Vodafone's executive GM of Enterprise Stuart Kelly said last year.

"Australians will see a huge variety of products, services, and applications enabled by NB-IoT over the coming years as more carriers, vendors, utilities, and commercial organisations roll out and harness the benefits of this new way of connecting devices.

"We expect NB-IoT to be a key driver behind Australia's move towards becoming a smarter, more connected country."

Also speaking during CeBIT on Wednesday, Vodafone Global Enterprise head of IoT APAC Justin Nelson described how the carrier's IoT solutions have helped recover 966 stolen vehicles using tracking and sensing technology.

Rather than a car owner discovering that their vehicle has been stolen, and eventually getting it back three months later after it has been wrecked, Nelson said it is now possible to predict a car's behaviour, use artificial intelligence (AI) to notice anomalies, and track it down within a day.

"This was a connection that's doing integrated tracking connectivity in the car, which is to collect information; connected to a central hub, which is the connection; and then storing that data and running AI across the top of it; and then that is supported from the action point of view from secure operating centres that have the ability to recognise the change in behaviour effectively of the car, interrogate that behaviour, and then make the decision on whether they dispatch [police]," Nelson explained.

"So we've recovered 1,000 cars doing this ... it completely changes not only your recovery, but your ability to change your insurance conversations as well."

In terms of IoT across mental health, Nelson pointed to the "No Isolation" program originally developed in the Netherlands to help provide inclusion for the approximately 19,000 children there who are unable to attend school due to a chronic illness or condition.

The solution involves building a robot that serves as a child's avatar, which he said becomes their "eyes, ears, and voice" to keep them connected in school, sport, and leisure environments.

This shows how IoT is moving into "areas that weren't even conceptualised" three to four years ago, he said, rather than simply being used to gather utilities data.

"The purpose of this also is to change the mental health of the actual patient," Nelson said. "This solution has been deployed in seven countries now, there's 400 children that are using this."

Vodafone also used its CeBIT presence to showcase smart home devices, tracking devices, fridge sensors, and a connected helmet.

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