Beijing is famous for its traffic. As are cities in the United States including Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. Our governments and urban planners have yet to find a golden solution to keep traffic moving–if there is such a thing. Earlier this month I came across an article in ChinaDaily about a new concept for traffic flow designed by a university student named Li Xu. After witnessing his father losing a business deal due to being stuck in traffic, Xu designed an intersection that theorizes to keep traffic moving–even without lights. This concept interested me for a few reasons: First, necessity really is the mother of invention, isn’t it? Mr. Xu designed this concept after experiencing real consequences of city traffic. But more than that, I love seeing people employing new thinking about situations that many consider just status quo. After all, that’s very similar to what we do at Lantronix. In fact, our technology’s already been implemented to address traffic problems in Los Angeles. Together with Systems Integrated, we helped LA County improve the flow of traffic and save management costs by allowing lights to be remotely managed. You can read more about it on our website. Mr. Xu’s concept made me come to a conclusion about our work at Lantronix: One of the things I like best about our technology is it can immensely improve the status quo–often without full-on infrastructure overhauls. Kudos to Mr. Xu on his idea, though– we need more people like him out there thinking of ways to make the daily grind better for all of us.
I have five children aged 12 to 24 and I’ve never seen one of them voluntarily pick up a newspaper and read it. This is not as alarming as it may sound because they are appropriately educated, informed and engaged – they just don’t get their information from the daily printed page. Many newspapers in the US and around the world have floundered because, in my opinion, they defined their business model as providing printed pages that contain articles and advertisements. Personally I love reading a great daily newspaper as often as I can, but I’m part of a dwindling population. People are voting with their actions and dollars when they consistently rank the message higher than the medium. My children and their generation feel very comfortable getting their information from on-line sources – it is more timely, more customizable than the printed page. Similarly, nobody asks their local Cable or Satellite TV supplier for a Cisco or Motorola set-top, the two largest suppliers of such devices in the U.S. Ridiculous, right? They say I want this or that package, HBO or Showtime, MLB or whatever. The equipment is necessary to get what they want, it is not the main focus of the transaction.
Lantronix is going through a similar transition. Traditionally we have always been the connectivity guys offering the little silver modules or the little gray boxes. Although very sexy to us, truth be told, increasingly what people want is actionable data so they can run their businesses and hospitals more efficiently and effectively. Notice how I didn’t say WiFi, cellular, or wired connectivity. These are a means to an end – albeit an indispensable means to an end. With the launch of AccessMyDevice™ on Sept. 30 of last year Lantronix took a big step toward offering our customers a platform and framework for accessing timely data, making it actionable, easily routing it to cloud based computing and storage and customizing the form in which it is viewed. AccessMyDevice works with all of our new products via software called VIP Access™. Embracing the fact that customers want actionable data has led us to integrate VIP Access onto customer’s controller boards, work with microprocessor companies to integrate VIP Access and enable customers to use smart phones (iPhone, Android, etc.) to access cloud based applications that interact with their devices via AccessMyDevice. For our customers, as with the newspaper industry and television programming the message is more important than the medium.
As I continually meet with customers and engage with industry analysts, it is becoming more apparent the benefits of M2M communications are starting to accelerate. This is a welcome realization for those of us who have been anxiously anticipating this day. M2M technology has already enabled smart grid applications, built management systems, and improved industrial process controls — but always as standalone solutions and systems commonly referred to as Operations Technology, or OT. Often, OT systems are not well integrated with the other business or Information Technology (IT) systems.
Operations Technology Has Taken Us Far
When we sit back and look at the impact of OT Systems, we see a profound impact of these systems. OT is the backbone of businesses that use automated machinery to produce food products, monitor environmental systems in data centers, power robotic welding machines on assembly lines, deliver fuel, and monitor our safety. M2M technology is the core foundation that captures and delivers the operational data within individual machines, equipment and devices—and allows this data to be distributed to people and systems for effective management.
Now Let’s Take Things Even Farther
As we build the enabling technology for M2M communications, our customer engagements become more exciting. Today, we can demonstrate what happens when an OT system is connected with an IT system. The benefits of OT are deepened with a business context placed around the data. An unbridled creativity is unleashed with the possibility of having accurate, real time information access with a company’s OT system tied into its IT systems. At one recent customer meeting, we demonstrated the effectiveness of using M2M technology to access real time data of fuel tanks and tie that into the company’s fleet tracking systems, inventory forecasting system, and finance systems. Armed with this information, the customer can now develop strategic initiatives that were previously out of reach for them due to cost and complexity.
Tying OT and IT Enable Amazing Business Potential
The strategic benefits for companies that embark on this effort have significant operational payback. Our customer engagements are validating these research findings. And it’s time to get on board to learn more. Gartner Research has put forth research showing the strategic benefits of tying together IT and OT closely together—I encourage you to read for yourself.
IEEE802.11n is Everywhere
IEEE802.11n is really picking up steam since being ratified a little over a year ago, with products showing up not only commercially but even in products sold at retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon. There is a lot to this standard (over 500 pages of documentation alone!) – including potential for higher throughput and better interoperability due to the extended review period, early products, and extensive testing.
Not All Devices Are Equal
However- not all 802.11n devices and equipment are created equal. While the standard allows for operating on either of two unique RF bands (2.5GHz and 5 GHz)–it is not mandatory–so a lot of equipment is ‘single-band’. Be sure to read the fine print and know what you’re buying. In real-world installations, customers are finding that the existing 2.45GHz band has become congested; so being able to operate at the less-crowded 5GHz and segregate traffic between the two bands is a key success factor. Combining this capability with antenna diversity makes signal integrity and reliability better. Antenna diversity allows the device to select the best antenna to maximize signal strength. (A quick plug: Lantronix’ PremierWave EN is one product that supports dual-band 802.11n allowing the attached equipment to communicate on either band. It also incorporates Antenna Diversity). IEEE802.11r is another interesting member of the alphabet soup. Look for that in an upcoming blog!
At the close of 2010, approximately 1.5 million medical devices across 10,000 different categories were in use around the world according to the World Health Organization. By 2015, the global medical device market will approach $300 billion (Espicom, 2010), with machine to machine (M2M) revenues predicted to increase at a rate of 17% annually through 2014 (Harbor Research, 2010). This begs the question, how many medical devices are currently connected?
There’s no easy answer to that question. Given the variations in different health care environments – like hospitals versus a patient’s home, for one – tracking estimates of connected devices quickly becomes overwhelming. We do know that in the hospital environment for starters, there are numerous opportunities for M2M connectivity. According to IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise) in 2007, “for every connected IT device in the hospital, there are 4 patient care devices that are not connected.” Pair this with the fact that in the U.S. alone, there are 5,795 hospitals with 944,277 staffed beds (American Hospital Association), and it’s easy to understand why health care is forecasted to be one of the fastest growing M2M vertical markets through 2015.
A variety of factors are contributing to the acceleration of medical device connectivity:
- Connected medical devices provide for safer patient care. Mistakes are less prevalent thanks to easy access to accurate information.
- “Smarter” devices offer immediate gains in efficiency and productivity. With a shortage of qualified care professionals like nurses, this makes quite an impact.
- More chronic care patients are also being monitored from home. As new wireless technologies proliferate both inside and outside of hospitals, IT groups have more options in how to connect new or existing devices. This makes it possible to extend quality care outside of the hospital – and also to support more patients.
- Meaningful use legislation whereby hospitals are reimbursed at better rates for implementing and utilizing electronic medical records (EMRs). This has created significant momentum in connectivity for both hospitals and device manufacturers.
This confluence of factors is pushing the increased use of connectivity solutions in an industry considered behind those such as financial services and retail.
Lantronix recently co-sponsored a whitepaper with HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management Systems Society) to gauge EMR connectivity progress across 825 U.S. hospitals surveyed. Only one-third of those hospitals surveyed indicated that an interface was present between their devices and EMRs. While progress is being made, there is much work to be done. At the recent HIMSS annual conference attended by over 35,000 health care professionals in Orlando, Florida, meaningful use and connectivity efforts were discussed extensively. This is an area where we are seeing not just significant growth, but new and exciting improvements that have the potential to change how care is delivered for years to come!