From My Vantage Point

5 Ways The IoT Will Change The Face Of Modern Cities

One of the very first things that generally comes to mind when most people think of a city is traffic. Thick, heavy traffic and congestion, in fact. Public transportation has helped significantly reduce traffic in most large cities, but it continues to be a fairly significant pain point, with parking being next. 

With the population of most cities rising, land that has traditionally been used for vast parking lots or even parking structures is now in high demand for housing, making less space available for parking. Thankfully, technology is also helping to not only help traffic in large cities run more smoothly and efficiently, but it is also helping to decrease the need for parking. One of the most prevalent technologies assisting this process is the Internet of Things. Here are five ways how the Internet of Things (IoT) will change the face of modern cities.

1. Rideshare services

Public transportation can significantly reduce city congestion, but it is often time-consuming and doesn’t take you right where you need to be. Taxis are much more efficient and help cut down traffic, but they are both expensive and often in short supply. Rideshare services, however, utilize GPS tracking with smartphone apps that allow almost anyone to put their car into use for a few hours as a taxi of sorts. Not only does this cut down on the need for parking, but it also reduces traffic, since one car can carry multiple people to various locations instead of each person  having to bring their own car.

2. Faster and more efficient parking

In most large cities, drivers spend anywhere from six to fifteen minutes just driving around looking for parking. That adds up to 35 to 105 hours per year that drivers are spending just looking for a parking space. In addition, studies have actually shown that when one driver is waiting for another driver to leave a parking space, that driver actually takes longer to vacate that space. New connected meters will allow drivers to use an app that will tell them exactly where and when a space becomes available, eliminating the need to drive around looking for one.

3. Better public transportation

One of the many difficulties with public transportation is simply how confusing it can be to get from Point A to Point B in many large cities. Google Maps integrates public transportation information directly into the app, allowing riders to get a detailed picture of exactly what they need to do to reach their destinations. No matter how many transfers they need to take, GPS from both their phone and public vehicles show them exactly where they are and exactly where their ride is.

4. More efficient traffic

Smart traffic systems can communicate with each other to better direct the flow of traffic. If it is slow or congested in one area, smart signage helps redirect traffic to an open route, which helps reduce congestion and even pollution. Traffic systems even communicate directly with most map apps to help the apps themselves reroute traffic and alleviate congestion in busier areas.

5. Better building management

While traffic may remain one of the most prevalent problems in cities, the cities themselves are also a major drain of resources and contribute significantly to a number of environmental problems. Smart buildings, however, will use IoT technology to create more efficient energy management. Smart windows can darken or lighten to help manage light and reduce energy usage. When the sun is brightest, the windows can darken to help cooling systems operate more efficiently. When it’s cloudy, they can lighten to let in available light. Smartphone tracking will also help increase heat or cooling in rooms getting used heavily and decrease heat or cooling in lightly used areas.

By |June 27th, 2019|

How Tech Giants Are Making Use of DLT

Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is popping up in everything from healthcare to supply-chain management. Though tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon initially steered clear of DLT, they are now investing enough time and resources to indicate DLT usage is growing, and that its applications are becoming more wisely used.

The reasons Big Tech shied away from DLT — a secure online ledger that in its guise as blockchain is used for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin — is that at first pass cryptocurrencies and blockchain are difficult for even the most tech savvy to understand. The technology also has performance issues. Additionally, when the cryptocurrency bubble burst, the combined value of all the currencies declined 85 percent.

Despite the fact that the banking industry hasn’t been disrupted as predicted at the height of the cryptocurrency boom, most big tech companies are still investing in DLT and many have launched major DLT projects. These companies don’t want to be left behind knowing that DLT has many potential uses, including elections, because it is very difficult to hack; and that the technology may still prove valuable to the online banking industry.

IBM, arguably the largest player in the space, now has 1,500 employees working on DLT and has contributed HyperLedger Fabric, an open-source collaboration hosted by the Linux Foundation. HyperLedger can be used to set up a network where users can share information and is positioned to become one of the industry standards for enterprise blockchain frameworks. IBM also has its own blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) called IBM Blockchain, which allows users to build their own blockchain network, as well as a DLT platform aimed at banks. At present, IBM has secured the most patents related to blockchain.

Microsoft also has a BaaS, an Ethereum-based network on Azure, that will enable developers to build applications. Azure’s most well-known blockchain application is Blockchain Workbench, which simplifies app development. The company is also working to develop a framework that will improve throughput as well as a blockchain-based identity prototype that uses Azure and could help the 1.2 billion people worldwide without formal identities as part of the ID2020 Alliance.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) said in 2017 that blockchain wasn’t on the agenda for product development, then recently launched two products and stated AWS has the largest global platform for building end-to-end blockchain platforms. AWS Blockchain Templates allow the faster launch of networks and AWS’s BaaS could allow for testing international payments.

Google has been more vocally supportive of using DLT technology from the beginning, investing in Ripple and LedgerX. The company announced in 2018 it would partner with Digital Asset and BlockApps, two DLT start-ups, to allow customers to figure out ways they can use DLT on the Google Cloud Platform. In February, Google announced it is making Bitcoin blockchain data available to encourage transparency.

Facebook was interested in digital currency even before Bitcoin, and Mark Zuckerberg publicly said he was looking into the technology in 2018. He placed high-profile executives on a DLT team and there has been much speculation about Facebook’s blockchain intentions. It has even been said that Facebook may be developing its own currency to be used through Facebook or WhatsApp.

DLT is still in the early stages of evolution, and its usage is held back by throughput and cost. However, it is evident that the tech giants remain open to its possibilities and continue to invest time and resources. Forbes even recently released a list of “blockchain’s billion dollar babies” — 50 companies actively implementing DLT.

Another recent study done by KPMG states 41 percent of tech companies will implement DLT over the next three years.

Irrespective of where the big tech companies fall on the growing list of  DLT advocates and champions, make no mistake that DLT is here to stay. As it becomes better understood — and fully appreciated for its empowering functionality and resulting benefits and advantages — it is my belief that DLT will ultimately improve efficiencies in virtually every industry on the planet in some way, shape or form. Mark my words.

By |May 24th, 2019|

What’s the Roadblock for Driverless Cars? Humans

The first car appeared in late 19th century Europe. It would soon revolutionize transportation and society as people knew it, offering new independence and economic possibility. It wasn’t until the 1939 World’s Fair that people envisioned a futuristic society in which humans didn’t have to always be in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically. Cars that could drive themselves were a fantasy that would signify a new age.

While it seemed like the Twilight Zone back then, that future is closer than we may think. The self-driving car has been in stages of research, testing and production for the past several years. In 2017, the hype for driverless cars reached a peak with companies like Google, Uber and more starting to produce them. If the idea comes to fruition, connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) could dramatically reduce the 1.3 million people per year who die in automobile-related incidents. They could also improve traffic conditions in congested metropolitan areas, reduce stress, and free up humans to spend time outside the confines of the vehicle.

However, excitement from these technological advancements have met some roadblocks, no pun intended. In March 2018, two tragic accidents alarmed everyone in the industry. A self-driving Uber struck and killed a pedestrian, and a Tesla autopilot Model X car killed a customer when it crashed into a lane divider.

These incidents poured cold water on a burgeoning idea. Google’s Waymo, which didn’t have any such tragedies, slowed its rollout of vehicles in showrooms. Manufacturers need to conquer the remaining technical challenges before our roads consist of empty driver seats. Now, experts are predicting that self-driving cars may not enter the market for several more decades. Automation poses a challenge to self-driving cars succeeding, but it is humans who are, ironically, the real hindrance.

Artificial intelligence shines brightest in the self-driving car. So what’s missing? Human intelligence in situations like avoiding a jaywalking pedestrian. What’s more, the computer systems that CAVs rely on are at risk for hacking. Fiat Chrysler recently recalled 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees after discovering they were easily hackable for functions like acceleration and radio. The CAV would rely 100% on similar computer systems, requiring much more robust security. Another challenge is ensuring sensors read signs correctly after suffering  harm by things such as  vandalism or weather damage.

How can the automobile industry overcome these challenges and persevere with the self-driving car? Finding a way for humans and computers to mesh well on the road is key to breaking through barriers to this technology entering the market. Until then, fully automated vehicles pose great risks to humans, whether they are in the vehicle or on the sidewalks as pedestrians. Emergency vehicles like police and ambulances will likely still need human drivers who can communicate with the automated vehicles on the road.

At the moment, driverless cars remain in controlled testing environments where structures like lane-changing systems, post-accident braking and crash avoidance systems are being improved. The University of Michigan is leading the effort with its autonomous city. There may be a long way to go, but the future is bright with the combination of seamless technology and the power of the human mind.

By |April 26th, 2019|

Mining the Untapped Potential of DLT

I have long believed that digital ledger technology (DLT) will be so disruptive in so many sectors throughout the world that it will one day be bigger than the Internet, and I am not alone in that view.

Computerworld.com senior reporter Lucas Mearian wrote in January 2019 that DLT displays the same sort of potential once shown by TCP/IP, the framework for the worldwide web. No one could have pictured a quarter-century ago that the Net would be such an integral part of our everyday lives, yet here we are.

And here comes DLT, a decentralized ledger most often associated with cryptocurrencies. Such ledgers are, in essence, asset databases capable of being shared among countless participants, with any changes made by any party shared in real time, resulting in increased transparency and security.

DLT is a term often used interchangeably (and erroneously) with blockchain, when in actuality the latter is a form of DLT used in conjunction with bitcoin, the much-hyped crypto launched in 2009.

Mearian cites a Gartner study of CIOs concluding that whereas just one percent of companies had put DLT to use in the spring of 2018, that number had increased to 3.3 percent less than a year later. Mearian believes that that trend will only continue, and others agree, noting the way in which DLT is expected to reduce infrastructure costs by no less than $20 billion by 2022.

DLT’s reach is expected to be wide-ranging. One report lists 13 use cases, another 21. Particularly notable are the following:

  • Elections: Because e-voting is secure and convenient — i.e., there’s no need to travel to a polling place — it is viewed as a method by which turnout can be increased, while minimizing the possibility of voter fraud. It was enacted in a non-governmental situation in 2016, when Nasdaq and the Republic of Estonia put in place a system that enabled shareholders of companies listed on the Tallinn Stock Exchange to vote in shareholder meetings. Pursuing this same approach to managing voting in U.S. elections could prove to be materially effective, particularly in view of the fact that according to a 2018 Pew Foundation study, the U.S. ranks. as 31st among 35 developed nations in voter participation. In 2016, West Virginia became the first state in the Union to employ DLT-based technology in a primary, representing a potential sign of things to come in evolving election processes in this country.
  • Healthcare: DLT is seen as being particularly critical in this space, where patient identification and information blocking remain enormous concerns. There is no uniform method for identifying patients, which can lead to errors on the part of the provider and harm to the patient. Information blocking — described as “an unreasonable constraint imposed on the exchange of patient data or electronic health information” — is widespread. Both issues can be alleviated by DLT, since electronic medical records can be made accurate, secure and free from potential interference.
  • Real Estate: DLT’s most significant impact here is in the area of smart contracts, since it is possible for a buyer and seller to complete a deal more efficiently (and, again, more securely) via this technology; neither brokers nor attorneys need to be involved. ShelterZoom, a New York City-based startup, is planning to launch a platform that does just that in early 2019, and some 90 brokerages around the world have tested it. Property data could also be stored in an online ledger, though Hunter Perry, Senior Manager of Strategic Growth at Compass, cautioned in a piece for Forbes that transferring current records would be a Herculean task.
  • Supply Chain: Because of DLT, it is possible to track all facets of logistical  processes. Any party involved can know the nature, quality, quantity and ownership of whatever item (or items) are being moved through the pipeline, and can be aware of it in real time through such technology as barcodes. That is of no small consequence to producers, manufacturers and inspectors, as well as consumers. Anyone can be involved in quality control, which is particularly critical when it comes to matters like food safety.

From my vantage point, the future value proposition of DLT cannot be adequately quantified, because the opportunities are so vast and boast disruptive potential for game-changing innovation and enhanced efficiencies across a growing number of sectors and industry applications. Nonetheless, make no mistake: DLT is the future and great wealth will undoubtedly be created for those who embrace it and successfully harness its dynamic potential.

By |April 19th, 2019|

How Smart are Smart Contracts?

Technology is causing business transactions to change their very nature. Automation is making them quicker, more accurate, more secure and with fewer errors. With the help of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, human travel and paper trails are quickly becoming inconveniences of the past. Enter the smart contract.

Smart contracts are agreements between people executed through computer code. The business exchange, be it keys for rent, candy for vending machine change or money for groceries, can be done entirely electronically. There is no stroke of a pen, swiping of a credit card, signing of a check or shaking of hands. Since its discovery in the early 1990s, smart contract technology is helping more secure and efficient business practices launch into the future.

Smart contracts are possible through blockchain technology, a digital ledger that keeps records of financial transactions, notably those involving such cryptocurrencies as bitcoin, on a peer-to-peer network. Blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT), stores transactions on a public database, making them more secure.

These so-called “smart” contracts bring many benefits. The electronic nature of each transaction standardizes the rules, significantly reducing the costs of reaching, formalizing and enforcing an agreement. When it comes to any agreement between two parties, DLT can track a transaction’s performance in real-time. The peer-to-peer network keeps track of each transaction so that no third party can interfere and/or manipulate it, ultimately making transactions much more secure and the people making them less vulnerable to identity theft and other forms of fraud.

The automobile industry will see the benefits of smart contracts through self-driving cars and a reduction in car thefts. Automated keys store the owner’s identity on the blockchain. Banking can be improved by automating several transaction processes and making them more secure.

When voting through smart contracts, security is no longer as much of a concern due to the reliability of blockchain technology. Voting processes and turnout can also benefit. Simplifying voting execution and making it done remotely can increase voter participation significantly.

Healthcare is also expected to  benefit from smart contracts. Processes like authenticating patient data and executing insurance trials will be simpler and cheaper. Schools, law firms, supply chain companies and real estate agencies should also reap the rewards of smart contracts, and other businesses figure to benefit, as well.  In fact, many argue that smart contracts will prove valuable to nearly every business on the planet that handles transactions.

Though smart contracts bring the promise of many improvements to modern business practices, they may not be as smart as they seem. They are only as intelligent as the people doing the coding and the information available to them at the time. It is also still a new technology, making it vulnerable to pitfalls and bugs. Possibilities for mistakes make smart contracts much more accessible to hackers.

As mentioned, today’s smart contracts primarily center around cryptocurrencies. There is much to do before smart contracts are a regular part of daily life. Questions linger on governmental regulation, taxation, and backup plans for when transactions go wrong. However, as technologists work to solve the pitfalls of smart contracts, they become more and more woven into the fabric of our business culture.

By |March 7th, 2019|

Is Cannabis the Solution to the Opioid Crisis?

America’s most pressing problems span many political, religious and economic situations. When identifying the cause and solution to these problems, the opioid crisis is often directly connected. It affects people of all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and education levels. However, solving it requires more than just addiction treatment. It inevitably means preventing addiction before it even begins.

The truth about opioids

Opioid addiction has grown from a crisis to an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that nearly 50,000 people in America died of opioid addiction overdoses in 2017 alone, which equates to approximately 130 deaths per day and a 10 percent increase over 2016. What’s more, the United States consumes about 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioids while only accounting for roughly 5 percent of the world’s population. Since 1991, opioid abuse has been exasperated by the fact that prescriptions have increased by 300 percent.

Opioid addiction leads to a slew of other devastating problems such as increases in diseases like HIV, decreased life expectancy overall, and gateways into other drugs. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that about 80 percent of heroin users began their downward spiral by misusing opioid prescriptions.

Other than cutting off opioids altogether, how can pain be managed and addiction prevented and treated? The answer may be growing in the yard. Cannabis, the controversial drug often associated with recreation, is proving to have significant medical uses.

The cannabis effect

As a drug, cannabis can treat pain and also prevent/combat dependence, helping to curtail addiction by decreasing tolerance for opioids and thus reducing needed doses of narcotic medications. Research on chronic pain treatment shows medical marijuana can reduce or even replace opioid prescriptions.

Cannabis’ function as a positive alternative to opioids is undeniable. The National Academies of Science and Medicine showed cannabis reduced opioid usage by up to 60 percent. Another study showed a 70 percent drop in opioid dependence when replacing narcotics with cannabis. Ingesting cannabis also resulted in fewer side effects and improvement in cognitive function.

The research  speaks for itself on medical marijuana helping to curb the opioid crisis. Even so, cannabis may have a long way to go before becoming  widely accepted as an alternative form of pain relief.

Cannabis is now legal for medical use in 30 US states but struggles with continued taboo stereotypes. The government classifies it only as a Schedule I drug, defining it as unuseful medically and potentially dangerous recreationally, like heroin or LSD. These obstacles make it challenging for researchers to obtain grants, which in turn limits their ability to study cannabis’ true nature.  Nonetheless, there are those who are making headway.

In June 2018, the FDA approved the first pure cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, a liquid formulation developed by GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH) for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. While GW Pharmaceuticals’ focus is not on pain relief, according to GlobalData, there are currently 60 other ongoing clinical trials with cannabis-based products with the majority of these products being tested in pain or psychosis.  

Though there is still much to be done in the form of research on cannabis’ potential to curb the opioid crisis in the United States, the evidence thus far points to much potential. Speeding up the implementation of medical marijuana across the country requires more investment and political backing. Perhaps, then, it can help make the opioid crisis a distant memory.


By |March 4th, 2019|