Features Tech

You are enabled: Internet of Things (IoT)

Photo provided by FarmSimple

In New York City, the workday movements, and profiles of 400,000 construction workers are tracked by Saskatchewan technology. Saskatoon-based myComply won a five-year contract with NYC. The company uses the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to help manage safety and compliance on construction sites.

But what exactly is IoT? What “things” are we talking about? Crown corporation SaskTel is well-versed in IoT. At its core, IoT is about collecting data and using it to make meaningful decisions. According to NorthStar Systems, IoT is the interconnection of sensors embedded in the tools we use every day via the Internet to computers that crunch the data. While artificial intelligence is designed to mimic human cognition, IoT is designed to augment human capacity.

In NYC, myComply uses infield hardware that communicates with their cloud-based software. It determines who can and cannot enter a construction site. Each worker carries a card that is tapped at an entry portal. Beyond logging attendance, that card carries a plethora of employee data. “Basic employee information, certifications, training and orientations completed, licenses, perhaps insurance documentation—all of this information is transmitted whenever a worker enters a jobsite,” says Zach Yuzdepski, marketing director at myComply.

This active interaction with the card, called “near field communication” is similar to the use of a credit card. In response to client feedback, myComply has since developed a Bluetooth option, which registers a worker’s presence passively when they walk within a 200-to-500-foot radius of their zone. “We focused on building individual profiles that could be shared to project decision-makers who would manage all of these profiles within a project,” Yuzdepski says. The card or badge can also be read by any smart phone, making all employee profiles immediately accessible. The technology also ensures documents are not lost or misplaced. The old aluminum filing cabinet may be entering obsolescence.

Other advantages are quickly apparent. “In New York last month, a contractor was assessed a $50,000 fine because of an accident on a construction site,” Yuzdepski says. It turned out a crane operator had an expired operator’s card. “With myComply you would have never been in that scenario involving an incompetent or unqualified worker in the seat of that crane, because you are able to verify that that worker has up-to-date training.”

myComply helps companies be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to safety and compliance. Supervisors are notified if any worker’s training has expired, via email and/or in a downloadable report.

To date, myComply has focused on the construction industry which is where it has found the most traction. But the company is currently exploring the potential efficacy of its product for other sectors, like mining. Working underground, miners are exposed to a lot of hazards and risk, and they’re required, just like with the construction industry, to have a prerequisite base of training, licenses, etc., depending on what zone of the mine they’re working on, whether underground or above ground. “We help facilitate all that. This is also important to oil and gas or even healthcare, for example,” says Yuzdepski. “There’s always standards that you set for a workforce and if those standards are regulated or managed, then I believe our solution can be a good fit for any industry.”

Another Saskatchewan company is providing solutions for folks in the agricultural industry. Catlin Lang, co-founder of FarmSimple Solutions (FSS), had a friend approach him in 2018 with an interesting request. The friend said, “I’m going on vacation in a few weeks to the lake. Would you be able to build me something that could send me a text message alert if the water goes low for my cows? I don’t want to drive back and forth every day to check it,” Lang recalls.

Lang studied Electronic Systems Engineering at the University of Regina and learned about microcontroller and microelectronics design. FSS built their first water monitoring sensor device for that friend. “He ended up liking it so much I think he might be up to five devices now,” says Lang. In the fall of 2020, the founders moved to commercialize their product from their base in Vibank.

“We have two versions of the device—one that detects normal or low water called the Herd Hand. The second is Herd Hand DT (dual temperature),” Lang says. It measures temperatures in watering bowls which are typically used in winter by producers so they can monitor the temperature underneath the bowl and then the temperature of the water itself. “If either of those two temperatures are approaching zero, we know there’s something going on, and that’s when we send out alerts.” FSS’s IoT hardware devices are located remotely in their customers’ pastures, fields, or livestock pens, “Those IoT devices are sending that data back to the Internet which we then display to our customers.”

With the FSS system, farmers are freed from hovering over the water supply to ensure the herd doesn’t get parched. “We built a calculator on our website that helps customers understand the costs for checking water. If you drive five times a week it will cost over $3,000 in a single summer, just for one water source. If you have multiple water sources, that starts adding up even more,” Lang says. An FSS system can be purchased for much less. There are resulting savings in fuel costs, fuel emissions and time. Lang has heard of cattle that broke down fences in search of water. In a worst-case scenario, some livestock died from dehydration.

The future of IoT is rumoured to be vast. “We foresee that the majority of technology in use today will become IoT enabled in the future. This is just the starting point. There’s a lot to be connected coming up in the next decade,” observes Lang. A Financial Post story reported projections of 83 billion IoT connections around the world by 2024. In 2020 there were around 30 billion connections. Millions of jobs are projected as well.

IoT is being used in healthcare, personal fitness, in sensor hubs, infrastructure and ingestible diagnostic devices, to name a few. The opportunities seem endless and may just be as vast as the Internet.

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