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The IoT Inside Job, with Fujitsu in Australia

The Internet of Things, in whatever form, is a concept catching the imagination of partners, vendors and customers across Australia. Yet despite such momentum, a clear strategy still ceases to exist - Julia Talevski explains how Fujitsu is fast taking advantage of such market innovations
Dr Alex Bazin and Brad Freeman (Fujitsu)

Dr Alex Bazin and Brad Freeman (Fujitsu)

For a company the size of Fujitsu, it can often be a challenge to take advantage of the latest developing innovations in a timely manner.

To help combat this, the technology giant turned on an innovation fund in 2018, which seeks to endorse new project ideas through proof of concepts or early stage trials of new technologies.

“We have the benefit of leveraging off our global business,” explained Brad Freeman, vice president of business application services at Fujitsu. “Through establishing an innovation fund we’re encouraging good ideas to come into the business from our own staff and customers, and we fund proof of concepts and early stage trials.

“It’s hard to develop innovative solutions in such a big company, that’s just a reality.”

On the flip side, such as approach exposes Fujitsu to new skills and the start-up community; as well as the trials and tribulations of getting an idea off the ground and bringing it to a form of commercial reality.

“It provides a vehicle to do all the right things around agile development, quick go-to-market, getting funding quickly and then demonstrating that idea,” Freeman said. “The company has set up two sides to this initiative - one that provides funding; and the other aspect specifically leverages solutions from its Japanese headquarters and local ecosystem.

“The innovation fund has been an interesting experience - we had trouble getting people to bid for the funding, which didn’t need to go through a big approval process.

“If applicants came up with a good idea, we will fund it, but we also needed to prove that we could fund the idea on the spot, and all we ask is to track its progress.”

As a result, Freeman said the technology provider has witnessed some interesting reactions to the innovation fund, discovering last year, over a period of six to nine months, that some applicants developed full solutions that are now in pilot mode with the potential to take the next step in commercialising the idea.

“Others fell by the wayside, recognising that it was a challenging experience - it’s hard work to build these things from scratch,” he said. “The aim is, for every 10 projects, if we can get two or three of them commercially launched or injected into the business, that’s a positive step.”

Building tech smarts

In the case of IoT proof-of-concepts, Freeman added that the technology provider develops skills within Fujitsu to use a variety of different business partners, sensor devices, software platforms, and build an experience with that, which can then be used in other parts of the business.

“It’s been an interesting mix for us to learn from,” he added. “The outcome is both skills development and commercial ideas that we can take to market, giving us direct links into the start-up community.

“We’re working directly with a couple of start-ups, providing some technology equipment and expertise off the back of that funding to help support them. For us, it’s been a good learning curve, helping us to develop new products and it’s also been a good challenge for our business culture.

“This is how we need to develop solutions locally and then leverage the power of the Fujitsu global engine room to bring that into the local environment in Australia and New Zealand.”

As a result, a couple of projects were operating in pilot mode during early 2018. One case was ‘Project Owl’, which was being used by NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, before completion of the trial in July 2018.

The project used drone technology and image recognition to detect flora and fauna that may be hidden or thought to be extinct.

Brad Freeman (Fujitsu)Credit: Christine Wong
Brad Freeman (Fujitsu)

There are thought to be about 1000 species of endangered flora and fauna in NSW alone, according to Fujitsu Oceania head of sustainability, Lee Stewart.

The idea behind Project Owl was to also gain further insights into the endangered flora and fauna regarding whether they’re thriving, and other influencing factors and environmental conditions.

Then, the data was used to help train the artificial intelligence engine and program the video analytics so that the drones could then go back into the field, and cover more ground, at a higher altitude, in a quicker amount of time.

Market potential

In assessing the local market, the potential for IoT stretches across a range of industries from healthcare, to transport, manufacturing, the food supply chain, utilities and beyond.

Specifically, Freeman noted that the Australian healthcare sector has shown a keen interest in pursuing IoT technologies, particularly with devices that will allow patients to be treated in their own homes.

Using sensor technology, it would provide early warnings and be able to track if things aren’t working the way they should.

Some of the other projects that Fujitsu has its hands in, include a LiveTalk for healthcare, which is an AI-based diversity communication tool launched in 2017, featuring multilingual translation functions with real-time speech recognition and automatic translation.

Another project was focused on Smart eWaste Bins, which were equipped with IoT sensors that monitored waste levels and alerted collection points when bins were full.

Furthermore, a Driver Drowsiness Detector for transport is a wearable sensor that detects when drivers are drowsy or fatigued. It monitors their pulse and notifying them and possibly, the fleet vehicle manager, when drowsiness is setting in.

There is also a Fire service RFID application, which uses RFID tags and intelligent monitoring to assist fire crews in tracking their equipment required on the job and assists with in-field inventory management to help prevent losing expensive equipment.

Fujitsu also has about three pilot projects underway regarding water protection involving tracking where water leakage is occurring and early warning signs of flooding.

Last year, in one pilot project, dubbed ‘Smart Drains’ Fujitsu was a joint investor and collaborated with Downer and EYEfi, to help significantly reduce the risk of flooding due to overflow from storm water drains.

The Yarra Ranges Council in Victoria, piloted the solution in March 2018 which is made up of a network of sensors to monitor drains in real time - removing the need for manual drain inspections and enabling response and maintenance teams to manage a blocked drain before it causes a flooding issue.

Particularly, the solution involved sonar and camera sensors that aim to monitor water levels and potential flow rate of roadside storm water drains, providing real time alerts.

Delving deeper, it incorporated networked smart sensors, cloud technology and software developed by EYEfi to provide alerts for rising water every 15 minutes, along with a dashboard view of input from all sensors, providing council’s management with a clear view of the drains infrastructure and identify any areas of concern.

Within the Yarra Ranges Council’s remit, there are more than 4900 properties that are at risk of flooding from waterways or underground drains.

Yarra Ranges Mayor, Len Cox, revealed it was the first time this innovative technology had been used in storm water pits in Australia.

Dr Alex Bazin (Fujitsu)Credit: Christine Wong
Dr Alex Bazin (Fujitsu)

Downer and Fujitsu worked closely with EYEfi to develop the solution with a view to further commercialise it - with the project garnering interest from other states such as Queensland, which also has high-risk flooding areas.

“We’ve used local partners to provide technology solutions with us, but we’re the integrator for that solution,” Freeman added. “In the case of Smart Drains, it provides an early warning of leakage and surges in drain systems. “With the combination of flood mitigation, protection of the water asset, is a really big deal.

“We’ve also done similar work in Queensland, on the Gold Coast around flood monitoring. There’s a lot of mitigation processes in place, but if you can get an early warning of where the water may be coming quickly, you can get into action, to move people or protect assets in that area.”

Next steps

Investing in new platforms and partnerships is on top of the agenda for Fujitsu in the IoT space.

This particularly pertains to its connected services strategy that involves cloud, IoT, artificial intelligence and cyber security, according to Dr Alex Bazin, global vice president head of IoT at Fujitsu.

“We’re continuing to invest in the fundamental technology underpinnings of IoT,” he added. “We’re developing new AI techniques that can brought about on IoT and are also investing in new platforms, partnerships and putting a much greater focus on verticalising that capability.”

Bazin noted that a lot of customers were starting to move beyond proof-of-concept projects and simply collecting data.

“We’re now doing much more around using that data and bringing it together with AI and advanced analytics,” he explained. “As the market continues to grow, the lines between IoT, AI and advanced analytics will continue to blur.”

Bazin pointed out that many CIOs were taking on a larger responsibility for operational technology, impacting the ways in which departments across the CIO and COO scope, interact and this in effect, plays a part in determining whether, specific IoT projects succeed.

“CIOs are getting wider operational technology responsibility and that helps cement the engagement or success for IoT deployments,” Bazin said.

”That’s changing the way they’re having conversations in their business, and changing the way that we, as a company, go to market.”

According to Bazin, some of the studies that Fujitsu had conducted on the key drivers of IoT - operational efficiency and cost savings ranked high on that list.

“It’s increasingly changing the way they do business, changing the way they sell their product and services, and changing the way they can charge for things and manage large capital assets,” he said.

“Companies are doing much more around bringing together AI and advanced analytics with the data coming off sensors, which is starting to deliver real business value.”