A week of autonomous ships and Roomba mapping your home

28 Jul 2017

Image: Quality Stock Artists/Shutterstock

Autonomous cars are but the tip of the iceberg, with shipping due its own internet of things overhaul in the coming years.

Transport is the focus of this week’s internet of things (IoT) round-up, with developments all over the world emerging in the past few days.

For example, hot on the heels of France’s decision to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, the UK has announced plans to do likewise.

Future Human

This includes hybrid vehicles, too, meaning that there is just over two decades to develop electric vehicles (EVs) suitable to replace millions of standard vehicles on UK roads.

Add to this the effect of the impending strain that an explosion of EVs onto the roads will bring to energy grids, and it means there’s an awful lot of work required from both public and private bodies.

Away from roads, HubSpot acquired Kemvi, an artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning start-up. Kemvi’s technology helps sales reps to deepen their relationships with prospective buyers.

Elsewhere, a war of words has erupted between inventor extraordinaire Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over who is right about their interpretations of AI.

Zuckerberg recently hosted a Q&A session. Responding to a question about Musk’s fears, he said: “I think that people who are naysayers and kinda try to drum up these doomsday scenarios … I just don’t understand it. I think it’s really negative and, in some ways, I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.

Musk had a terse response.

But what else did you miss this week?


Two Norwegian companies are working towards autonomous cargo ships, part of a growing IoT trend in the shipping industry.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a ship named Yara Birkeland is under development, with plans for a 37-mile trip down a fjord towards Larvik in 2018.

“Using the GPS, radar, cameras and sensors, the electric ship is designed to navigate itself around other boat traffic and to dock on its own,” reads the report.

With a cost of $25m, three times that of standard ships, those behind the project think that running costs will plummet, cutting operational costs by up to 90pc.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates maritime travel, doesn’t expect legislation governing crewless ships to be in place before 2020.

Recently, it emerged that IBM partnered with global shipping giant Maersk to trial a blockchain project.

If incorporated successfully, blockchain could save the container shipping industry billions of euros annually.

Roomba does more than clean

Continuing the endless theme of IoT’s early years revolving around a trawl of data, a small, home companion could be the next tool to join the fold.

The trusty Roomba, a vacuum that takes care of cleaning floors while its owners are off at work, could play a central role in the next stage of smart homes.

The makers of the Roomba claim that collecting special data could be its next trick, with Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, saying change is on the way.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” said Angle.

Currently, the high-end models of Roomba can map, and it’s something Angle hopes can be brought into the full suite of devices.

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years.

Who needs chips?

RFID chips have appeared as potential key ingredients to the sensor-laden, power-thirsty development of IoT devices.

However, given how they work, security remains a real concern.

Cheap to manufacture, RFIDs are small, paper-thin, rudimentary computers that do not have their own power supply, but run only on the energy they receive by means of an antenna.

“The vision of the internet of things as we understand it is to enable computers to be aware of their environment,” said Hannes Groß from TU Graz, who investigated security issues related to IoT based on RFID.

“You equip the environment with sensors, connect them to computers and use the data for process optimisation.”

RFID chips, also called tags, are particularly suitable for this, Groß said. Existing applications of RFID tags are used for closed systems such as logistics centres or retail stores and do not really constitute as IoT, though.

“We want to design an open IoT with RFID tags, and we studied the security solutions required in this context,” said Groß.

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Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic