4D Printing

Yes, you can now print your own Bumblebee!

The next-generation of additive manufacturing is already here and it is known as 4D Printing. While some of us must be thinking that 3D printing techniques are yet to be adopted across industries, the news is that 4D printing is also emerging.

3D printing is for making three-dimension objects that have height, width, and depth (x,y,z axes). Moving beyond 3D printing, the 4D printing technique include time as the fourth transformation. This new dimension represents the ability of the 3D printed material to change shape after production.   

4D printing will produce 3D printed objects or materials that can transform into new structures or shapes under the influence of external stimuli (heat, light, other external energy, etc.). The novel materials in this technique provides the added capability to transform from one shape to the other.

4D printing uses programmable materials or shape shifting materials that perform differently in the presence of water, light, touch, etc. Such 4D printed objects utilize the fourth dimension, time, for self-transformation (to change function, color, shape or other properties). This allows for self-assembly and self-repair.



Source: Self-Assembly Lab – MIT & Stratasys

The examples of 4D printing techniques can be fascinating and diverse. We could print folded 4D objects through computational folding and later the printed object could unfold and become larger than the printer itself.

Few of the entities active in 4D printing are:

  • MIT
  • Stratasys
  • Harvard University
  • National University of Singapore
  • Harbin Institute of Technology

The applications for 4D printing are diverse. In the medical field, it can be used to build prosthetic limbs that transform due to touch or for medical implants that change their shape inside the body. Manufacturing is another sector that can benefit from this technique.

Or imagine, you could print your own transformer – Bumblebee

Edge Computing: Moving from the Cloud to the Edge

With this post, I want my readers to become familiar with the concept of edge operation/edge computing. We are going to hear this a lot in the future. So here it is:

With the emergence of connected environment (IoT), the cloud is no longer sufficient to process the massive deluge of data that will be generated. Currently, cloud is used to handle the data processing related to smart objects and it might take more seconds to send the data back and forth across a centralized server or controller.

Considering that in the coming years billions of devices and applications (connected cars, IoT devices) around us are going to generate data, there is going to be a huge data traffic as well.

We are entering the age of edge computing.

It can be understood in simple words:  

With IoT-driven market, the devices are going to be smaller and more data processing oriented. The billions of connected devices will result to huge network congestion and latency issue and it might not be feasible to keep data moving back and forth to the cloud.

Therefore, the processing is being moved to the edge devices in the next-generation. This will eliminate the two issues and also improve the overall performance.

What is edge computing?

The intelligent devices will be primary in the future. Therefore, it will be necessary to have a solution that processes data closest to the source and that complements the cloud.

Edge computing allows data to be processed closer to the endpoints (machines, sensors, pumps, etc.) where the data is created. This lowers the dependence on cloud and the need to transfer the data to and from the cloud.

Source: Qualcomm

Edge computing will have an impact across industries including transportation, agriculture, healthcare, industry 4.0, energy and others. It is highly suitable for the different IoT use cases.

In order to implement the edge operation, the industry players across different verticals are developing solutions to support this function. Chip makers, software developers, security providers, product developers are investigating new solutions to power the intelligent edge.

We are fortunate to witness this evolution, where our cars, coffee machines, watches and everything will be simply connected. These edge devices will leverage the concept of edge computing and make our lives simpler. However, edge computing is not going to totally replace cloud. It is going to complement the traditional cloud-centric model. There are going to be scenarios where the cloud-based model is going to be truly significant.

Sources: Qualcomm, Rethink Reports, Ctera Networks and other industry partners

Industry 4.0: Defining the Next Generation Factories

All the digitization happening around us has made our lives easy and convenient. The huge transformation that has been happening for years across different sectors has brought in enormous opportunities in terms of employment, end-products, services, business revenue and new age innovations.

Let us have a quick lookback at history to understand where all this started and the evolution of the different industrial revolutions!

The First Industrial Revolution started in the late 18th century where the use of coal, water and steam revolutionized the industrial production. This period had immense impact on civilization with innovations in large scale manufacturing of goods and the development of steam-powered locomotive. Humans could consider moving great distances in fewer hours.

The late 19th century defined the Second Industrial Revolution with the emergence of electrical engineering and the idea of mass production. The first moving conveyor belt was used in a slaughter house, wherein the carcasses were hung on conveyors and the meat cutters would slice off different parts and disassemble the animal piece by piece.

Then came the Third Industrial Revolution in the mid 1970’s when electronics and information technology began to expand rapidly into the industry. Computers and digital systems brought new ways of data transfer and processing leading to exploration of transistors, controllers, automation, robots, etc.

Now the researchers and companies are working on the next industry revolution – Industry 4.0 – The Fourth Industrial Revolution

This transition will bring a transformation in today’s manufacturing systems and is aiming to resolve the daily challenges of manufacturers.

The core requirement of any manufacturer is to increase their production time with high throughput and with best quality.

Industry 4.0 is set to bring a concept of an intelligent factory system where machines and products will communicate with each other, cooperatively driving production – Everything will be interconnected wirelessly.

Industry 4.0 is an integration of the digital and physical worlds. Industry 4.0 is not easy to define as it is an amalgamation of different concepts. It is based on a vision to bring a holistic approach in the manufacturing environment by combining the learning of humans, machines, analytics and predictive insights.

It will benefit the companies to make an efficient use of resources with an ability to predict future needs.

Let us take examples!!

There are huge machines in the manufacturing plants. Say for example – an oil refinery/chemical plants.

Oil and gas plants and the chemical industry demands a high degree of automation. Monitoring of the machines is quite challenging in such intense environment and it is difficult to gather data related to temperature, flow rate, tank level, pressure, etc.

How Industry 4.0 can be helpful here?

An advanced concept of analytics known as soft sensor can help derive insights from the data gathered in a working plant. Soft sensors measure product quality factors that cannot be measured directly by hardware sensors in real time.

Soft sensors are software models that can provide sensing information like the hardware sensors. They are widely used in on-line monitoring, fault detection, process optimization, detection of pipe leakage, mechanical and structural strains, etc. With this technique, you can plan maintenance in advance before the situation worsens and save on cost and quality loss.

Advanced Robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are key technologies that will play a significant role in the next phase of disruptive Industry 4.0.

Amazon’ warehouses are an example of automated warehouses of the future. Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world that are making the physical jobs less taxing.

These industrial robots are not only used in smart manufacturing and inventory management but also in real-time monitoring and pro-active maintenance without the need to send an engineer to troubleshoot some issue.  

In order to build a ‘smart factory’ and maximize the many advantages of the fourth industrial revolution, manufacturers need to make multiple partnerships across the supply chain. It is an entire journey and the early adopters will gain benefits in the future through perfect production.

There are many other use cases as well which I will cover in-depth in my future posts. I will be writing a whole series on the development and enablers of the Industry 4.0. Hope you will enjoy reading the recent updates on this and share your Industry 4.0 experiences with me along the process.

Sources: Siemens, ABB, Amazon, Mckinsey

Role of 5G & Integration of Satellite and Terrestrial Communication System for IoT Applications

5G is a lot in news these days, but have we thought about how it is going to change our lives? Is it just the next-generation of 4G or something more?

Well, 5G is a huge leap from 4G!!

Imagine this: Today, when we plan to go to a nearby restaurant we set our location and then look for reviews. After we decide the restaurant we use navigation tools that gives us the direction to the restaurant.

With 5G enabled smartphones it will be possible to simply scan our surroundings and viola – Nearby cafes and restaurants will pop on your screen while scanning and will display the reviews as well.

Another relatable example: We all share photos and videos on Instagram. We attend a friend’s wedding and click pictures and everyone shares their photos and videos on their social media post. However, there is no solution yet which promotes collaborated & simultaneous photo & video editing.  5G can bring in collaborative editing where the media can be viewed in a single place and wouldn’t be shown as a combined project.  

Finally, how many of us want to put on futuristic glasses for having a conference call with colleagues distributed across the globe? It will be like you are present in the same meeting room. 

5G promises higher bandwidth, a very low-latency and much faster speeds that fulfill the need of these and many more use cases.

The other set of applications which will greatly benefit from 5G is the IoT industry. 5G networks, which are next-generation terrestrial networks, will greatly support advanced IoT deployments. 5G network can support on-the-go IoT applications.

5G and IoT go hand in hand.  

5G is not only about people communicating with each other but objects communicating themselves with each other and with humans around them, anytime and anywhere.

Imagine the Possibilities!!

5G aims to provide a ubiquitous network that will enable us to be connected everywhere, and with everything at all time. 5G will make it possible to connect homes, cars, cities and even hospitals and send information instantly at every moment irrespective of the amount of data required.

5G trials are already on-going across various countries and is set to launch this year.

Integration of Satellite and Terrestrial for IoT

Another concept which is also being explored with the emergence of 5G is “heterogeneous global communication system” for the IoT use cases.

Heterogeneous global communication or hybrid network means the integration of satellite and terrestrial (3G, 4G, LTE, upcoming 5G, etc.)  communications. In the past satellite and terrestrial communications have evolved independently. Satellite communication which is used for TV, navigation, military and internet applications has inherent capabilities including global coverage, multicasting and broadcasting capabilities. Terrestrial communication which is based on land-based towers suffers coverage issues and cannot cater to the uninterrupted coverage and unprecedented capacity.

The complementary capabilities of the satellite and terrestrial communication architecture can be integrated together to build a ubiquitous IoT network. The coverage gap issue of terrestrial networks can be easily complemented by accessibility and multicast services offered by satellite communication.     

This integrated satellite/terrestrial architecture can enable a number of IoT applications.

  • Land: Autonomous car – While terrestrial networks can be used for performing zero latency and time critical driving assistance functions such as braking/steering, the inherent nature of broadcast and ubiquity of the satellite could be used to perform multicast updates to cars.
  • Maritime: Autonomous ship connectivity is another use case that will become an important trend with the integrated satellite-terrestrial systems.  These systems could enable transfer of location information to remote control center and data communication with other ships or navigation in coastal areas. For instance, a shipping container connected by satellite in the ocean could switch to being linked by a cellular network near a port. The current infrastructure is not suitable for this scenario and thus hybrid networks will pave the way for an emerging area of autonomous shipping. 
  • Another example is the use of such networks in military operations. Such missions are critical and need reliable and always available networks. In case during an emergency operation cellular networks are not available the operations will be backed up by the satellite solution.

IoT cannot exist without the support of satellite and 5G companies and solution providers.

Related Industry Updates  

Few factors significant for the deployment of the hybrid network are listed below:

  • The standardization of 5G will define the implementation of on-the-move applications using hybrid networks.
  • There have been several activities related to LEO satellite recently and flat-panel antennas for GEO/LEO satelllites. While developers of electronically steered antennas such as Kymeta, Arralis and Phasor are mostly focused on markets including connected cars, maritime, government and defense, the other set of antenna makers such as Isotropic systems are focusing on consumer markets as well.
  • Innovative efforts are also being made by satellite companies to develop satellite ecosystem to enable seamless operation with the terrestrial cell coverage.
  • Management Connectivity platforms such as Nokia WING and platforms offered by others such as Aeris Communication is another significant step towards building an infrastructure for 5G.

There are a number of partnerships already happening in the market related to end-terminals, applications and supply-chain partners to make this concept a reality. The hybrid concept is surely bringing a big transformation phase for the satellite industry. Future trials and new use cases across different vertical markets enabled by the integrated satellite-terrestrial 5G network will define the rapid expansion of IoT markets.

I will try to cover a section of partnerships in one of my future blogs to create some insight related to the future potential targets for collaboration.

Sources: Globalstar, Kymeta, European Space Agency, Qualcomm

The Next-Generation Over-the-Air Wireless Charging for Public Places

Wireless charging is already being used in public places like restaurants, cafes, libraries, airports and hotels to keep our phones powered up and stay connected, without the need to keep looking for power outlets or the need to carry the power cords. The users are ultimately enjoying a convenient and hassle-free experience with the deployment of these charging pads.

The next evolution in wireless charging systems for public places is Over-the-Air charging. Such systems will allow long-range charging for multiple devices simultaneously with full room coverage.  This implies that we can charge our smartphones, laptops, smartwatches, ipads, smart speakers, consoles, etc., at the same time without having to be plugged in. Imagine devices which charge on the go, and will never die again! There will be a time when we sit in the car and the devices start getting charged automatically.

How does it work?

In simple language, there is a transmitter that is linked to a power source and it delivers power to the receivers embedded with the supported chips. The designed technology provides charging upto a particular distance. The delivered power could be through invisible infrared light or RF energy waves.  These systems include multiple solutions related to RF, analog, digital, software and power management.

However, few of the challenges associated with this concept are listed below:

  • Concerns related to risk to human health
  • Engineering challenges related to system interference
  • Cost-effective solutions will be required to build an ecosystem
  • RF-strength related concerns as the receiver moves away from the transmitter

Few Active Entities:

Looking Ahead

Though the present solutions are not ‘truly wireless’ and might take around 10 years to be deployed in full-wing with all the required ecosystem development. This solution is crucial and will open door to many emerging applications including autonomous systems, drones, smart cities, medical systems, virtual and augmented reality, etc.

Sources: Energous, Powercast Corporation, Wi-Charge