Greener and more efficient use of our precious natural resources can only come from harnessing technology. In the Naturally Resourceful series, Resource Works writer Don Hauka looks at the British Columbia companies that are on the leading edge of this transformation. Eighth in the series.
Sometimes you have to go to great heights to level the data playing field here on earth.
So Scott Larson is reaching for the stars to make the Internet of Things more affordable for small, medium and large organizations alike.
Larson's Helios Wire is building a satellite-enabled monitoring and messaging service that will allow tracking and communication with up to 5 billion devices worldwide. Once up and running, it will allow businesses in the resource and other sectors to -- among other things -- track and monitor remote assets and personnel. And the Burnaby-based firm is counting down to lift-off.
"Our first satellite is going up by the end of this year," says Larson. "It's a prototype satellite that gets the data flowing and allows us to build out the use case for a bunch of different industries. Our first two commercial satellites will be launched early next fall and those are the ones that allow us to scale up the company."
Internet of Things (IoT) technology is being billed as "the next Industrial Revolution." It makes use of the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. Industry experts predict that by 2020, 24 billion IoT connected devices will be in existence and $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions.
Helios Wire is at the forefront of this new tech-revolution. The network they're creating will provide businesses with more data on everything from the condition of high-priced oil and gas or mining equipment to how much water or fertilizer an individual plant in a field needs.
"We can connect devices, equipment, pieces of machinery, even people cheaply to the internet," says Larson.
"You get information from things, take that information and blend it together and use that information to make actionable, intelligent decisions."
For instance, take a mining operation in a remote area. Equipment can be tagged with one of two different types of ground-based sensors. One is about the size of a cell phone and is used for mobile pieces of equipment. It can track location, elevation or almost any other information a business wants or needs from it. The data is contained in small packets -- it's not streaming or always on. It's sent up to the network's satellites and forwarded down to antennas on the ground where it is then uploaded to a cloud-based analytics platform.
The other Helios Wire ground unit is a powered, solar-powered standalone the size of a shoebox. It can be mounted on a pole in the middle of a mine site or any location and picked data from a wide range and relay it up to the satellites.
"Using this data, a mining operation can track the location of expensive assets: where they are, are they on, have they been moved, what's the vibration, what's the temperature, what's the noise?" says Larson.
"You can attach devices to people as well and monitor their movements, which of course helps with safety issues. The scope is virtually limitless with the parameter being a small amount of data."
That small amount of data can create huge savings, especially for oil and gas pipelines. The Helios Wire system would enable pipeline companies to monitor noise, vibrations, temperature and other pipeline health indicators. And it would come in handy elsewhere on the globe.
"Nigeria loses about three billion dollars of oil per year to pipeline theft," says Larson. "People literally back up a tanker to the pipeline, stick a screwdriver in, fill up the tanker and leave."
Once in operation, the network will even be able to track goods manufactured on one side of the world from the factory floor along every step of its journey to the far side of the planet. And it will do it at a fraction of the cost of existing systems. Larson says existing networks use satellites launched up to 15 years ago at very high costs. Helios Wire will take advantage of technological developments that have made satellite technology much cheaper.
"The main cost for a business like us is actually building and launching the satellites. Fifteen years ago, the satellites would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars and now they're just a small, small fraction of that, so the cost of the space segment has come down by a few orders of magnitude. With us, because we don't have billions of dollars worth of costs, we don't need to charge hundreds of dollars per device in the ground. We can charge much, much less.
"Up to now, this kind of service has only been available to Venture 50 companies with big budgets. What we're doing is levelling the playing field. It makes it available to more people."
Larson says his firm has deals with companies around the world in transportation, oil and gas and resource sector as well in the shipping, precision farming and other industries. They're in talks with some B.C. and Canadian companies to provide tracking services for their equipment in northern regions.
Larson has lots of experience being a leading B.C. innovator. As the co-founder and CEO of UrtheCast, he led the company from a start-up to a hugely successful player in the remote sensing industry with 250 employees and reaching a market valuation of $500 million in less than five years.
Now he's making Helios Wire a rising star in B.C.'s constellation of innovation.
"There's lots of fascinating things being done here in B.C. There's a great technical resources. There's lots of good developers. There is some good technology in terms of resource development and incubators and hubs and Helios fits into that."
To learn more about Helios Wire Ltd., check out their website.
Do you know of a company that Naturally Resourceful should profile? Please send your suggestion to Don Hauka c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier in the series we looked at: