Drone technologies in EAM

A playdate with innovation

Brad Miller EAM

2017 is forecast to be the year that organisations stop talking about the potential benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) and really focus on making it happen. So as an Asset Management technology specialist at Interconnect 2017, surrounded by the latest innovation from IBM and their global partner community, I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the IoT delights I found there.

The Watson IoT Innovation Playroom was one of them.

Tucked away off the beaten conference track, stepping into the Playroom was like opening the toy box of that kid who gets all the latest gizmos for Christmas. As its name suggests, the Innovation Playroom was a hands-on demo environment, showcasing the latest IoT projects from IBMers, partners and customers from fields as diverse as manufacturing, life sciences, healthcare, distribution, retail, energy & utilities, automotive, aerospace, and oil & gas.

After last year’s event, David remarked on the growing opportunities resulting from lower cost sensors and IBM’s (then) recent acquisition of The Weather Channel. I found it particularly interesting to see how those ideas have matured and inspired the next round of creative innovation. Here’s some of the technology that I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with.


modcamSwedish company Modcam have developed a powerful solution for monitoring the movement of people through spaces, featuring Watson IoT and Watson Analytics. The tiny ceiling-mounted sensors use computer vision to see when people move in or out of an area. All video processing is done on device, with anonymous metadata rather than pixels output, meaning visitor privacy is protected.

The retail applications of this technology are evident, providing the insight for businesses to shape store layout, marketing message placement and even staffing rosters around shopper movement in store.


Beyond the obvious, this technology offers great potential for any large, people focused spaces:

  • Monitor flow of pedestrians through airports to determine areas that need servicing, adjust air conditioning or model the impact of temporary concourse changes;
  • In office environments, sensors helps facility managers optimise office space, temperature, air quality, lighting and cleaning services based on people flow.

Another innovative application of sensors was demonstrated by UK based partner Interior Automation. In addition to advanced building control systems for energy efficient operations, they showed how connected sensors measuring variables such as weight, light, temperature can be used to determine issues such as overloading of a truck or monitoring stock levels. The control dashboard can then make decisions based on data from the sensors, such as re-ordering inventory or creating a work order.

Weather Station

Remote automated observation systemTwelve months on from IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Channel and companies like FTS have paired it with IBM Bluemix and Watson Analytics for a remote automated observation system.

Ruggedized sensors and cameras capture data from remote locations that can be sent to Watson for processing and analysis in context of key weather data. In addition to supporting efforts to monitor, record and analyse changes in the natural environment, automated remote monitoring has a strong use case in emergency response situations, particularly fire monitoring and detection.


The popularity and potential commercial application of drone technology continues unabated. Although I didn’t see anything quite as appealing as aerial delivery of the morning coffee round for onsite construction workers, IBM did demonstrate how simple Watson image recognition and cognitive analysis could be applied to perform asset inspections (for example, remote pipeline analysis).

This demonstration showed how Watson can be trained on what a good example and bad example looks like, and can then analyse images received from the drone to flag potential issues for further analysis by a person.

Using drones and image recognition technologies, IBM opens up a number of possibilities for gaining insight in places not easily accessible to humans. Possible scenarios include:

  • Crowd safety at major public events;
  • Damage assessment before sending in emergency first responders; or
  • Inspection of assets where accessibility is limited – for example the confined spaces of storm water tunnels, the height of telecommunication towers, or the speed of moving aircraft.


The Watson IoT innovation Playroom also showcased:

  • A Medical Kit by HCL featuring Watson IoT and Blockchain Hyperledger Fabric to monitor chain of custody between multiple parties for sterilised medical equipment. If sensors detect that the kit has been tampered with at any point during transit from outsourced service provider to the hospital, blockchain will log the issue, alert all parties and prevent the transfer to the next step of the logistics flow;
  • SmartShelf by Sogeti featuring Watson IoT Platform and Bluemix to monitor inventory depletion and provide real-time insight which over time may learn more about consumer or business preferences and eventually develop to offer predictive ordering solutions; and
  • Conveyor Belt by PrismTech an Adlink Company featuring Watson IoT PMQ to connect multiple data sources to a ruggedized PMQ edge server for analysis.

After this experience, I would say that ‘learning through play’ is by no means limited to the under 5’s! I’m looking forward to exploring these IoT toys, and the opportunities they bring, in greater detail with my colleagues and clients in Australia.