Billions of digital conversations are going on around us, a stream of wireless chatter from machine to machine that companies on Long Island and beyond hope to ride to prosperity.
This is the “internet of things,” the wireless network that allows devices ranging from coffee makers to thermostats to jet engines to automobiles — all of which contain electronics — to transmit data. Then people can, for example, remotely turn up the heat before they arrive home, or do preventive maintenance on equipment.
Long Island companies already are creating hardware, software and services for the internet of things, or IoT, that will help manage our health care, lighting and transportation, ensure our food is unspoiled, and help secure homes, businesses and schools.
Globecomm, Intelligent Product Solutions, Napco Security Technologies and Zebra Technologies are a few of the companies with headquarters or significant operations on Long Island that are working on the internet of things.
These and other businesses are tapping a consumer and business hardware market that Gartner Inc., a technology research firm based in Stamford, Connecticut, set at 6.4 billion connected devices worldwide in 2016. Gartner expects the market to grow to 20.8 billion devices by 2020.
In financial terms, the market for these connected objects will grow from $1.18 trillion in annual revenue in 2015 to $3 trillion in 2020, according to Gartner. That far exceeds Gartner’s projection of $641 billion in 2016 worldwide spending on computing hardware, including PCs, mobile phones and tablets.
Beyond the devices themselves, Gartner estimates that spending on services to design, install, operate and provide bandwidth for the IoT will be $235 billion in 2016, up 22 percent from 2015.
The internet of things works by taking data from sensors and transmitting that information to the computing “cloud,” a network of servers on the internet.
When Greg Hoiland, 52, of Long Beach goes for a ride, his bicycle communicates with the cloud via wireless technology designed by Hauppauge-based Intelligent Product Solutions.
Hoiland subscribes to the city’s bike-share program, SoBi Long Beach. Riders can find the bicycles and hubs using a browser or a smartphone app. The cost for bike rental: $8 per hour or $50 for an hour of riding per day from March to November.
The bikes wirelessly stream data on location, trip length and duration.
By going online, “you can see how far I biked and how long it took. You can use it as a training tool,” Hoiland said.
Brooklyn-based Social Bicycles, which makes the bikes and runs the program, incorporated solar panels, an internal battery and networking technology into the bicycles that lets the company track each ride.
SoBi Long Beach has logged about 20,000 trips this year and more than 60,000 miles.
“We have GPS data for every trip,” said Social Bicycles founder and Chief Executive Ryan Rzepecki. That lets the company, which runs or supplies equipment for almost 30 systems in the United States and Canada, adjust the locations of its hub parking locations and provides insights into whether the bikes are being used for commuting or recreation.
SoBi tapped Intelligent Product Solutions for its wireless expertise in designing the product.
Intelligent Product Solutions designs hardware and software for corporate clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies such as L3 Communications, an aerospace contractor, and PepsiCo to startups. IPS estimates that at least 60 percent of its business is related to the IoT.
“This has been a core of our business for a while,” said co-founder and President Mitch Maiman. “Smart, connected technology is being applied to product categories where it never was.”
One client, Adheretech, a Manhattan-based health care startup, came to IPS with an idea for a smart pill bottle to help patients remember to take their medications.
“Imagine that you have a senior citizen parent and they have to take four medicines at different times of the day,” he said. “This pill bottle can connect to your pharmacy, but also a home health care worker.”
He said that IPS designed the bottle, integrated the sensors that register when the contents of the bottle change and set up the wireless communication to the cloud.
Watching the fleet
Commack-based Vehicle Tracking Solutions provides clients with services to track their fleets of trucks and other vehicles. With more than 55,000 vehicles under subscription, the 14-year-old company provides clients with data on speed and location, load and unload times, fuel management as well as the temperature inside refrigerated trucks, and whether accessories like a street sweeper’s brushes are being used.
Clients include Suffolk County, and Farmingdale-based appliance retailer P.C. Richard & Son, which has more than 400 vehicles and lets buyers track online the delivery truck carrying their purchase.
Vehicle Tracking Solutions President and Chief Executive John Cunningham said that he began selling hardware for vehicle monitoring in 2002, but in 2008 began streaming vehicle data into the cloud and became “part of the internet of things.”
Cunningham said revenue at the company, which has more than 50 employees, is running about 30 percent ahead of the rate in 2015.
“Things are really getting hot in my industry,” he said. “We’ve already had the pleasure of turning down a significant” buyout offer, in May.
Also seeking to ride the IoT wave is Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Zebra Technologies, a bar code and scanner company that acquired the assets of former Long Island bar code pioneer Symbol Technologies Inc. when it bought Motorola Solutions’ enterprise business in 2014.
“It has become quite a trend, the whole notion of IoT from the consumer side or business-to-consumer,” said Zebra chief technology officer Thomas Bianculli, who is based in Holtsville, a site of Zebra’s research and development for mobile computing, smart retail environments and transportation and logistics.
In retail, Zebra tags can tell the network when an item’s inventory is running low.
In logistics, its sensors can report on the refrigeration of perishable food. It can monitor and steer forklifts to the proper pallet with indoor GPS, increasing their use.
Zebra also has created a cloud software platform, dubbed Zatar, to capture the data spun off by its IoT customers.
A Long Island company whose IoT products straddle the consumer, industrial, academic and corporate worlds is Napco Security Technologies Inc., based in Amityville.
Napco supplies locks and security systems to dealers who install them in businesses, hospitals, colleges, military bases and homes.
But the company, with about 200 employees on Long Island and 1,000 overall, also makes software that connects security systems to thermostats, lighting, ovens and refrigerators. Connected “smart homes” allow users to schedule the operation of lights, thermostats and appliances, and also operate them remotely via a smartphone app.
Napco chief executive Richard Soloway said that in the future everything will be networked.
“It will all be IoT,” he said. “People want everything on their smartphone.”
Flexible Systems, a Hauppauge-based IT consulting company, is pushing businesses to ditch traditional lights in new installations in favor of lower-voltage LED lighting that can be wired using computer cables.
“You can change the intensity and color mix,” said co-founder Seth Belous.
Belous said that such a system saves energy and maintenance costs with LED lighting as well as installation costs because a licensed electrician is not required.
“A computer cable is attached to a switch that’s enough to drive an LED,” he said.
Smart devices’ data must be transmitted wirelessly even out of range of cellular networks.
Hauppauge-based Globecomm, a satellite communications provider, has satellite networks that can carry IoT data from almost any corner of the planet while integrating with cellular networks where available.
“We reach where other networks can’t,” said Bryan McGuirk, Globecomm chief commercial officer.
Clients include operators of offshore oil and gas platforms, maritime cargo shippers and NATO, which uses Globecomm to track vehicles and forces in Afghanistan.
Lake Success-based Northwell Health, a hospital system that is New York State’s largest private employer, is keeping a close eye on the IoT phenomenon.
“We’re testing and piloting some of this,” said Northwell Health chief information officer John Bosco.
One of the most promising areas is home monitoring, which can track vital signs like a patient’s blood pressure and oxygen levels, and report the information to cloud-based software.
“Home monitoring is just going to explode,” he said.
Northwell also is testing wearable sensors for patients admitted to a hospital that can transmit vital signs direct to their patient record. “It saves nurses a lot of effort and gives us continuous monitoring,” Bosco said.
Still, the equipment can be expensive, and the health care system is trying to figure out which patients will benefit the most.
And the increased data traffic is putting a strain on Northwell’s wireless networks, forcing installation of more access points.
“There’s a lot riding on our wireless networks,” Bosco said.