From Bees to Trees and everything in between – Wales harnesses the Internet of Things

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

The ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘IoT’ has become a commonly-heard phrase in recent years. It may seem very abstract, and nothing to do with your everyday lives, or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it. But do you wear a Fitbit to capture your steps each day and make sure you’re moving enough? Or maybe your trusty Alexa will remind you to pick up milk on your way home later? Well, without even knowing, you’ve been connecting with the Internet of Things.

Millions of us have everyday devices such as household appliances, smart bulbs and fitness trackers which are part of the IoT. They’re embedded with tiny sensors which can send information to other devices and systems over the internet, and it all exists to make our lives easier. However, it’s only now that these smart little devices are starting to make an impact on our wider world.

Revolutionising how sensing is done

One of the reasons for this is we’re now more easily able to connect with these sensors due to the availability of Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), such as LoRaWAN, NB-IoT & Sigfox.  Low in cost, low in power consumption and able to cover large areas, these networks provide connectivity to sensors enabling us to tell whether a car park is full or how fast a river is flowing.

It is undeniable the potential for gathering data through IoT devices and making sense of our environment is becoming easier and cheaper – and there is no end to the possibilities. In fact, did you know you can even set a rat trap to tell you if it’s been triggered so you don’t need to go and check it yourself? Yes, really!

Morgan Walsh Consultancy Ltd

The way innovators across Wales are harnessing IoT is quietly revolutionising how we do so many things. Across both public and private sectors, we are seeing a fundamental shift in how we can make evidence-based decisions. For example, in England they are considering how to address issues like water leakage, whilst here in Wales we are looking at things such as improving how we plan for flood warnings all the way through to monitoring pharmaceutical products for veterinary practices.

Sensor batteries can last for many years combined with the availability of long range, wide-area, low-powered networks mean we’re able to more sustainably gather data than ever before (see the video below).

Note: The LoRa Alliance was initiated by industry leaders with a mission to standardise Low Power Wide Area Networks being deployed around the world to enable Internet of Things.

Introduction to LoRaWAN – LoRa Alliance

However, as the saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility”. Just because we can collect lots of interesting data via IoT devices, doesn’t mean we should. Many will be treading new ground when it comes to the use of IoT and LorRaWAN, so it is essential that before carrying out any IoT deployments, we assess whether there are any potential ethical or privacy issues on a case-by-case basis.    

A taste of things to come

In the coming months, we’ll be taking you on a journey across Wales, looking at our communities, towns and cities and our natural environment to highlight the work being done and the endless possibilities of IoT.  So, keep an eye out for more of our blog posts.

As a taster though, we thought we’d take you on a trip to the beautiful coast of Ceredigion; Mwnt to be specific. Little old Mwnt could well be the smartest beach in the world. It’s true! And that’s because IoT has arrived there. The coastguard can see from the numbers of cars arriving at the remote beach whether they need to visit on their patrols. The café owner knows from the visitor data whether it’s worth opening in winter and when the busiest times might be. You can even be sure that in an emergency, the defibrillator machine is available, and in working order. All of these things are known using IoT devices and are managed by a local Community Council. Little things can make a big difference…

Working Together to build a network

The Welsh Government, along with six local authorities and regional partnerships are working collaboratively to roll out LoRaWAN gateways across Wales. These gateways act as bridges between the sensors and where the information needs to get to by sending and receiving LoRaWAN low power signals.

The Swansea Bay City Region Deal is working with Welsh Government and local authorities in developing an innovation network, using LoRaWAN and other technologies to transform how both the public and private sector deliver and develop services

Gareth Jones, Digital Programme Lead, Swansea Bay City Region Deal

Setting up these gateways will provide coverage and secure access via a free-to-use platform known as ‘The Things Network‘.  Which basically means it will be even easier to start using IoT devices, or if you already are, then using more of them. And if you need any more convincing that IoT is the way to go, this recently published article is worth taking a look at.

In my next blog, I’ll be focusing on how Barcud Housing Association which serves Mid and West Wales, is using IoT to transform how they operate their estate and improve the lives of their residents.

Peter Williams – Digital Infrastructure, Welsh Government

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