Navigant Research Blog

Digital Assistants Are a Stepping Stone for Artificial Intelligence in the Home

— November 21, 2017

Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining hype and capturing headlines about its futuristic possibilities. Popular media, like Blade Runner 2049, depicts AI as a technology powering human-like robots with capabilities for taking over the world. In reality, AI is here, and it is already used in everyday lives. Today, AI is enabling ridesharing applications like Lyft and Uber, autopilot in commercial flights, mobile check deposits, online shopping, and more. The technology is making significant progress across a variety of markets and is spreading to the smart home.

The home is abundant with opportunities to automate tasks and create more personal experiences with technology. AI can be used to enhance solutions that help consumers better understand and manage energy consumption and keep homes safer and more secure. Also, it creates more intelligent and intuitive home automation by studying patterns of human behavior to operate the home more efficiently.

The Digital Assistant

One obvious way in which AI is spreading through the home is digital assistants. Digital assistants, or virtual assistants, are the human-like user interface embodying AI software and cloud services. They are fundamentally changing the way users interact with technology by creating an easy-to-use, hands-free, and conversational experience via voice activation. They also represent a platform that converges devices, data, services, computing power, and the internet to better understand and anticipate consumer needs. While the novelty of using digital assistants is driving adoption and market growth (try playing Jeopardy with Alexa), this technology has powerful implications. Many companies recognize this potential, and large tech incumbents like Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are quickly and heavily investing in AI and digital assistants for the home.

Though digital assistants promise market disruption and a fundamental shift in the use of technology, it is important to stay realistic about AI in the home. Some would argue that traditionally defined AI does not even exist in the home—they would argue it’s all just analytics and algorithms. Others would argue that this is the reality of AI—it isn’t glamorous, it’s about automating tasks and identifying behavioral trends to make our lives more comfortable, convenient, and efficient. How this technology will play out—whether it will be a benevolent and revolutionary technology or whether it will become an existential threat to human existence—remains to be seen. For now, AI is having an impact in the home in the form of digital assistants. Check out Navigant Research’s Digital Assistants and AI in the Home report for more information.

 

Cybersecurity Threats Mount, but Overall Picture Not So Bleak

— November 16, 2017

Cybersecurity threats keep mounting against the grid, corporations, and individuals. The known attacks and security holes revealed in the past year are real and cause for serious concern. The whole picture, however, might not be as bleak as it first appears if utilities focus on getting ahead of cybersecurity threats. The good guys are in this fight and they have solid tools to keep us safe. Among grid-related threats, at least three incidents stand out as examples of how grim the situation could become if utilities do not proactively address cyber attacks.

It was revealed in August that a foreign power had compromised the state-owned Irish power grid company EirGrid, according to a report by Ireland’s Independent newspaper. When the hack was first discovered, experts said the breach occurred more than 2 months beforehand. At the time, the newspaper’s sources said it was still unknown if any malicious software had made its way into EirGrid’s control systems. Though it is unclear which foreign power was involved, the hackers used Internet Protocol (IP) addresses sourced from Ghana and Bulgaria.

In July, US officials revealed that hackers had penetrated computer networks of companies operating nuclear power stations, other energy facilities, and manufacturing plants. Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.’s power plant near Burlington, Kansas is one of the nuclear facilities specifically named. The nefarious activity caused the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to issue an amber warning, which is the second-highest rating level. It turns out the hackers were unable to hop from victims’ computers into control systems, and officials said there was no sign of a threat to public safety.

In mid-October, millions of people found out that nearly all Wi-Fi devices were at risk of hijack and eavesdropping because of a bug known as KRACK that exposes a flaw in the common security protocol WPA2. If exploited, a hacker could use a skeleton key to access any WPA2 network without a password. Patches for thwarting the threat have been made available from some vendors, while others are still pending.

Grid Cybersecurity

So, how high are the overall risks? Potentially rather high, but perhaps not as high as one might think for the grid in particular. According to Philip Propes, chief security information officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the situation is not doom and gloom in the electric utility sector. During a recent webinar, he said officials in the utility industry are well aware of cybersecurity issues and many have taken appropriate steps. In TVA’s own case, he says his team is moving from a reactive approach to a proactive approach around security and getting ahead of attacks before an event occurs.

Furthermore, private experts and researchers at the US Department of Energy’s national labs are working on new methods to reduce the threat from cyber attacks. One project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory would set up a private communications and control system for the grid, called darknet, that would operate separately from the public internet. Also, the use of quantum encryption capabilities could add enhanced security for the grid.

Cybersecurity risks should not be taken lightly, but there is no reason to panic. There is a growing sense of urgency among experts and officials to collaborate on robust solutions and progress is being made quietly, despite the mounting threats. For a more in-depth look at how utilities are responding to these threats, check out Navigant Research’s Cybersecurity for the Digital Utility report, written by my colleague Michael Kelly.

 

Cities and Businesses Care about Smart Buildings: Part 2

— November 14, 2017

With 238 proposals in hand from cities and regions across North America vying to host its second headquarters, Amazon plans to make a decision next year. Cities trying to lure Amazon should turn this occasion into an opportunity to strengthen their business environments to both complement and drive investment in smart buildings.

Regulatory Certainty and Standardization of Business

In order to attract investment in smart buildings, governments should work toward offering certainty and standardization for investors. Certainty refers to predictable outcomes or guaranteed returns. Governments can establish policies that set expectations for the building sector. Cities that adopt and enforce building energy codes, for example, can quickly increase local demand for energy efficiency technology. Stable demand means a stable market for finance.

In addition, having common standards for assessing risks will be helpful. For example, many stakeholders are already familiar with existing green building standards like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). If governments use policies such as financial incentives to encourage broader adoption of such standards, that will make it easier for investors to assess a project and ultimately increase the likelihood of investment.

Leading by Example

As a start, enforcing policies like building efficiency codes and fostering voluntary programs to pursue LEED certification can offer certainty and standardization. Cities can lead by example, ensuring that their own buildings adhere to the policy goals, unleashing the power of information and communication technology in public buildings. In its recent report, Smart Buildings and Smart Cities, Navigant Research expects the global smart public buildings market revenue to grow from $3.6 billion in 2017 to $10.2 billion by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate of 12.1%.

One of the leaders in this area is Washington, DC, which was named the first LEED for Cities Platinum city in the world in August 2017. Washington, DC requires all new public sector buildings to achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification. And starting in 2012, all new private buildings over 50,000 square feet were required to achieve LEED certification. Once the regulations kicked in, the private sector responded by competing for LEED certifications—developers wanted to achieve higher levels of certification against their competitors.

Regulatory certainty and standardization of business together with government efforts to lead by example are key to encouraging investment in the smart buildings sector. As stated in my previous blog, cities wishing to remain competitive in the face of new emerging technologies and a new generation of top talent will want smart buildings as an action item.

 

Dell, Others Make Bold Moves in IoT Market

— November 10, 2017

Dell made a splash in the Internet of Things (IoT) market recently, announcing a $1 billion investment over 3 years to set up a new IoT division of the company and to fund new IoT-specific products, labs, and a partner program. The goal is to prod customers into speeding up the deployment of its IoT projects. This move follows a quiet 2-year period during which Dell honed its strategy. Dell’s new IoT division will be helmed by Ray O’Farrell, executive vice president and CTO at VMware.

Dell Is Not Alone

Others are also pushing hard to drive IoT adoption across multiple sectors, including energy, mining, manufacturing, and smart cities, to name but a few. Some of the other recent IoT-related moves include:

  • Apple and General Electric (GE) announced a partnership in mid-October to produce “powerful industrial apps designed to bring predictive data and analytics from Predix, GE’s industrial IoT platform, to iPhone and iPad.” The companies also released a new Predix software development kit for iOS, which developers can use to make their own industrial IoT apps.
  • Germany’s Dialog Semiconductor announced its plans to acquire California-based Silego Technology for as much as $306 million in a move to help Dialog fortify its position in the IoT market.
  • Also in Germany, business software provider Software AG recently said it would form a new IoT cloud unit in January 2018. It also set up a new strategic alliance with a group of manufacturers that will focus on new industrial applications for IoT and Germany’s Industrie 4.0 digitization initiative.
  • In Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the vice president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, launched an IoT strategy aimed at preserving the emirate’s digital wealth and setting the foundation for a smart lifestyle transformation process for its people.

More of these of investments and strategic moves related to IoT are expected as competition heats up among vendors trying to seize early market momentum and as the trend moves well beyond the hype phase. This should be good news for those companies seeking to leverage IoT technologies for their business processes. Customers should derive benefits as IoT solutions vendors invest more in their products, channeling engineering horsepower into solving complex industrial problems. For a window into what the industrial IoT market could look like over the next decade, see Navigant Research’s report, Industrial Internet of Things.

 

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