In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Prescient Devices’s Founder & CEO Andy Wang joins us to talk about the challenges companies face when scaling IoT (an update on a topic we’ve visited before) and advice to help overcome speed bumps and roadblocks in the way. Andy also shares the factors that contribute most to successful IoT adoption.
Dr. Andy Wang is a technologist and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He is currently the founder and CEO of Prescient Devices, an MIT startup providing the industry-leading low-code IoT solutions platform. Previously, he was the co-founder and CTO of GTI IoT Technology, which built low-power wireless IoT systems for industrial and smart-city applications. Andy is an expert in communication systems and integrated circuit design. He graduated with a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Interested in connecting with Andy Wang? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About Prescient Devices: Prescient Devices, Inc (PDI) empowers enterprise engineering teams with an open ecosystem to accelerate IoT development. Focusing on delivering the next wave of innovation within manufacturing, smart buildings, energy, utilities, and intelligent transportation, PDI’s distributed low-code software enables enterprise engineers, system integrators, and data scientists to build sensor-to-cloud IoT and edge computing solutions, with simplicity and scalability.
This episode of the IoT For All Podcast is brought to you by CalChip Connect.
Check them out at www.calchipconnect.com
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(02:00) Intro to Prescient Devices, Inc.
(08:00) Can you share some use cases for your technology?
(09:57) What are the biggest challenges for IoT companies hoping to get their deployments off the ground?
(12:30) Where are the biggest costs in developing an IoT solution?
(13:44) What factors contribute the most to an IoT project’s success?
(18:52) How do you approach educating the market on what IoT can do? How do you advise other companies to approach that topic?
– You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– Hello, everyone. And, welcome to another episode of the IoT For All podcast on the IoT For All Media Network. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, one of the co-creators of IoT For All. Now, before we jump into this episode, please, don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or join our newsletter at IoTForAll.com/newsletter to catch all the newest episodes as soon as they come out. One of the last thing that I wanted to mention before we jump into the episode is that our wonderful partners, Calchip Connect are excited to be leading the way in the IoT space, helping to drive digital transformation and decentralized open source wireless technology. The decentralized network is a community managed network offering public wireless services, to IoT developers and consumers in exchange for valuable cryptocurrency. This new wave of connectivity is growing at an explosive rate. Early adopters are exploring new ways to utilize the internet. It’s time to move away from the aging infrastructure and embrace a peer to peer model. Decentralized wireless has momentum and is here to stay. So, please check out Calchipconnect.com. That’s C A L C H I P C O N N E C T .com. So, without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast.
– [Ryan] Welcome, Andy, to the IoT For All show. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Andy] Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s fantastic to have you. I wanted to start off by asking you to give a quick introduction about yourself, maybe background experience, anything you think would be relevant for our audience to kind of get a better sense of who we’re listening to.
– [Andy] Yes, absolutely. I’m engineer all my life. And, I graduated with a PhD in electrical engineering at MIT back in the 2000s, and I was working on the wireless communication systems, something called wireless sensor networks for my PhD thesis. And, of course, almost 10 years later, wireless sensor networks turned into something called IoT, which was completely coincidental, but it was definitely a interesting start.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. So, talk a little bit more about your current company, kind of what your company does, and the role you all play in IoT.
– [Andy] Yes. Our current company, Prescient Devices, actually came off a prior sort of startup than I did. So, about 10 years ago, we were basically trying to solve a problem for local utility companies, which is monitoring underground conditions, such as gas levels, water levels, whether it’s people are going down under the utility tunnels without authorization. So, I was able to apply what I learned in school about wireless sensor networks to that problem. And, of course, it was around 2010. So, there was not a lot of IoT going on, and we had to build everything from scratch. Basically, all the hardware, they were going underground. So, there had to be waterproof, humidity proof, a signal has to come out from the underground, all the way out. We had to have communication connectors. We had to build our own communication protocols. Then, we had to build the cloud. And, it was a great experience. We did very well solving a major pain for utility companies. And, along the way, what we found was that, this is when IoT started to really take off, around 2014, 2015, or so, we found that people are interested in IoT much more now, but it’s new. People don’t know how to apply it yet. And, the first of those who do, usually they have a lot of questions. They have a lot of changes they want to do. So, for traditional systems, where the whole system is like a black box, right? A lot of software, a lot of the embedded programming, customers were very slow in adopting this type of systems, evolving this type of systems. So, that got us thinking, what’s a better way to do it. Fortunately, being an engineer, we know a lot of engineering software that solve exactly that problem. For example, software from Rockwell automation, to program PLC, to software from National Instruments, LabVIEW, to do data acquisition. Those are what’s today called low-code software that enables customers to drag and drop components, connect by wires and do custom programming, essentially, without knowing a lot about technology. So, we thought, okay, maybe we could do this to IoT. So, we started to experiment, we build the software, we call it distributed local programming software, and that’s the foundation of our products.
– [Ryan] So, tell me a little bit more about the product, kind of how it works. Obviously, I’ve heard of other low code solutions out there, but talk a little bit more about what your offering is, kind of why it’s unique. What’s different about it, and the kind of value it brings to the market.
– [Andy] Right. Basically, when we started our product, we had one requirement for the product, which is that, for a user, who doesn’t necessarily have to be a technology expert or a software expert, they go to one place, they build their complete IoT system in that place. They don’t need to come out. They don’t need to do dev ops, cloud operations. They don’t need to do sophisticated embedded programming, just one place very much like LabVIEW, right? So, they drag and drop code blocks. They implement it. They can do no-code, or low-code, or coding if they want, but it’s one interface for the entire solution. And, in order to do that, what it means is that we have to bring in different physical components, and represent them as models inside our system, because IoT system has many, many devices, right? You have many edge devices, they’re connected to sensors, and they’re everywhere. So, basically, you have to virtualize them into our software as block diagram. And, then you also have other blocks that can represent cloud operations, cloud logic, cloud dashboards. And, then you can wire in between them. So, this is what so-called, modeless code type of approach, right? Basically, the software is a model of your complete system and the user or engineer just goes in, they drive down the block, they say, okay, inside the block, I want this block to acquire data, do some math, do some processing, story and database. And, I want that data to come out, I connect to another block, which is in the cloud to do more cloud processing. And, you can draw all that in the same software, in the same place. So, this makes things much simpler to build, for somebody who is not expert. And, I think we’ve done that very well.
– [Ryan] Now, is the hope that the companies that you work with can handle the development, and then eventually the scale of the solution using your product themselves, or are you all involved in kind of that whole journey from when you first start working with them through the kind of the scale of their solution?
– [Andy] The idea is that, eventually, companies or users can build everything themselves, which is what we’re doing now. We give the software pretty much to engineers and users. They try it out. They build stuff. And, once they’re able to scale to production level solutions, now they can say, maybe, we’ll pay you some money, to manage it professionally. When I say manage, I mean, the software manages everything, right? So, automation behind the scene. And, so we don’t… We don’t usually get involved. We do get involved in terms of helping users along that journey. If the user say, okay, how do you guys do as this type of analytics? Right? We would help. Sometimes, we build additional packages for them to use. And, the goal eventually is that it’s basically, you can use almost like users using LabVIEW, or RSlogics from… From the PLC side, and they can just do it minimal.
– [Ryan] Gotcha. So, are there any use cases, or kind of deployments that you all focus on? Or, any industries that you’re focused on, or anything that you’d be comfortable sharing with our audience so they can kind of get a more real-world example of, kind of see how the application of your technology is taking place?
– [Andy] Yes, absolutely. So, we do not focus on particular verticals. We focus on particular application, right? So, application is basically remote monitoring analytics, edge computing devices. So, our applications are, for example, in a manufacturing setting, maybe an engineer wants to quickly monitor say the wear and tear of certain equipment, right? It could be a probe of some sort, it could be a machine, maybe they wanted to measure vibration, or they count the number of times the probe is touching down. In the past, obviously, just to build that solution requires a pretty sophisticated software and engineering team to do, right? Today, we grab one of those edge devices off the shelf, they attach a vibration sensor, or they attach a…. A proximity sensor. And, then, from our software, they can directly code what they want it to do with the data coming from those sensors, right? So, our software sits in the cloud and you install our edge agent into your edge device. And, now you can program that edge device from our software in the cloud, you can connect that device to other devices. You can connect it to some cloud operations. So, our use cases range from monitoring equipment operations in factories, to monitoring equipments out there, in even carwash shops, everywhere where you want it to do remote monitoring, using sensors, using machine vision, you can do this very quickly with our software.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And, when you’re working with companies of all different sizes across all different industries, where… What have you found are the biggest challenges to getting their deployments off the ground? And, then on top of that, what advice do you have for those companies to kind of help overcome those challenges that you are commonly seeing on your side of things?
– [Andy] Yeah, so we certainly see plenty of challenges, in companies adopting IoT, and one challenge is that I think a lot of AN customers, they don’t really know exactly what IoT adoptions… IoT solutions to adopt. This is completely understandable, we see this over and over again. So, they don’t know what to monitor, what to do with data. How do we extract the value out of data, or even what’s the ROI they’re getting? So, I think getting all those answers ahead of time is typically how companies work in the past, to adopt this type of solutions. They have to have a proposal. They have to have a budget. They have to come in, and say our superiors, that there’s ROI there. And, unfortunately, this way of the adoption does not really result in a lot of success, because working with IoT, working with data is almost a continuous process. You have to first have visibility on your equipment, on your processes. You can see some data out of it. You do some simple threshold detection to detect whether something’s wrong, but as soon as you get into that, you’ll start to observe what else you can do. So, you can implement more sophisticated algorithms. Maybe, you can add cameras to supplement what you have. And, over time, if you are able to reiterate, almost always, you come out with a very high ROI, but because IoT systems are so complex, black box feature, most companies are not able to do that. So, this is what we do, right? So, what we say is that with our software, you can start, you can do a few simple things, solve a few simple problems, because you can do it very quickly. And, then, based on the observation you get, based on the feedback you get, you continue on to keep building on top. So, it’s a very, very agile type of development. And, because engineers can do it, companies don’t require a lot of resources to get started. It’s very low cost to get started. So, we believe that’s a right way to adopt something that’s potentially transformational, but it requires that iteration to get to the transformation.
– [Ryan] Makes a lot of sense. And, where do you… By being able to save costs, time, throughout that stage, where do you see most of the costs come in to play throughout the development of a solution? Is it more on the hardware side or is there a different area where kind of the cost really starts to play a factor?
– [Andy] The cost of what we’ve seen is really human cost. So, for example, if you… If a company wants to develop a IoT solution, they would require a software engineer to build the application, another software engineer to get all the cloud, the environment set up, right? Dev op stuff. They need maybe a system engineer to do product test, to make sure the solution’s okay, you installed the solution. And, when you add it up, you need four or five engineers, maybe half a million to a million dollars a year just to do that development, right? So, you have to allocate all that cost ahead of time. And, ideally, what you really want to do is you want it to have this environment where you just dedicate one engineer who can very quickly build some initial solutions. Then, from there, it evolving, without having that big baggage of technology, expertise that’s required in the past.
– [Ryan] Right. Right. Now, one question I’ve had, ’cause we’ve talked to a bunch of guests about these topics. We talked about challenges before, and everybody obviously has their own perspective, but one area that we don’t talk too much about, specifically, is the factors that really contribute to successful IoT adoption, in general. I think, obviously, with what you’re offering is out in the market, the ease of the technology’s usability is something that contributes to adoption, but I’d love it if you could talk a little bit more, just even a high level, what you’ve seen across all the deployments and all the projects you’ve been involved with. Where do you see the… Or, which factors do you feel contribute most to successful IoT adoption from… The early… Just kind of planning stages, all the way through scale.
– [Andy] Okay. We have worked with probably over 400 customers, in our prior startup. So, we’ve developed a good idea of which projects are gonna succeed. What people say is that IoT adoption is a strategy, it’s not a solution. So, you have to kind of go in with a mindset that it’s experimental, it’s iterative, right? So, sometimes you, maybe, you have to try three different solutions to get the optimal one. And, you have to take small steps. One step at a time to go from visibility, to discovery, to transformation, and companies who do… Who take this approach, generally, are very likely to succeed. But, this approach is hard to do, both, because companies are not used to this type of approach, but also there’s not enough good tools to enable companies to take on this approach.
– [Ryan] Gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. If we were to kind of break down the different stages of kind of IoT, when it comes to development, we have the concept, the prototype stage. Then, we have kind of scale. If we were to kind of go through each of those three areas and talk about what’s needed to succeed, how would you kind of do that?
– [Andy] Yeah. So, what we often do is, when we speak to customers, we ask what the problem they are… They’re trying to solve, right? So, we always try to suggest something very simple. Maybe, it takes less than a week to do, to show results. So, that’s a concept stage, right? It’s a prototype. But, the nice thing with our solution is that if you build it inside, it’s production grade to begin with, right? So, maybe it’s a small scale solution. Maybe, you’ve just had one edge device, right? With a few sensors on it. But, it’s pretty stable. And, once you like that, basically you can add devices to it just by clicking your mouse buttons. And, then, what you do as you continue to add analytics capability on top of it, right? And, initially it’s usually about getting the data, formatting the data, store the data. And, after that, it’s about doing a more sophisticated analytics on it. We have packages to do that. And, after that, you may add additional sensors, additional vision, sound solutions. We support those out of the box. So, it’s a step by step, so that you go from concept to a scalable production within, maybe, about a month’s time, which is pretty fast compared to a lot of other solutions.
– [Ryan] Of course. Yeah, that’s very quick. Now, what other factors are contributing to kind of, that’s being able to reach scale that… Or, to reach deployment that quickly, aside from just your general, the offering you all have to the market, ’cause I know there are tons of other factors that kind of play into this.
– [Andy] Yeah. So, Ryan, if you think about what people do with IoT, at least the majority of solutions are… They fall into the same bucket, right? So, it’s about getting data, then it’s about figuring out the value in that data. Maybe, you do it in that edge. Maybe, you do it in the cloud. Maybe, you need three sensors or five sensors, but the… The theme is the same. So, what we do is that for this type of problems, we know how to… How to figure out the solution, because, first of all, you have the tools to do all the data and analytics, either in your edge devices, or in the cloud, or you can copy back and forth. Or, there is specific solutions, like analytics solutions on different sensors that you can use. So, it’s constrained to a set of problems. I would say the common set of problems that the majority of companies are looking for, now, obviously, if you go much more sophisticated than that, it would take longer than a month for sure, right? It’s never a one month thing for you to finish IoT adoption, but taking these steps in a month, you can get to a really good stage. And, from there, you can continue to evolve, and it’s that flexibility and evolution that we add into our product.
– [Ryan] Now, let me ask, when you work with a lot of different companies, one thing I’ve kind of seen as a trend is just the general educational component of what IoT is and how it can benefit businesses. What are you all doing to kind of help educate… Potential customers, maybe even before you speak to them, on the values and benefits of IoT to help them increase the likelihood that they are willing to adopt, and kind of engage with you in business. And, that’s kind of where we’ve seen a lot of companies struggle with. A lot of companies are having tough time educating people before they even connect with them about what IoT can do for their business, to then, obviously, turn into, hopefully, a relationship and a business relationship past that. So, what do you all do to kind of help overcome that struggle that a lot of people have when they get into trying to figure out if IoT is a good fit for them. And, a lot of it starts off with that. Just being able to be educated enough to… With the right information, to make the correct decisions on how to adopt and get involved into… In building a solution for their business or potentially the business of their customers.
– [Andy] Yeah. This is a really good point you are raising, Ryan, because IoT is very new for a lot of customers, in particular in customers. They don’t know what to do. So, in our case, I think we do have a education component. We have a strong consulting component to help not only with technology solutions, but also with strategic adoption. With strategy. So, we usually share our experiences of how we have been able to help customers to succeed and use examples to help them to think about what they can do. And, on the other side, we also do a lot of, sort of, what we call… Tutorials, solution templates, for the technology side, right? So, on the technology side, even today, with so much interest coming from engineers, system integrators, system architects, adopting IoT, the skill level still not there. So, what do we do is we build solution templates and share it. We give it up for free, basically, for our community users, and say, take it, see how… How you build a production grade solution that can scale to many, many devices, right? Here are all the things we have to think about. Here are all the techniques you use to do that. So, I think by helping the community of users with design techniques, with what they can do with the solution templates over time, we kind of build it up for production grade adoption, being customer sites.
– [Ryan] Right. That’s fantastic. I think a lot of companies could probably benefit from that approach, and just better understanding how to communicate with their customers even before they even become their customers, and just help them overcome any of those challenges, or concerns that they may have, or have internally, or thinking about on why IoT is kind of the right answer, but–
– [Andy] That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And, in our case, I think we also have some… Our product is very interesting, right? So, I mentioned that this concept model is code, basically our software, your whole IoT system is a model. You have… It represents the actual code that’s gonna run in every single device, but it represents the data flow. It represents the device management, the device configuration. So, it’s not a new concept in engineering, like all the engineering software I mentioned. They all use this concept for… But, for IoT, it’s still relatively new. We find that a lot of users don’t know it. And, but those are such powerful concepts, right? So, we do a lot of education around that as well. And, I… As you said, I think educating both the users and the end customers are… It is just very important in IoT adoption.
– [Ryan] I completely agree. That’s one of the reasons we started IoT For All initially, was to help educate the world on what IoT is and how it could benefit their businesses. Because, a lot of the information we were seeing out there was very technical, very engineered, engineer focused. It wasn’t really speaking to a lot of the decision makers in non technical companies or IoT companies who don’t have a technical background. So, they couldn’t really decipher what was actually going on with IoT, what it really did for their business. So, that was kind of our approach. And, a lot of companies we’ve seen since then, adopt that approach, building materials that really speak to who their customer is, as opposed to just talking, and trying to impress people with their technical knowledge. And, I think that’s done wonders for our industry across the board for everyone who’s kind of contributed to working on educating the market and the world on IoT, as opposed to just trying to push a product. So, we think that’s been fantastic. And, what you all are doing, I think is great as well.
– [Andy] Yeah. This is so important. I think education, right? Through a podcast, through webinars, through publications really help a lot of end customers, to understand more about how to adopt. And, I think that technology complexity part makes it hard, right? But, it’s getting better today. There’s more low-code approach, not only for IoT, for AI. And… So… So, the solutions and the strategies are becoming more approachable and usable. So, we’re very optimistic and we do see the market moving in this direction faster and faster. There’s certainly interest. We see interest from nearly every company wanting to adopt IoT. How do we get through that barrier to get everybody on the other side, so they can adopt with the right strategy, to optimize their results. I think that’s something that we work on to educate.
– [Ryan] Right. Right. Absolutely, and that’s fantastic. If our audience out there kind of wants to learn a little bit more about the company, what you all have going on, what’s the best way to do that for them?
– [Andy] Yeah. So, our website has a lot of good information. We have a lot of publication. We’ll have events. So… Your readers can go to our website, go to the events section to see what we have. We have webinars. For example, we have one coming up next week. We also have quite a number of YouTube videos. Those are probably more technical, right? We explain the features of our software, and how do you build better IoT solutions inside it. So, for engineers or users, you can go to our YouTube channel to watch some of those. Certainly, get in touch with us. We’re always happy to speak to end customers, to users. Just fill out a quick form on our a website and we’ll get in touch. We always love to learn the use cases, how people build IoT, and it’s a learning process. It’s a growing process for all of us.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s fantastic. And, is there anything new and exciting kind of coming out on your all’s end that the audience or anyone out there listening should be on the lookout for?
– [Andy] Yeah. So, recently we’ve been focusing quite a bit on building solution templates that are plug and play, but users can directly drag and drop it in our software, and it’s done. So, I would really, highly to recommend users to… To take a look at some of the videos we have on solution templates. And, if they’re interested, please come up, come to our website and sign up for account. We have a community… Community edition of our software, which is free to use forever for development. I would encourage people to try it out, see if it helps some of them. And, of course, we’re always looking for feedback as to how to make the… Our low-code product easier and faster to use for users. So, our website is a good resource to find that.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, Andy, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to kind of talk to me, and to provide this information to our audience. I think what you have going on is great. Anything that a company can do to help increase the likelihood of a company adopting IoT, I think only helps the industry as a whole. So… So, I really appreciate everything you all are doing, and think what you have going on is fantastic.
– [Andy] Well, thank you so much for having me, Ryan. It’s a real pleasure.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Alright, everyone. Thanks again for joining us this week on the IoT For All podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And, if you did, please leave us a rating, or review, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you’re listening to us on. Also, if you have a guest you’d like to see on the show, please drop us a note at [email protected], and we’ll do everything we can to get them as a featured guest. Other than that, thanks again for listening. And, we’ll see you next time.