How to Track People and Assets with Averos
We recently looked at an Australian 3D printing company that was investing in Industry 4.0 which Wikipedia defines as “the subset of the fourth industrial revolution that concerns industry.” In the eyes of most companies, Industry 4.0 consists of vomiting every management consulting buzzword that can be found onto one slide of a pitch deck and referring to it as “the future of our industry.”
In reality, Industry 4.0 can best be described by explaining the concept of a digital twin. Simply put, a digital twin is a digital depiction of anything from a machine to an entire factory that’s connected using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors so that every activity, process, or movement can be measured and tracked in real-time. Consequently, you’ll have lots of big data that can then be fed to machine learning algorithms so that they can optimize your operations and either increase revenues, decrease costs, or improve safety.
In order to better understand some of the tools being used to move the world towards Industry 4.0, we traveled to the great Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to visit with a company that’s been deploying IoT solutions around the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for the past four years. Interest in Middle East technology start-ups has been rising, and venture capital investments in Saudi Arabia are expected to grow tenfold by 2025. It’s a perfect place for Averos to build and deploy technology solutions used to track people and assets.
Founded in 2016, Makkah, Saudi Arabia startup Averos has taken in an undisclosed amount of seed funding last year from Saudi Aramco’s venture capital arm, Wa’ed Ventures, to “provide companies and their customers with full and real-time situation awareness of their environment, their customers, their staff and their valuable assets.” Their platform is what the techies refer to as “full stack,” which essentially means it’s vertically integrated from the sensors that are affixed to assets all the way to the apps that are used to track the assets.
The above diagram spells out how this platform would be deployed in a factory warehouse. Firstly, you would attach these beacons to all mobile machines and people within your warehouse. Then, you would install the scanners that are used to read the beacons. The scanners can then communicate with Central HQ where all the real-time information gets aggregated in the cloud and fed to applications. The end result is a digital depiction of how your assets are moving about. Intuitively, such a solution would come in handy for use cases where you need to track lots of people and machines that move about frequently – like at one of the biggest human migration events in the world that takes place in Mecca.
Logistics at The Hajj
It’s impossible to convey the scale of The Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. Nearly every one of the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims will undertake this pilgrimage at least once in their lifetimes. In 2018, nearly 2.5 million pilgrims descended upon the city of Mecca to perform a series of sacred rituals that take place over one week’s time. In order to house all the pilgrims, a tent city is erected of a scale that can only be described by pictures such as the one below:
If you thought solving the traveling salesman problem was hard, just imagine being responsible for moving millions of people around in a coordinated manner using buses. Nowhere on this planet will you see such a large-scale logistical exercise involving the movement of humans using buses. As you can imagine, moving these pilgrims, many of whom speak different languages and adhere to different cultural norms, through the various stages of The Hajj requires a lot of coordination. That’s where Averos came into the picture back in 2016 when they used The Hajj as a proving ground for their technology solutions. Today, they’re doing fleet management and scheduling for more than 17,000 buses using automatic vehicle localization (AVL) systems. Slick dashboards like the one seen below provide those responsible for the pilgrimage experience with an easy way to see the flow of people.
The work that Averos has been doing at The Hajj over the past 4 years has provided them with a foundation to expand their people and asset tracking technology across a number of verticals, all of which are seeing traction in the region and across the globe.
Tracking People and Assets
In order to better understand the process of tracking people and assets, we sat down to talk with Yusuf Sabadia, Chief Executive Officer of Averos. He described the startup as a vertically integrated IoT-based technology company providing location-based systems for IoT environments using wireless technologies. With about 30 customers on their roster, about 30% of the company’s revenues come from outside Saudi Arabia and they’re currently validating their technology in Europe as well as opening up an office in Switzerland shortly.
The Averos offering can be divided into the following two segments:
- Indoor positioning and navigation
- People and asset tracking
Averos doesn’t sell direct, but instead works with partners to deploy their hardware and software across a variety of use cases.
Indoor positioning and navigating is like Google Maps for indoor navigation or indoor GPS. Since just about everyone owns a smartphone these days, any visitor to a venue can download an app and use it to navigate. Sounds great, but are these luxury solutions or must-haves?
We posed this question to Mr. Sabadia who gave the example of implementing indoor navigation systems in malls. In the olden days, retailers would rather that customers get lost so that they spent more time shopping. Today, things are changing. Younger clientele prefer not to waste their time and expect there to be apps that help them navigate. Certain venues need to offer indoor navigation to optimize the customer experience, especially when getting lost is a real problem. Places like airports, hospitals, and entertainment venues are all prime places for indoor navigation.
Averos has implemented their indoor navigation solution in all Saudi airports including King Fahd International Airport, the biggest airport in the world, covering an area that’s larger than the country of Bahrain and about one-third the size of Rhode Island. Another place which utilizes their technology is the Grand Mosque of Mecca, a holy site that is bigger than Disneyland Park at 99 acres with a 4-million-person capacity. These humongous implementations are great proving grounds for the technology to demonstrate its ability to scale. The Averos indoor navigation technology now covers more than 2.5 million square million meters (over 600 acres) of space across GCC countries. Any large indoor space is ripe for indoor tracking solutions, and they’re presently in quite a few hospitals where patient experience is a priority. They’re then able to sell additional solutions to hospitals, like asset tracking.
People and Asset Tracking
Many asset tracking use cases can be found in hospitals or industrial environments where expensive machinery needs to be quickly located when a need arises so that it can be optimally utilized. In many hospitals, expensive mobile equipment is tough to track and find in an emergency, especially given how many healthcare facilities are set up like labyrinths. This means extra equipment is purchased just to make sure it’s readily available resulting in added costs. Decreasing costs is a language anyone can understand, and Averos is presently piloting their asset tracking technology with at least one hospital.
As for tracking people, Averos is seeing strong demand in the region for niche security applications such as tracking visitors in real-time at secure locations like defense installations or nuclear sites. That’s mainly because not many competing solutions out there provide the functionality that Averos can offer. In these cases, it’s important to track where people are moving about and create geofences to ensure they don’t move into areas they shouldn’t be. These tracking solutions reduce the number of humans you need for monitoring CCTV cameras and consequently reduce costs. They’re also looking at more benign applications of their people tracking technology, especially where safety is a concern. For example, some of their tracking tags are equipped with accelerometers in order to detect falls. It’s the perfect solution for tracking patients in an elderly home.
Solving large-scale logistical problems involving hundreds of thousands of unpredictable humans has applicability around the globe in places where people congregate in large numbers such as music festivals, concerts, sporting events, or even the Olympics. If Averos can master logistics at the single largest concentrated gathering of humans on this planet, then they’re well suited to figure out human logistical problems at any scale. The big data they are able to accumulate at The Hajj has value in solving complex logistical problems by adding some machine learning algorithms into the equation. Being able to perform indoor navigation at the world’s largest airport is another demonstration of their technological competence, and the future bodes well for this fast-growing startup and the astute investors who have backed it.