IoT

Microsoft announced a cool Internet of Things (IoT) project based on its Azure cloud system that should get racing fans excited this week. One of its partners created a web app that takes data directly in real time from the Indy 500 track and relays it to race fans.

Why is this important, though, and how are such apps built in Azure?

One day we’ll look back on the early days of the IoT as a time of huge optimism about the potential of connected products and services, paralleled only by incredible silliness. To whit: the network-connected egg tray and the connected umbrella. As businesses struggle to produce products and services that are actually useful, some are emerging, though.

What separates the useful from the useless? One is a problem in search of a solution, while the other solution in search of a problem. The Indy 500’s IoT product leans more towards the former than the latter.

The Azure-based project stems from the fact that sports are based on statistics. Fans from baseball to basketball love to log numbers, and auto racing fans are no different. Indycar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are using car-based sensors linked to an app created by Microsoft partner Bluemetal, which was the firm’s IoT Partner of the Year for 2016.

The Indy 500 app is a good use case for an IoT-driven service because the cars are already delivering all of that data, meaning that the app is simply realizing its latent value. Everything from speed to fuel consumption and braking data is coming from the vehicles, and IndyCar execs reckon that they’ve only been using 5% of it. This will hopefully excite hardcore fans even more, and perhaps bring newcomers to the game. It’s effectively an entertainment and marketing tool.

Running in Azure, the web app for the race will gather data and publish it in real time for users to see. This will help them to spot things like ‘hot’ drivers who are passing other drivers consistently, and other stats.

“IoT is the sort of solution that is perfectly suited to these global public cloud platforms,” said David Bartoletti, principal analyst at Forrester. “Microsoft with Azure is part of a small group of global public cloud players who have incredibly broad reach and a rich set of services.”

So, how does Azure enable apps like this to be built?

The first part is the Azure IoT Hub, a gateway for devices to connect with Azure that it took online in February. Developers use this to create connectors for their devices, each of which then sees its own IoT Hub instance.

IoT Hub is part of a broader IoT Suite, which Microsoft bought online in September 2015. “The IoT suite is Microsoft’s attempt to make it really easy for companies to get started,” said Bartoletti.  “For companies that have more experience, they offer a whole series of cloud services for IoT.”

These services range from security authentication through to data processing. One key component is Stream Analytics, a service that processes streaming data in real time, and prepares it for consumption by other services.  This was a key component of the Indy 500 system.

From there, data can go into other services such as Microsoft’s Event Hub, which is an event handler triggered by specific data coming in from the Stream Analytics service. This can be used to update web apps running on Azure, and of course the data can also be stored in Azure Storage.

As companies become more sophisticated at finding appropriate business cases for IoT, we’re likely to see these quick-win scenarios increasing in number. And perhaps finally the Internet-connected tape measure or egg tray will go the way of Microsoft Clippy.



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