A one-on-one with Sarah Cooper, GM of IoT analytics and applications, AWS

Amazon Web Services had lots to say at re:Invent this year. Product announcements were aplenty, and so were the partnerships touted on the keynote stage that AWS broadcasted to thousands of remote attendees. During a break in the action, Sarah Cooper, general manager of IoT, analytics and applications, answered a few of our questions.

Profile photo of Sarah Cooper
Sarah Cooper, GM of IoT analytics and applications, AWS. Source: LinkedIn

We began by picking her brain about the work AWS is doing with Carrier. The two announced a partnership back in October 2020 to co-develop Carrier’s new Lynx digital platform. The Lynx platform will combine AWS’s IoT, analytics, and machine learning services with Carrier’s refrigeration and monitoring solutions. This is meant to extend the Carrier’s current digital offerings for managing the temperature-controlled transport and storage of perishables.

Q: Can you talk about something you didn’t expect or surprised you during the development of that collaboration? (Maybe something that didn’t seem necessary to know at first but then became crucial? Technology surprises/challenges?)

SC: On the collaboration side, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how quickly the AWS and Carrier engineering and product teams started acting as one team with shared goals. A significant part of that is due to a common culture of innovation, being scrappy to deliver quickly, as well as sharing a mission-driven vision to ensure safe, efficient delivery of effective vaccine and unspoiled food.

On the technology side, like so many with a part to play in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, we’ve been racing to deliver solutions that meet the unprecedented requirements and scale of the current vaccination challenge in front of us and the world. I’ve been in IoT either as a customer or technology builder for the better part of a decade. This is the first time I can remember where the connectivity/device software/data transport wasn’t a bottleneck. We definitely needed to make a tweak here or there to technology we already had, but it just required a remote update, literally adjusted in minutes with no person present on-site. It’s the way IoT was meant to work and has let us focus on the total system and the application development which ultimately is what will make vaccine distribution transparent, safe, and secure.


BlackBerry and AWS entered into a multi-year agreement to co-develop a new BlackBerry intelligent vehicle data platform, and we asked Cooper to highlight some of the partnerships’ benefits outside of the seamless data sharing that will enable the development of services across multiple vehicle models. 

SC: It’s actually so much more than seamless data sharing. This alliance between Blackberry QNX and AWS combines software from Blackberry QNX, which is currently embedded in more than 175 million cars on the road today, with software from AWS that runs primarily in the vehicle’s embedded systems and integrates with the cloud for provisioning and update-ability. We are creating a consistent, flexible, and secure way for manufacturers (OEMs) to share data, and for developers to access data–locally in the vehicle and in the cloud–bridging safety and non-safety critical systems with the cloud, and enabling platform flexibility and update capabilities in a fashion similar to the mobile phone model. As a result, OEMs will have access to an entire ecosystem of developers to innovate new driver and owner experiences by analyzing data in new ways and creating new functionality.

In the automotive sector today, we see vehicles creating increasing amounts of sensor data currently, untapped for its full value by OEMs they could be using to unlock new experiences for their drivers and therefore additional revenue opportunities as well. But this data is very difficult for OEMs to share and for developers to use for several reasons: 1) Some of this data is protected within safety certified areas of the vehicle and cannot be accessed or shared without working within the certification requirements, 2) Each OEM and each model has unique sensors and produces unique data formats and codes requiring developers to have specific solutions for each vehicle model, and 3) Local access to this data needs to be set up during the vehicle design phase which makes it difficult to change these permissions and grant new access as new use cases are discovered.

As a result, when you drive a new car off the lot today, you are essentially driving technical debt–your car will never be better than when it was manufactured. Blackberry IVY is built to allow owners to add features and developers to create new functionality. By providing developers with access to the thousands of sensors gathering data from your car’s systems, in the cabin, outside in the environment, and in your city, they are able to create new capabilities for your car. Sensors could limit distractions and distance for teen drivers, new applications could optimize a fleet to save fuel, or reduce driver fatigue. Manufacturers could flag and fix things before the check-engine light even turns on.




Q: In 2018, John Chen told us that the business world is going to “demand” secure IoT devices in 2019 as more companies turn to data coming from various sensors and devices to try and grow. Do you think you saw that urgency from the business world last year? What about this year during the pandemic?

SC: Security has always been and will always be our top priority at AWS—we’ve been architected to be the most flexible and secure cloud computing environment available today, satisfying the security requirements for military, global banks, and other high-sensitivity organizations. We use the same secure hardware and software to build and operate each of our regions, so all of our customers benefit from the only commercial cloud that has had its service offerings and associated supply chain vetted and accepted as secure enough for top-secret workloads. This is backed by a deep set of cloud security tools, with more than 230 security, compliance, and governance services and key features.

However, we have a shared responsibility model with our customers. While we manage and control the components from the host operating system and virtualization layer down to the physical security of the facilities in which the services operate, our customers are responsible for their content. Customers retain ownership and control of their data, and are responsible for building secure applications. That applies to IoT too. For that reason, it’s important for businesses to build their IoT solutions with security in mind. One of the services we offer is AWS IoT Device Defender, which continuously audits IoT configurations to make sure that they aren’t deviating from security best practices.

Today, with the combination of AWS, AWS IoT, and AWS Greengrass, developers have a single pane of glass that lets them decide what processing and analytics they want to do in the cloud, and what they want to do on the device itself, eliminating the latency of a round trip to the cloud. And, they have the same programming interface, which makes it much easier to collect data from these devices on the edge, perform large-scale analytics, pick predictive ML algorithms they can run on the devices to do predictions at the edge. This totally changes what is possible.

AWS also makes available FreeRTOS, an open-source, real-time operating system for microcontrollers that makes small, low-power edge devices easy to program, deploy, secure, connect and manage. Both AWS IoT Greengrass and FreeRTOS automatically integrate with AWS IoT Device Defender to provide security metrics from the devices for evaluation.

While I can’t talk speak to an increase in demand for secure IoT devices, 90-95 per cent of the services, features, and applications we launch come from what our customers are telling us they want and/or need. Earlier this year, we announced the general availability of AWS IoT Sitewise, a managed service that makes it easy for industrial customers to collect, organize, and monitor data from industrial equipment at scale.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coophttp://www.itwc.ca
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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