Transformation of Smart Cities is a Team Sport: CENTRI Technology


Smart City Visionaries |

Don DeLoach has been working in connected systems his entire career, whether developing and managing complex events processing technologies and platforms, or pioneering in IoT when IoT was still called Machine-to-Machine (M2M).

After building and selling Infobright in 2017, DeLoach has been consulting to companies who are building disruptive technologies, and earlier this year was brought on board CENTRI Technology where he is President and COO today.

In his spare time, DeLoach co-authored a book titled “The Future of IoT” and services as co-chairman of the Midwest IoT Council, based in Chicago, Illinois, where he lives, and is hard at work on his second book, which will include insights on smart cities and smart regions, topics he speaks about frequently.

DeLoach sees smart communities as evolving very quickly, adapting to new technologies and networking protocols, and inspiring new business models, making the funding of large implementations realistic and less risky.

“Smart Cities as a term has different meanings to different people,” DeLoach said “It can mean a heavily instrumented city that has a better understanding of the state of the city at a given time. It can mean one that employs increasingly sophisticated analytics in order to interpret and act upon the data it has gathered from all this instrumentation. It can be a city that deployed technology to create greater efficiencies, sustainability, and greater access to and deployment of city services ranging from transportation to public safety to water and electricity.”

As an observer and contributor to smart city ecosystems and developer communities, DeLoach has seen a steady progression as “cities around the globe increasingly move towards becoming smart cities. In 2014 there were a handful of forward-thinking cities with very specific initiatives underway. These included Chicago, Seattle, New York, and several others in the US, and perhaps even more aggressive were the projects in Dubai, Amsterdam, Singapore, and several other cities in Asia, to name but a few. As we watch this progression, there are certainly a number of people who stand out as experts in understanding what makes a city truly smart and future ready.”

DeLoach counts among his friends deep in the space Brenna Berman at CityTech Collaborative in Chicago, Bob Mazur at Smart City Works in Washington, Anthony Townsend at NYU in New York, Sascha Haseleyer at CityMart in New York, Chris Rezendes at Spherical Analytics and Jay Hedley at Accenture Digital.

“I personally think Internet of Things (IoT) is a holistic proposition. It requires and understanding of the relationship between the information technology and the operational technology elements. It requires in understanding of the hardware, down to the sensors, as well as the communication options, the various software component technology options including foundational elements like security, privacy, and especially data governance. It requires an understanding of architecture, and the incredible importance of the architecture in being able to leverage and deliver the underlying data.”

DeLoach also believes success in smart cities and regions requires an understanding of analytic capabilities, ranging from operational analytics (“What is going on?”) to investigative analytics (“Why is it going on?”) to predictive analytics (“What will be going on?”) to the most prominent discussion today, which is machine learning, which is what is required to truly deliver adaptive systems.

“This need for holistic understanding creates challenges, for sure, but it also creates opportunities,” DeLoach said. “These come in the form of more sophisticated solutions that can deliver for the underlying imperatives, while abstracting the complexity from the average users. Most of us don’t really understand what goes in in iTunes between our phone and laptop and the cloud, we just know what songs we want to hear and on which device. The complexity has been eliminated, making the technology accessible by all. That is the direction of smart cities. That is the opportunity.”

To bring this about will not be easy, DeLoach said, “At Atonomi, the blockchain-based product business unit of CENTRI, we are working to deliver a trusted IoT environment. This starts with the ability to introduce devices into a heterogeneous world (of which smart cities are probably the very best example of where we expect to see such a requirement). Devices must have the ability to be authenticated and introduced into the network in such a manner that other participants can trust each device.”

This is where blockchain comes in, according to DeLoach. “Distributed Ledger Technology can play in important role here. Think of this authentication as the trust, however subliminal, you have about the other cars on the road and that they were not made available for sale unless they were made to operate safely and correctly. Then consider that you also need to trust that the devices on the network have not been violated in any way. That means they have additional security safeguards, and well as monitoring of the behavior of the devices to detect issues if they occur. Using the car example, this might equate to emissions testing to ensure the “device” continues to conform to expectations for the good of all the other participants. When the world gets to the point, likely by smart cities, where devices exist and interact with other devices in heterogeneous networks in many cases autonomously, the entire promise of IoT rests on our collective ability to trust the infrastructure. Without it, we have a magnified attack vector with increased vulnerability as a society. That is hardly sustainable. With great opportunity reflected by this technology, comes a great burden to ensure the foundational elements deliver the technology in a trusted and accessible fashion.”

Part of accessibility is the interface, and another part is the cost, DeLoach explained. “If a generic scan costs $1M, then it would not ever be a part of mainstream healthcare, despite the very rich data and information resulting from the scan. But at $1000, or even $100, these capabilities begin to approach mainstream. There continue to be advances in technology that make IoT in general, and smart cities in particular, more and more capable of widespread, mainstream adoption. This would include increasingly small but powerful sensor and chip technology. This includes advances in communications, like low power wide area solution like LoRa and NB-IoT. This includes advances in batteries and the combination of this with advances in sensors to provide for very small, but very powerful end-point devices. And the combination of technologies only continues to advance the progression of IoT.”

At the end of the day, DeLoach sees the IoT and Industrial IoT as “a very, very big network. In fact, it is a set of cooperating and integrated networks. Between Lora, BLE, and other communications options up to and including 5G, we are in an entire different and unimaginable world than we were just a decade ago. And since the progression seems to be advancing at an increasing rate, one can only begin to ponder what the future holds. This should suggest, if nothing else, to think big about the opportunity. And based on the holistic nature of IoT, think big – and wide.”

One of the challenges CENTRI is addressing within their offerings is to provide increased security for low power devices. “These are the most obvious attack vectors we see,” DeLoach said.

“They are the Bluetooth tire valve and the aquarium thermometer. By introducing very low footprint, military grade encryption and compression, we provide an extra layer of security, and simultaneously more effective resource adaptation to secure and utilize the largest growing part of IoT. And we are one of many companies working in this ecosystem to address market demands that may be obvious but are issues that need to be overcome nonetheless.”

According to DeLoach, there is no smart city that is not secure.

“As we look across today’s landscape, we certainly see progress in those same cities that were engaged back in 2014. They have the benefit of experience and are drawing from that to iterate. But that list has grown probably 10x. Today, almost every city is progressing to become a smart city in some form or fashion. And cities like Stockholm and Toronto and Columbus, Ohio are all moving forward alongside the others. The list will only grow. But one key element to keep in mind – it’s not a smart city without smart security.”