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A Corona traffic light as a total IoT solution


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IoT Use Case Podcast #37 1NCE, Sentinum

A use case with high social relevance: The implementation of hygiene concepts requires a lot of effort and care, no mistakes should happen – neither in the implementation nor in the documentation. 1NCE and Sentinum present a smart sensor that measures indoor aerosol levels, prompts ventilation, and automatically delivers and documents the data to a cloud. The guests who talk about this in the 37th episode of the IIoT Use Case Podcast are Dennis Knake (Communications Manager, 1NCE GmbH) and Manuel Hart (Founder, Sentinum GmbH).

Podcast episode summary

The use case in this podcast episode revolves around a Corona traffic light that helps optimize indoor air monitoring and makes manual documenation a thing of the past. Sentinum’s traffic light is part of an overall IoT solution and works with the smart 1NCE SIM card. This is integrated directly on a circuit board and enables mobile connectivity. Users of the solution can directly access the data on different devices and react accordingly.

The traffic light is a sensor, the so-called Febris sensor, which is ideally placed in the center of indoor spaces to determine the air values in the best possible way. The sensor determines the measure of exhaled air via the CO2 content. The data obtained is used to infer the amount of aerosols present in the air. An elevated CO2 level indicates an increased aerosol load and, conversely, an increased risk of infection. According to the measured values, the Corona traffic light reacts with green, yellow or red light and – in the last two cases – requests ventilation.

The field of application? Wherever people come together and ventilation is necessary – whether in offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants or even industry. Commissioning takes only a few seconds: Attach the traffic light, insert the battery and you’re ready to go. No integration into other networks or intervention in local IT and communications infrastructure is necessary. However, the sensor can also be easily coupled with existing ventilation infrastructures. Both the Sentinum sensor and 1NCE’s smart connectivity solution are versatile and can be easily transferred to a wide range of hardware.

In this use case, the linking of things is associated with immediate, tangible added value for the end customer – it provides security, saves time, operates in a power-saving manner, reduces operating costs, and expands existing hygiene concepts for building managers and co.

Podcast interview

Hello Dennis and hello Manuel, welcome to the IIoT Use Case Podcast. Glad you took the time to join us today. I would just start directly with a short round of introductions. Dennis, would you like to briefly say a few points about you and yourself and maybe tell us what exactly you do at 1NCE in terms of core business?


Thank you very much for the invitation. My name is Dennis Knake. I am the communications manager at 1NCE GmbH and we are a mobile communications provider for devices in the so-called Internet of Things. A few key data: We were founded in 2017 with the participation of Deutsche Telekom, now have over 100 employees and are based in Cologne. However, we also have a large network team in Riga and are otherwise well positioned in several European countries as far away as Asia, Hong Kong. We now have a customer base from a wide range of industries: smart city logistics, telematics, healthcare, smart farming, etc.


To wrap up the round of introductions, I’m looking in your direction, Manuel. After all, we’re talking about a super exciting topic today. Keyword: CO2 and Corona. Can you briefly tell us who you are and what exactly you do in terms of content at Sentinum?


With pleasure. My name is Manuel Hart. I am one of the founders and managing directors of the company Sentinum. In our core business, we deal with the networking of things. This means that we develop wireless IoT solutions for different industries, starting from sensor or hardware development to smart web applications in the cloud. We have our own very specialized product portfolio. But we also help customers make their products smart and realize communication in the cloud. In the course of this, we also deal with communication standards such as NB-IoT and generally specialize in wireless, battery-powered products. For my part, I deal with the topics around business development in the IoT area – for example, with the development of new business areas and applications, strategy, partner development, establishing cooperations, market analyses, but also with many technical topics, emerging technologies in the area of cloud and communication. What can be used in the future? Where is the technical market heading and what are the market drivers? 


Today we’ve taken on a topic that revolves around air quality and CO2 – including the whole Corona situation. I would like to familiarize the listeners with the content of the topic first, what exactly it is all about. Manuel, can you give us a little introduction on what the relevance of the topic is and how exactly you are doing there with Sentinum?


So basically, according to current studies, most corona infections in enclosed spaces always occur where there are encounters, that is, where people meet. If we think about where this is the case: in educational institutions, offices, workplaces, halls, events, to name a few such things. Why is the whole thing like this? We exhale CO2 and in doing so we also exhale tiny water droplets and aerosols, which are then responsible for the infections. A recent study compares different scenarios and infection risks. There you can see quite clearly that you have a very high risk indoors, in schools or even in offices. Of course, it also depends on the activity, so breathing activity, physical activity – do you do sports or is it just strenuous work, which of course leads to higher CO2 and aerosol emissions. That’s why we also have this DHM+A rule, which means plus ventilation, because ventilation is a suitable measure for reducing these aerosol loads in the room. How can you measure the whole thing in the end? The measure of exhaled air is determined by the CO2 level in indoor air. The CO2 level can be used to infer the amount of aerosols that are in the air and thus also the infection situation. An elevated CO2 level then also indicates increased aerosol exposure and increased risk of infection, along with countermeasures such as ventilating, wearing a mask, and keeping your distance. 


You had just said it was about interiors. Who are your classic customers? Who are you working with? Is it the building operators or who has what challenge ahead of them?


We find such application areas wherever there is no active ventilation or no ventilation systems are available, and manual ventilation is necessary. These are, for example, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, offices, but also in production or in workshops. Who takes care of such tasks? We actually have a lot to do here with companies in the field of facility management, in particular often with safety officers or occupational safety officers or simply people who create and implement hygiene and safety concepts around events or companies. 


I always talk about specific IoT topics in the podcast. How exactly does IoT help deliver this measurability and connect to the cloud? How do I record the data and what data is interesting here?


Basically, of course, the CO2 level in rooms is very exciting to infer the aerosol load. Ventilation timing is also an important issue. One can deduce from the data when to choose ventilation times and ventilation is optimized. However, we also record other data such as temperature, relative humidity and pressure in order to complete the ventilation when it is really useful and necessary. 


That is, I have a specific time somewhere, a timestamp of exactly when that is. What is the hardware behind it that provides that data or the infrastructure that provides that data?


Basically, we asked ourselves: Okay, what challenges does the customer actually have? On the one hand, of course, it’s very much about automated documentation. Customers have started keeping ventilation protocols and want to automate ventilation protocols, for example. Or data is to be archived – keyword: obligation to provide proof. If something happens, transparency should be created. The customer simply wants to have access to the data. If necessary, it can also be used to evaluate ventilation concepts and measures. That is, what does my concept achieve? And you can get that kind of evaluation stuff for concepts out of the data relatively well? In addition, of course, the monitoring of indoor air and optimization of ventilation cycles is relevant. That is, how much and when to ventilate? And that’s where we came in with our solution. We asked ourselves: How can a smart solution be used to assess the risk of infection indoors and warn the people involved directly, while at the same time monitoring the data obtained? At the same time, we had a lot of inquiries from customers who had requested exactly this product. This has resulted in the Febris wireless sensor with our CO2 monitor, our web solution. Basically, this works in such a way that the CO2 sensor records the CO2 concentration at regular intervals and displays the current values in the form of a traffic light. When critical limits are exceeded, people in the room hear an audible warning tone. I can also set the limits and intervals on our sensor and in addition we record temperature, relative humidity and air pressure. This helps to take a holistic view of a room. The data is then sent to the cloud, where it is prepared, processed and made available to users in the form of a web application. Our web solution is very easy to use. It not only shows values or historical data, but we can also configure and create alarms, notifications or push notifications there. In addition, we also offer an advanced data export, which is there for automated documentation and helps our customers. It is currently one of the few systems on the market that offers the complete range of functions. This means we can warn directly on site, but at the same time collect all the data in the cloud. In addition, we have also worked intensively on calibration, which is simply another advantage of our sensor. The great thing is, together with 1NCE you don’t need any other devices, you can just turn on the sensor and the whole thing works. Commissioning takes only a few seconds: Insert the battery, flip the switch and then you’re ready to go. This means there is no need to connect to other networks or interfere with local IT and communications infrastructure. In short, it’s very simple. 


How do customers manage to fulfill this obligation to provide proof today? Is this done manually or how does it work exactly?


So the verification requirement in the case of ventilation is done manually, for example, via ventilation protocols. There are manual lists in which it is written from when to when was aired. Who is responsible for the ventilation? This is a big deal, where both mistakes happen and a lot of time is needed. A sensor like this can detect such things automatically, for example, and we can assume with a CO2 monitoring solution like this that it can also be part of a hygiene concept or a safety concept. 


Perhaps another supplementary question: Who are the stakeholders involved? At which institution does the customer have to provide this evidence?


In principle, proof must be provided within the framework of hygiene concepts. If I draw up a hygiene concept, and part of my concept is, for example, ventilation, then I must somehow also prove within the framework of a concept that I am acting in accordance with the safety concept I have drawn up. The bottom line is that it’s about your own safety and the safety of your employees. And of course, if something happens, and you have such a proof there, this is of course an improvement. 


Yes, this is often a point. I also notice this all the time with older infrastructures, with schools, but also with buildings where there is no ventilation concept on a large scale. That’s really a problem today. That is, there is now the possibility that I place this CO2 sensor in a room and even if I don’t have an existing ventilation mechanism, I can ensure that ventilation is provided or that this verification requirement is provided.


Exactly, the sensor itself can determine when ventilation is taking place and automatically documents the data. You can always download all the data individually at one click. Thus, I have provided proof. That’s absolutely right what you’re saying. So a sensor away from manual documentation to automatic documentation to automate exactly this kind of thing in the wake of digitization and the IoT. 


Where exactly is the sensor attached?


You can do that, for example, via a magnetic mount, so attach it anywhere I can attach magnetic stuff. You can also just lay it or screw it to the wall. There are many possibilities and there is definitely something for everyone. This also offers good flexibility during commissioning and assembly. 


I am now thinking of a classic older office building of a medium-sized company. There, I might have an open-plan office with, say, 25 employees. Is one sensor in the room enough or how do I have to imagine this installation?


For most spaces – unless they’re very, very large open-plan offices – customers use a sensor mostly in the middle. It is best to have a relatively good relation with the window. We are now also working on a project that is very exciting. One takes the data to perform automated ventilation. Of course, you need the necessary infrastructure. There must be automatic mechanisms, so to speak, that open the windows. Something like this can be coupled very well. After that, you can further optimize the ventilation times and also the ventilation duration. And everything that had to be done manually is then completely omitted. 


The whole installation requires a whole concept probably. For example, you had spoken earlier about studies in this regard. That’s what you’re bringing then, right?


Exactly, we give hints and recommendations where to place the sensor in the room. We also support and help with integration with our web solution. I think a complete solution as a complete product makes a lot of sense. 


You had talked about a traffic light. Does that mean this traffic light then shows a recommendation on exactly how much and when to ventilate or how does that work with ventilation cycles?


Exactly, basically the sensor shows directly when I should ventilate with the traffic light colors green, yellow and red. The operating instructions say that I should ventilate when yellow and must ventilate when red. We also give email notifications along with our web application plus push notifications or SMS notifications to certain people or people in charge who then take it from there. In addition, there is this acoustic warning tone, which then simply indicates once again definitively: Okay, I have to act, I definitely have to open a window and ventilate. 


Now you had just said, there is also the possibility to couple the whole thing and have the windows open automatically if I have something like that already installed. How does that work exactly?


The bottom line is that you then need an infrastructure on site – simply a mechanism or automatically opening windows. That can then be coupled with our data and incorporated into building management systems, which then open windows based on our collected data. 


Now we’ve talked about the different data and also how to record that. I’m now interested in the path to the cloud: How does the data from these sensors get to the cloud?


I’ll have to back up very briefly: That was a great example that shows how individual our customers’ use cases actually are. Now here we have air measurements and air purity measurements – umpteen things to consider just without the whole Internet of Things issue. And now there is also the issue of connectivity. How does the data get into the cloud? And that is precisely the crux of why we are not yet where analysts saw us five years ago with the IoT. It is quite complex, and device manufacturers, who are experts in their own discipline, are confronted with completely new disciplines, which are actually still unfamiliar to them, as soon as connectivity and the transfer of data to the cloud are involved. So questions like: How does the device connect now? How do I transfer the data? Where do I transfer them? What kind of protocols do I use? How do I save electricity? I need people, specialists in radio transmission, in software – suddenly I need completely new disciplines and that’s where we as 1NCE want to make it easy for our customers. We need to see how we can make it simple enough to scale in the end. In the past, it was simply a case of the device manufacturer having to build its own infrastructure around the individual use case. That means, there was no radio. I had an individual place, an area of use, a use. Now I have to determine how I can get the infrastructure to do it. However, the whole thing does not scale. These are all individual projects, they are complex and take a long time. You can think of it a bit like the example of a smartphone manufacturer. Imagine that every smartphone manufacturer would first have to build the necessary infrastructure around it, depending on which customer it supplies – adapted to the telephony habits of its customer. This is a huge complex area. We say: let’s make it far simpler. Let’s use cellular instead of many other technological options, because that is standard and available worldwide. Let’s simplify the tariff structure. We make a tariff valid worldwide. Now we have clarified these questions for the time being. This helps us with the whole calculation and pricing of this use case. So as a device manufacturer, I can already say: Okay, I can buy connectivity worldwide at a simple price. The infrastructure is there, we already have it everywhere, I don’t need to build it anywhere. This is the first point. There are, of course, many more questions to be answered now. For example: How does the data get into the cloud in the first place? The integration into my software solution is again a discipline of its own. I do not insert the SIM card into my smartphone now, but the SIM card now goes into the Febris CO2 sensor. And then comes the question, which mobile technology? There are also many of these – 2G, 3G, 4G, NB-IoT, 5G coming soon. What am I using? What saves electricity? Is the sensor I have plugged in or not? In this case, it is not. That is, it must be usable as far as possible everywhere, on the ceiling or on the wall. So it must run on battery. What do I use there to transfer data in the most power-saving way possible so that the battery also lasts a very long time? How does the device actually authenticate itself on my network? I have a back-end, so the software where my device shows up at the end, where the data is processed, I also have to identify that first – in the sense of “I’m sensor XY from my customer ZB placed there in the house on the floor”. These are all issues that still need to be considered in device development. And that’s where we found a solution. So a) Mobile communications as a basic transmission technology, b) the SIM card as an instrument of authentication of integration. That is, it all works by identifying our SIM card, which is built into the device. Then on the software side, we have the ability for our customers to make this whole cloud integration as simple as possible by being able to say with a few clicks: Okay, I’m using this protocol, this is as low power as possible, I’m using NB-IoT here. This saves me a huge amount of resources as a device developer myself. And I then have this simple pricing for my other end customer, the customer who ends up using the Febris sensor. Now I no longer have to think about where the customer is located, is he in France or Switzerland, and what are the prices there? No, it’s one price. The device costs you price X and 10 years of connectivity we sell for example in our normal product. These are all the operating costs. The connectivity is virtually sold with the device and thus the operating costs are significantly reduced.


If I’m a health and safety officer or work in facility management, I’m not interested in the details of how it works. Then I need a partner to deliver that in the end. But if I now also supply this hardware, such as this CO2 sensor, which is necessary to implement such a case, then it is of course incredibly exciting to have a partner on hand who says: Hey, you don’t necessarily have to worry about this whole issue of protocols, SIM card, device management or prices, which is an incredibly complex topic. This is of course very exciting, both for the hardware manufacturer, whom you then also address, and ultimately, in interaction with Sentinum, for the building operator, for example, who is looking for a solution to make this CO2 issue measurable.


In the end, he still wants to deal with the issue the least. He wants to buy the device, he wants to pay the price for it, he wants to screw it to the wall, stick it or fix it with magnet, and he wants it to work. Otherwise, Manuel with Sentinum would give the sensor to his customer and say: Here is the sensor, I don’t know how it goes online. Just look there, there`s many mobile tariffs. The customer doesn’t even know what he needs. This is then already integrated by the device manufacturer such as Sentinum. They get the connectivity from us and we don’t even show up at their end customer, which is completely uninteresting for them. For example, Sentinum comes to us and says: I have a product X here that is battery-powered. This is supposed to work everywhere via mobile radio – behind thick walls, wherever, and save as much power as possible. Then we look at what is suitable? NB-IoT, for example, is ideal and predestined for this. And you don’t have to worry about that with us either, because you get all of this mobile transmission technology – 2G, 3G, 4G and so on. – at this one fixed price that we have.

In the case of the Febris sensor, the SIM card inserted into the device is no longer a classic SIM card as we know it from smartphones. It is a component that is soldered to the board, but works the same way. It supports all mobile communication standards from the ground up. Now, of course, the device manufacturer must use the appropriate modem that the corresponding mobile technology can then also be addressed. But the card can do everything for now. How the device is then designed is of course also up to the device manufacturer.


Manuel, I’m looking in your direction again. In this case, what is the concrete result for your customer?


The result now would be, for example, for a company or a school, that you can ventilate at the right times and that these ventilations are logged. When was it ventilated and for how long would be ventilated? Did the ventilation really make a difference? It can be a solution, a part of a concept for corona prevention in companies, at events or in the catering industry. We also hope to gain knowledge about the spread or to understand how infection rates develop. 


With the rooms, is there a limit where you guys say that’s too big or what does the optimal customer look like?


That is an exciting question. I actually have to say, we have very, very different customers. So it goes from municipal, from schools to office buildings, office complexes, building management companies. We also have IT companies that build their own solution based on our sensor, for example, that then offer that to the restaurant industry, for example. We are relatively open in that respect. With large-scale warehouses, however, it is actually difficult to do something like this. But wherever people meet in a smaller space, it makes perfect sense. 


In the school, the bottom line is that I envision having a Corona traffic light in every room. And then I know: Hey, we have to ventilate now. In a building, it may be the janitor who then makes his rounds and takes care of it. Then in even larger buildings, maybe it’s automated, where you say we’ve got ventilation cycles controlled by automatic windows, then that could be coupled. It’s like these 3 levels that I have in my head. Is that correct?


That is absolutely correct. For very large buildings and automatic ventilation systems, it is a system for retrofitting. And if I don’t have automated ventilation, but really have to ventilate manually, which is really the case in very, very many buildings and building complexes, we can also help. So basically, I definitely agree with you there. 


I am thinking of my old university. I studied mechanical engineering in Hanover and there we had such incredibly old rooms, with very old electronics. I imagine that it would really add value to have a sensor there that tells me that we have to ventilate now, and then I also have the option of automatic verification. You can also use it to automate the documentation, time-stamp the data, feed it into the system, and replace manual protocols, right?


Absolutely right, that’s what it’s all about and that’s supposed to be the complete solution. It’s supposed to help people protocol something like that. And in the case of infections, to provide real proof that you can say: Look here, we have had a hygiene concept, here we have logged the data. You can also be sure that the protocolling works well. Manual protocols or tables hanging on walls have also been torn off at times or you could no longer see anything. And then if something really happens, you’re standing there and you don’t know what to do next. And that is precisely the issue. In the best case, people look at the sensor and then ventilate themselves. But there are simply a lot of situations where it just makes sense that you still have a control structure and also really see that people have taken action there. 


One final supplementary question: You said that you provide an overall solution. Do you also provide the application, a kind of overview app?


Exactly, we also supply that. You either have the option of just taking the sensor, collecting the data from us and, for example, building your own application on it, perhaps integrating it into your own system, into your own building management system. Or you can take the web solution from us, which is very clear, very well designed and specialized for exactly this case. This means that we map the entire chain from the sensor to the web application. This is also easy for the customer, because he has one provider. We take care of everything and are also responsible for the communication that the data comes into the cloud. That’s easier for customers than having two or three other companies in between. 


You bring the hardware, you have the connectivity with 1NCE as a strong partner. You bring the software and also possible integrations. That means I get from idea to implementation really quickly.


Exactly, that was also a bit of a criterion for our project. When we started, we wanted a simple solution and it was also the case with the project that it was very time-critical. We didn’t have forever to develop such a product or a ready-made solution. And then we ended up back at 1NCE. We have been working together for a long time and have always had very, very positive experiences with the connectivity solution from 1NCE. We appreciate the products and the service. It’s just very good, wide-area communication that really saves me having to interfere with existing infrastructures. Such a complete solution makes it very easy for the customer and then great products can also come out of it. 


Dennis, I’m looking in your direction again. We have now had the example of this CO2 sensor. You have now implemented many projects with your connectivity solution. What are the transfer possibilities of this use case?


We have other customers on hand who have developed disinfection solutions, for example – disinfection robots. They work with spray aerosols and UV light and also create these automated protocols. Hospitals, hotels, all kinds of equipment rooms have to be disinfected and as quickly as possible. A device like this is driven into the room and disinfects. Now, however, a manual protocol must be kept of which room was last disinfected and when. That takes time, that takes time, and that’s where our connectivity solutions come in. And here we have many customers who have equipped their devices with 1NCE for a wide variety of use cases. A log is created after each operation, this is transferred to the cloud and the end customer receives cleaning certificates at the end. 


Thank you first of all for this exciting session. I think it’s an insanely relevant topic and a nice solution to really retrofit if I don’t have a ventilation concept or a good ventilation concept, or even as a supplement to existing ventilation concepts. And in general, 1NCE’s connectivity solution, which delivers uncanny added value. If I’m looking for contact with you guys now, what’s the best way to find you?


The best way to contact us is via the homepage www.1nce.com.


Yes, with us too. Of course, the best way is via the homepage www.sentinum.de or by e-mail to info@sentinum.de.


Thanks again to the round!

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Questions? Contact Madeleine Mickeleit

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit

Host & General Manager
IoT Use Case Podcast