Returning to the Workplace after COVID-19

We’re ready to see all of our businesses and public spaces reopen after lockdown. But not at the expense of people’s safety. We’re looking at ways to minimise risk when returning to the workplace after COVID-19.

Over the last few months, Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on all of our lives. Across Europe and the world we have seen schools closed, businesses on hold and hospitals overrun. Now things are starting to get back to a “new normal” after lockdown. We wanted to share with you some of the best technology solutions for a safe return to the workplace following the pandemic.

One of the key symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever. Anybody with a body temperature above 37.8 °C is considered to have a fever. Under the current guidelines, if you do have an elevated temperature, you need to self-isolate along with other members of your household.

But how do we enforce this? How do we monitor body temperature in the general population? How can we make sure our friends and family are as safe as possible in the post-lockdown world?

Introducing the Kentix SmartXcan…

This little beauty is the new Kentix SmartXcan Body Temperature Scanner:

body temperature scanner returning to work after covid-19

This tiny piece of tech could help your business re-start in the post-lockdown world. By measuring people’s temperature on the way into your building you can make sure that nobody who has a fever (who otherwise feels well) is allowed in.

Non-contact body temperature scanning

At just 12 cm long, this small device can be installed next to your entrance intercom, your car park barrier or above your hand-wash station. Compared to handheld body temperature scanners, you’re reducing the risk to a single individual.

It’s quick – scanning your body temperature in 0.6 seconds. During testing, the total time for measurement (approach, scan, leave) averaged just 5 seconds. So no hold-ups or queues to enter a building.

You get instant feedback. One set of LED lights turns green when the test is successful. Another set indicates your body temperature range. This easy-to-understand approach will give visitors confidence that they’re healthy and safe to be out and about in public.

You can monitor visitors temperature in real time, and deny entry to anybody who’s body temperature is above 38 °C. The device could be connected to turnstiles or parking barriers to forcibly prevent entry to anybody who’s temperature is elevated.

It’s anonymous. Unlike using thermal cameras, there are no issues surrounding GDPR or recording children. These devices can be used in schools, hospitals or any business setting.

The best bit?

It’s affordable. At just £625.50+VAT, it blows thermal imaging cameras out of the water. Thermal imaging kits to measure fevers on this scale would cost in the region of £5,000. A more basic version would still come in at £2,000.

It’s available. Alliot Technologies are the only UK distributor of this German-manufactured product. The body temperature scanner is available for delivery from mid-June and we can help you to configure your device so that you can simply plug and play.

More information, including technical specification, is available on the Kentix SmartXcan product page. If you have any questions on installation, or whether this body temperature scanner is right for you, get in touch with our technical team.

Get Smart with Water

Having just launched the Strega Smart Water Valve, we’re taking a look at the various use cases this new product brings. Read on to discover more about our latest product and how you too can begin to minimise water waste.

Strega Smart IoT Water Valve

Developed by Strega, the Smart IoT Water Valve is a battery operated shut off valve that can be easily integrated into existing solutions without the need for any additional cabling. That’s right, you can remotely control your entire irrigation system without having to disrupt your existing set up!

Compatible with all leading IoT platforms, the Strega Smart IoT Water Valve is available in a wide range of sizes to suit existing pipe work. Once installed, the valve utilises LoRaWAN® technology to send data to the gateway which is then reported to your selected platform.

Example Use Cases

The Strega Smart Water Valve has a range of use cases. On the one hand there’s people who would like to minimise the risk of costly water damage from leaks in Smart Buildings and Smart Housing. On the other hand, there’s the people who want to minimise water waste. We’ve seen a varying demand for this product including Smart Agriculture, Smart Irrigation and Smart Golf Courses where users want to ensure they are only watering areas when needed. The use cases are virutally endless!

What are the Variant Options?

All Strega Smart Water Valves come with integrated tamper, pressure and humidity sensors and have an ultra low power consumption to provide 10+ years battery life. For easy installation, the valve can be purchased as an all-in-one version with the emitter attached of for harder to reach areas, you can opt for the emitter to be separately connected.

The Strega Smart Water Valve offers a fast, no fuss solution enabling you to remotely control entire water systems in no time. If you’d like more information on how we could help you to develop your IoT water solutions get in touch.

The Things Conference: Will You Virtually Be There?

Given the current climate, much of the world is now under strict social distancing measures and being asked to #stayhome. This has seen many industry events be postponed for the foreseeable future. Thanks to our friends at The Things Network and the fantastic tech available they will be bringing the IoT industry together on 16th April for a worldwide virtual conference which we’re delighted to be supporting!

The Things Virtual Conference - Register Now

What to expect from The Things Virtual Conference

Boasting 24 hours worth of online content, The Things Virtual Conference is a great platform for connecting with tens of thousands of LoRaWAN® professionals from across the globe. With a variety of virtual IoT conference rooms, attendees will be able to engage with industry experts while accessing premium content at the click of a button.

Over the course of the day, attendees will be able to:

  • Interact with IoT industry experts
  • Participate in hands-on workshops about Edge Computing, hardware secure elements, The Things Stack, battery optimisation, gateway configuration, cloud integrations and much more
  • Listen to panel discussions featuring top-notch technology providers
  • Hear more about LoRaWAN® deployments in the wild

…. and much more!

What will Alliot bring to the The Things Virtual Conference?

Our Technical Director, Paul Hayes will be presenting on the Mass Deployment of LoRaWAN® Sensors. Having developed our own set of provisioning services, in his session, Paul will be looking at the current state of play and what the future holds with regards to growing the LoRaWAN market.

Get Your Ticket

Registration for The Things Virtual Conference couldn’t be easier, simply register your details to secure your ticket!

Sit back, stay home and join us on 16th April for what’s set to be an incredible day for IoT.

Can IoT healthcare devices help in a pandemic?

As the NHS battle to save thousands of lives across the country, we’re looking to how technology could help. Could IoT healthcare devices be the future of patient care? This blog post looks at some of the LoRaWAN devices available, and how they could benefit the NHS.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen technology take centre stage as we try to continue life as normal. From online PE lessons for kids who aren’t at school, to Zoom conversations with family members; we’re all using the internet more than ever.

LoRaWAN sensors don’t use wifi (so you can save your bandwidth for your video calls and streaming). They use a completely different network. They also use very little data, and very little power. These devices are also relatively affordable.

iot healthcare lorawan medical devices

So how could we use them to develop an IoT healthcare strategy to help the NHS?

1. Emergency buttons for the elderly and vulnerable

COVID-19 has very serious health implications for over 70s and those with existing health conditions. Many of our most vulnerable members of society have been asked to self-isolate for up to 12 weeks.

But how do we check on them? What if they’re unable to get to a phone? Providing those at home with an emergency button that they could push if they needed urgent care could potentially save lives. LoRaWAN technology means that these devices could have a battery life of up to 5 years (based on transmitting data every hour).

2. Asset tracking for medical equipment

One of the biggest issues with the COVID-19 crisis has been lack of ventilators. Manufacturers around the world are scrambling together to produce enough ventilators and respirators to enable our doctors and nurses to care for their patients.

Ventilation equipment is very expensive (£120 per mask and £4,000 per machine, according to 2016 figures from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust). Keeping track of all of these machines using GPS would allow the NHS to find out whether there are unused ventilators available across the country. LoRaWAN asset trackers could also be used to alert staff when a ventilator machine is removed from hospital premises.

3. Parking sensors for ambulance bays

Parking sensors have been developed for smart cities. The sensors detect whether or not a parking space is occupied.

The same technology could be used in an IoT healthcare setting by identifying empty ambulance bays. You could then direct ambulances to the nearest available bay. This could have a huge impact on time-critical emergencies, helping to save lives.

4. Desk sensors adapted for hospital beds

Lack of available beds is an ongoing issue for the NHS. During the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen thousands of extra beds provided in emergency hospitals. Having a better picture of where beds are available could help many hospital departments.

Desk sensors have been developed to monitor desk occupancy in a commercial environment. They measure motion, temperature, light and humidity. But they also have a thermopile sensor that can detect body heat. Perfect for patients who aren’t able to move around.

5. Temperature sensors for medical storage

Some medications need to be stored at specific temperatures. Installing temperature sensors in fridges and freezers can alert staff to any changes in temperature. If a fridge door is left open accidentally, an alert will be triggered when the inside of the fridge goes outside the normal temperature range. This could prevent vital supplies from being spoiled, and ensure medication is kept under the right conditions.

There are hundreds of ways that technology can be used for IoT healthcare applications. LoRaWAN technology is so versatile thanks to it’s long battery life, affordability and low data usage. If you’d like more information on how we could help you to develop IoT healthcare solutions, get in touch with our technical team.

Cyber Essentials Certification ✔

We’re delighted to have received the Government-backed Cyber Essentials certification. Illustrating our compliance with the data security standard.

cyber essentials data security accreditation

What is the Cyber Essentials Accreditation?

Cyber Essentials is a UK government led scheme that was originally launched in 2014. Designed as an assessment strategy, the Cyber Essentials standard confirms our systems comply with essential cyber security controls.

What does Cyber Essentials Cover?

The scheme covers five control categories which cover the most prominent cyber risks organisations face. These include:

  • Firewall Security: Acting as a buffer, firewalls allow incoming internet traffic to be analysed to assess whether or not it should be allowed on to your network.
  • Secure Configuration: Devices and software should be securely configured to minimise the risk of unauthorised access to data. All devices and accounts should always be password protected. We use two-factor authentication where applicable.
  • User Access Control: Access to data should be controlled – accounts with administrative privileges should only be used to perform administrative tasks.
  • Malware protection: Certified companies are required to demonstrate that they have a robust anti-malware solution in place. This helps to prevent servers and end-user devices from being infected by malicious software.
  • Keeping up to date: Also known as ‘patching’. In order to maintain optimum levels of cyber security it is important for companies to ensure all devices, operating systems and software are kept up to date at all times.

We take our data security very seriously, our recent certification offers assurance for this. To discuss your IoT projects and any upcoming tenders, please contact our team on +44 (0)1484 599544 or email contact@alliot.co.uk.

What we’re doing to prepare for COVID-19

Coronavirus – What we’re doing to prepare

Given the current status of the Coronavirus pandemic, we would like to share some information on the measures we have put in place this week to ensure the long term reliability of Alliot as a distributor. We feel that our key function is to keep our warehouse operating, receiving stock and shipping out our customer orders, we have therefore taken the decision to physically isolate our warehouse operation team from the rest of the business and have enforced a remote working policy for all Alliot employees who are able to perform their roles outside of the office.

Our thinking is that the majority of our staff are trained to be able to work in the warehouse, should one of our existing warehouse team catch COVID-19 we may be forced to send the whole team home. In this instance, we would deep clean the area immediately and rotate our home working staff to cover these roles and maintain operation.

We would like to reassure our partners that there are no current stock issues and no current personnel issues. We are taking this bold and early step to mitigate the future risk to our staff, our business and our customers.

We maintain focused on providing the very best services and fast delivery times to support you and your business. The intentions of these measures are to:

  • Protect our employees from being put at risk of catching COVID-19
  • Provide continuity to ALL of our operations, protecting our customers from supply issues
  • To continue to provide you with an outstanding level of service

Like everyone else, we are currently in unchartered territory, but as part of ProVu holdings, we are well accustomed to utilising the technologies available and are in a strong positionto adapt to this work methodology. Our move to send everyone home to work has been in place for two days and has gone extremely well with no disruption to our operations.

We will keep you updated with further changes as and when we have more information.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Alliot Team.

Netvox Payload Decoder for The Things Network

I’ve published an example payload decoder for Netvox sensors using The Things Network. It’ll also work with Chirpstack with some simple modifications.

What is a payload decoder?

A bit of background, LoRaWAN is an open protocol that defines communication between low powered sensor devices and the Internet. It is great but it does not define data payload formats. It’s much like HTTP, it defines a mechanism for communication but not what that communication is.

The current state of play is that the various sensor manufacturers devise their own payload formats for data sent from or to their sensors. There are some efforts to define standards (such as Cayenne LPP) but none are widespread. The difficulty is that there are so many different types of sensors that designing a protocol to fit inside a few Bytes and yet cover all eventualities isn’t simple.

So at the moment when you add a sensor to a LoRaWAN network, you need to translate the payload into something useful.

Netvox Payload Decoder in The Things Network

If you want to get started with Netvox sensors then you can start off with this Netvox payload decoder Javascript code, it’ll load straight into The Things Network.

I will keep adding more sensors to it as time goes on.

View and download it on Github.com

IoT Solution Provider of the Year, Alliot Shortlisted in Smart City Awards 2020

Smart Cities Awards
Smart Cities Awards 2020

Alliot are delighted to be shortlisted as Solution Provider of the Year at the Smart Cities Awards in London! The shortlist announcement marks a first for us and we couldn’t be happier to be acknowledged for our expertise.

Designed to celebrate organisations dedicated to providing solutions throughout the UK, the awards set out to identify companies who are using smart approaches to advance the economy.

What Solutions does Alliot Provide?

In a sector that is ever evolving, it’s important to ensure that within all this action solutions are capable of delivering what is actually required; that’s where partnering with a reliable, knowledgeable supplier like Alliot comes into play.

The Alliot team are often presented with unique requirements. Supplying the best-in-class IoT hardware is the core of our business, but it doesn’t stop there. We are equipped to support you from proof-of-concept right the way through to commercial deployments. Our expert team are on hand to support you every step of the way.

To simplify large deployments, we are also able to provision your sensors and gateways prior to despatch. Simply provide us with your configuration requirements and we’ll take care of the rest!

Get your projects off the ground today by contacting the Alliot team.

LoRaWAN Security

This week, a security company called IOActive published a white paper on security vulnerabilities in LoRaWAN. You can read it here. I was also in the audience at a talk they gave during the Things Conference 2020 in Amsterdam last week on the same subject of security in LoRaWAN.

This report has caused a slight stir in the LoRaWAN community, to that end the LoRa-Alliance published a blog post on security. You can read this here.

I’ve read both and having been involved in security conscious areas of computing for many years (Voice-over-IP before IoT/LPWAN), there’s nothing in either report that I can’t agree with in some way. I do feel the IOActive report is a little bit sensationalist but hey, they’re a business trying to get their name out there so I can let them off. Plus, everything they talk about I have seen before in the VoIP world so it’s not new to me. Here’s my own thoughts on this subject.

There’s really two aspects to the report, the first is that LoRaWAN version 1.0 AppKeys are brute forceable. This is true, any encrypted or hashed password is brute forceable given enough time and resource. This information is neither new or surprising. The problem here is that it’s not that hard to do in a lot of cases, often due to poor management of these keys. LoRaWAN 1.1 adds extra security to mitigate this risk, I wont go into details here, the spec is published by the LoRa-Alliance if you want to read it plus these reports cover it too.

The other aspect the reports deal with are implementation issues and human factors. These are frequently the cause of cyber security problems in all areas, certainly it is the case in the Voice-over-IP world as well as IoT.

With respect to LoRaWAN, the issue is one of management of the AppKeys. Here’s a run down of the problems. I have seen each and every one of these problems in the real world several times!

  • Keys sent and stored in a non-secure fashion. I’ve seen both manufacturers and end user emailing spreadsheets or text files containing AppKeys in plain text. Then keeping hold of these files on their computer in case they need to refer to them later on. This is bad. If someone ever got hold of these files then they have a copy of the keys. Keys should be treated in the same way as passwords (although many people are terrible at that too). There’s an old saying, if you wouldn’t write something on the back of a postcard and drop it into a post box, then don’t send it in an email, there’s no way of knowing who might see that email.
  • Poor quality, non-random or non-unique keys. The most common one is where devices all share the same AppKeys, either from the manufacturer with little consideration given to changing them or installers being lazy and provisioning the same AppKey to all devices because it’s quicker. Also, non-random keys such as the DevEUI repeated twice, 32 zeros, “1234” repeated etc… These are all similar to using “password123” for a login password, they are easily guessable and not secure.
  • Hard-coded keys which can’t be changed. This one is down to manufacturers of devices. Would you sign up to a social media website and post your photos on it if they forced you to use a set password with no way of changing it (especially if they’d emailed it to you in plain text)? Hopefully the answer is no.
  • Insecure out-of-band management. Some devices are configurable over Bluetooth or NFC using a mobile app. It seems in some cases, there’s no security on this. You can download the manufacturer’s free app and connect to a device if you are close enough to it, then read the AppKey from it. Personally I think this is a limited attack vector, it requires the attacker to be physically close to the device. Having said that, if you’ve also used the same AppKey on all your devices, now your entire system is compromised because someone got hold of a single sensor.

So what should you do? Should you rip out all your LoRaWAN systems and hide in a cupboard for the rest of the year? Absolutely not, in fact mitigating these risks is not very hard. I can confidently say that I’ve been implementing these measures and instilling secure ways of handling LoRaWAN keys in all our staff for a long time. What this means for us and what I would encourage anyone reading this to do is as follows.

  • Use unique AppKeys on each and every device you install. Don’t even use common ones for testing, it’s just a bad habit to get in to. This website can be used to generate random 128bit keys for use as AppKeys. When we provision devices for customers, we always use this or similar tools to generate unique keys and securely load them onto the devices.
  • Keep your keys safe. Don’t email them, an Excel spreadsheet with a password applied is still pretty poor security. We provide a securely encrypted portal to allow our customers to submit keys to us (or for us to send keys to our customers). This software generates a single-use obscure link, without the link it’s not easily possible to decrypt the keys even if someone had access to the server the portal is hosted on. We can also provide a password as an extra layer of security which is sent separately to the link itself. We use open source software called PrivateBin to do this. We also never store keys and I regularly train staff on the virtues of key security.
  • Keep your infrastructure secure. Your LoRaWAN Network Server has copies of all your keys stored on it. Make sure this is secure, use secure random passwords to log in to it. Make sure any other access to the server (e.g. ssh access) is secure. I wont go into details here, if you’d like to talk about this then feel free to get in touch.
  • Communicate. If you see someone doing something you feel is bad practise, say so. If you deal with us and we advice you that you are doing something we feel can be improved, don’t take it personally, we are trying to help. Similarly, we are very open to discussion and suggestions you might have for us. We keep in touch with our suppliers and manufacturers to advise and take advice on security. We also actively lobby manufacturers of devices to improve security and keep developing firmware to implement new standards.

I encourage the LoRaWAN community to openly discuss these issues so they can be debated in an organised manner. I have seen the IOActive report being dismissed as FUD, this is counterproductive, there are real issues to address, defensiveness and an unwillingness to debate are not helpful in my opinion (although it’s a reaction I have encountered many times in the technical/computing industry). I am always happy for anyone to talk to me about an issue they feel they have found and I am always willing to assist in talking to device manufacturers about fixing problems and improving security in an open and honest fashion.

Best LoRaWAN Sensors for 2020

After last week’s visit to The Things Conference in Amsterdam, our technical team gave us a little run down of the “ones to watch” for 2020. We talked about the best LoRaWAN sensors on show at the conference, and how they might change our lives in the not-too-distant future!

best lorawan sensors
Our team at The Things Conference

Smart Parking Sensors

The latest addition to the smart city scene is smart parking sensors. We’re currently testing a product made by Bosch. It works using radar and a magnetometer to detect whether or not there’s a car above it. It then reports the parking space status as “available” or “occupied” using LoRaWAN technology. The best bit for car park operators? The battery lasts for up to 5 years, so minimal maintenance!

We envisage the best use of this LoRaWAN sensor will be guided parking systems. We all know how frustrating it is when you’re looking for a space. In busy city centres, you can spend up to 20 minutes searching for a place to park. That’s 20 minutes of clogging up the traffic and the air with your engine running. This sensor could combine with a lighting system to highlight available spaces, or direct you to a multi-storey level where there are spaces. It could also be used to highlight available eCharging stations for electric cars.

People were impressed by the small size and overall design of this product when we displayed it in the flesh in Amsterdam. We have these available now.

Waste Monitoring

We’ve been talking to Tekelek about their waste bin sensor. We think it’s great for a range of applications; from waste management companies to local councils, and even charity collection bins.

The LoRaWAN sensor can be positioned inside the bin and uses ultrasound to measure the level of waste. This allows you to optimise waste collections, adding or removing collections when you need them. This type of LoRaWAN sensor is already being trialled in the Netherlands and promises to cut costs and improve accountability for hazardous waste.

This particular sensor boasts a battery life of up to 14 years, thanks to LoRaWAN technology. It also has a communication range of up to 15km to the nearest gateway. We think this is one of the best LoRaWAN sensors for waste management and recycling.

Air Quality Monitoring

There are a wide range of air quality monitoring sensors on the market. Which is the best LoRaWAN sensor for air quality depends on what you want to measure:

  • CO2. We already offer a carbon dioxide monitor that also measures temperature and humidity. Measuring carbon dioxide can give you an idea of how well your ventilation systems are working. Research suggests that increased CO2 levels in the workplace can decrease productivity!
  • Carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide can be toxic in high concentrations. Many homes and commercial buildings have carbon monoxide monitors surrounding equipment such as boilers or heating equipment. This is a safety precaution, but using LoRaWAN CO sensors can help your systems to alert you more quickly to changes in carbon monoxide levels.
  • VOCs. VOC stands for volatile organic compound. It’s a measure of potentially harmful substances in the air, and a fairly standard method of defining air quality.
  • Particulate matter. This is a useful way of measuring pollution levels in an outdoor environment. Particles from car exhausts, smoke and other sources can reduce the quality of the air we breathe.

At The Things Conference there were a few different manufacturers who supply different air quality monitors. We’re looking to collaborate with some of them over the coming months to supply sensors to our European client base.

We loved the concept of adding air quality sensors to street lighting; another tool for smart cities of the future. They can also be a great method for monitoring and improving air quality in workplaces, hospitals and schools.

LoRaWAN People Counting Sensor

Knowing how many people are visiting your premises or passing by the front can be really helpful. You can actively measure your busiest times and ensure that staffing levels are adapted accordingly. You can measure footfall in specific areas accurately and tailor your marketing strategies. There are all sorts of possibilities for commercial applications.

We liked the idea of being able to measure the number of people without using cameras. And, like all LoRaWAN sensors, we love the long battery life. We liked the look of the PCR2, made by Swiss company Parametric. They have a range of indoor and outdoor sensors that we’re launching now.

Conference Highlights

We had a great time at last week’s conference and we’re really excited about the future of LoRaWAN technology. We particularly enjoyed a presentation by Edge Impulse, which involved Johan Stokking (CTO The Things Industries) dressing up as a sheep:

Not only was it an engaging presentation, the concept of a programmable activity tracker that can “learn” different activities and transmit data via LoRaWAN is pretty amazing! We look forward to seeing it at work in the world of smart agriculture – just hope we don’t catch our sheep drinking beer!

If you met us at The Things Conference 2020, we’d love to hear from you again. Get in touch to find out more about the products we have on offer and our in-house test methods.