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DOE Grid Architecture project

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New grid architecture promotes renewable energy

New grid architecture promotes renewable energy

Introspective Systems LLC, was awarded a $146,683 U.S. Department of Energy contract. The project running through March 13, 2017 will develop a new “future” grid architecture that puts intelligence on the edge of the grid.  The project is part of the DOE’s Grid Modernization Initiative.

Introspective Systems’ plan is based upon a fractal computer architecture xGraph developed by Introspective Systems.  xGraph distributes intelligence (analytics processing) to the edge of the computer network. It uses advanced theories in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and Complexity theory. It also uses a unique concept utilizing a fractal structure.  A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. Introspective Systems is using this concept and applying it to a computer architecture.

In the case of the electrical grid a single house would have a miniature electrical grid that would operate to save the homeowner electricity. Neighbors could then connect together to share infrastructure (solar panels, batteries etc.) within another small scale grid. Then neighborhoods group together pooling resources in the same way. This pattern would duplicate itself all the way up to the the entire nation. The algorithms running in each level of the electrical grid would be similar.

This would solve many problems in the current grid potentially making it more renewable, efficient, reliable and manageable while giving consumers choice. Most importantly the current grid is very vulnerable to terrorist cyber attack. This problem is being worked on by the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security as well as the Department of Defense. This fractal grid architecture approach could potentially solve these problems inherently. The structure of the grid would consist of fewer connections between layers. These fewer connections would make the electrical grid less vulnerable to being cyber-hacked.  If there was an attack fewer of these millions of smaller grids would be effected resulting in less damage.

 


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Systems in IoT World

Systems of Systems focused IoT Design

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As Internet of Things applications become more widespread software complexity with the system will grow exponentially. The IoT is not a single monolithic system but a system of systems. To cope, we must be able to create better architectures to manage these complex systems of systems.

Hardware has progressed tremendously in the last 40 years by encapsulation and Miniaturization. Numerous technologies have been encapsulated into single chips and miniaturized. This has sped time to market, processing speed and a host of benefits that have allowed Moore’s Law to be proven true. Software however has not scaled this way relying on monolithic architectures built around centralized databases that define how the pieces talk and work together. As systems architects we are designing IoT systems in much the same way as we design our applications. Some central brain with memory receives signals, makes decisions and sends signals to actuators for implementation.

The Internet scaled because each node (browser) provided processing and could be completely separated. A node operates independently and is separated from all other nodes. This is separation of concerns ideal in most good software design. This has been very successful for the Internet but it appears we are forgetting this lesson with Azure IoT and Samsung’s new Artik among others. When we design our Internet of things architecture we need realize the same separation of concerns but on a larger scale by decoupling our processes so everyone can be independent of each other. Centralized (ie: cloud data analytics) databases and architectures are a high friction architecture that only makes the solutions more complex. Security, communications and scaling being the biggest challenges for this centralized approach.

Nature doesn’t have this centralized “brain”. The swamp does not tell a cattail how to be a cattail, there is no “ecosystem” brain telling the cattail and swamp to communicate between themselves (in this case nutrients, water etc.) Each “thing” in the swamp is its own agent. But we are fundamentally designing the Internet of Things in an old paradigm where there is some central controller orchestrating the dance of the things.

We have to get to a systems thinking view of entire technical ecosystem. There are global goals but most of the thinking is done locally. Today in the environmental movement we hear the slogan “Think Globally act Locally” but this doesn’t say everything. If we literally applied this to the complex technological system world, we would build software architecture’s that have some kind of cloud controller. But what the environmental movement is really saying is to get back to natures’ principals. There is a global imperative, which, considers the entire architecture in its design and goals but the intelligence and actions are collaborative at the lowest level.

That doesn’t say that we only have local control and action. There are layers of control/action. So a group of cattails share a resource and create equilibrium between them. The frog uses the cattails roots as a place to hide its eggs and provides fertilizer to the cattails roots in exchange. And many groups of things (Cattails, frogs, fish etc) form the basis for the swamp and the swamp is one control/action network in a greater ecosystem of the watershed. This brings us to the concept of fractal layers. With fractal layers of control we can break larger systems up into systems of systems (SoS) and those systems into smaller systems. With those new SoS’s designs come possibilities for unique interactions and the optimal control of systems. One of the core principals in Systems of Systems science is how emergent behavior develops out of these interactions. This being a core benefit of AI systems.

On the 29th of April, Harvard Business Review posted an article “The Internet of Things needs Design, not just Technology” where they argue for the need of better product design in the Internet of Things. Producing value for the customer rather than just being a technology looking for a customer. Creating business value in data is driving most of the current solutions in the IoT space. What data can I, as a business, get from having an IoT device in a home? Not what value can I give to the consumer?

I believe the problem is even more fundamental than this business issue, in that we need to start with a fundamental design question. What architecture best serves the interests of the consumer? One that sends all information to the cloud or one that uses systems thinking to develop a more nature focused Systems of Systems that all levels of the ecosystem can benefit from.


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The whole city in your hands concept

10 Challenges: IoT Electrical Grid- Part 1

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In January, the Department of Energy released 220 million dollars for 80 grid modernization projects.  The aim is to increase the resiliency, reliability and security of the nations electrical grid. Scanning the list of projects few projects strike at the real electrical grid challenge. The projects like “DER siting and Optimization Tool for California” are focused on very narrow concerns. As a nation we need to confront a larger problem. What structure will a new grid architecture take? A new

grid architecture must be one that adapts and evolves as new technologies appear. It must also provide for the following core principles:

  • Backward and forward compatible
  • Open-Sourced
  • Secure
  • Resilient, reliable and robust

My thoughts are that a new Internet of Things paradigm designed from first principles can accomplish these requirements. However, there are challenges. Technical challenges are the first that DOE addressing. My opinion is the most important challenge is social. To start off, I believe that the technical challenges are solvable. They are basically engineering problems in security, communication and algorithm development. The social challenges are more profound as they revolve around entrenched business interests and government regulation standing in the way. At Introspective Systems we believe that a proper IoT based architecture we can solve both of these problems.

Ten challenges for implementation of the Internet of Things Electrical grid

Technical challenges

  1. Scalability
  2. Resource constrained devices
  3. Physical and Cyber security
  4. Adaption
  5. Openness

Social challenges

  1. View that IoT devices are a source of consumer data driving business value
  2. Electrical grid manager’s centralized control view
  3. Technological risk adverse grid managers
  4. Complex and fragmented electrical grid standards
  5. Slow to innovate Regulation to support new business innovation

Please leave a comment and tell me your views

Part 2: Our next blog post in the series will discuss these challenges in detail


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Ride the Third Wave with Partnerships -Steve Case

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About 6 months ago I had the privilege of presenting at the Portland Maine stop of the Rise of the Rest Tour. While I did not win a very deserving local entrepreneur team, Rapport LLC did and received a $100,000 personal investment by the founder of America Online Steve Case. A picture of Steve Case (and my legs) was published by Getty Images detailing the pitch completion and now is on my office wall.

Three weeks ago Steve’s first book “The Third Wave” was published and I received a copy. The book details Steve’s vision of the future third wave of Internet technology. AOL was a part of the first wave, which was hardware centric, and Google, Facebook and Twitter were the second wave being much more about social connections.

Today we are at the earliest hills of a huge mountain range that will be the third wave. This is a melding of hardware and the connections. In this case the connections will be both connections and insights between people but also machines. He did a great job in explaining his views of how the third wave is much more like the first rather than second. He had a particular view that business in the third wave will have greater barriers to success and to succeed they will need to develop partnerships to a much greater extent than in the past. No longer will you be able to build a web app and find it going viral. Successful entrepreneurs will see partnerships everywhere with competitors, complementary industries and most importantly government both as a regulator and a customer.

So his marching orders for us entrepreneurs was to look to partnerships as the way to break through the barrier. I strongly recommend that every entrepreneur producing a new third wave technology either IoT or data analytics pick up a book.

PORTLAND, ME - OCTOBER 2: Steve Case, founder of AOL, at far right, listens as Kay Aikin, CEO of Introspective Systems, a Portland-based software company specializing in big data challenges, makes the company's pitch during Case's Rise of the Rest tour at Port City Music Hall Friday, October 2, 2015. Case runs the tour - which has visited 14 cities throughout the country - and is aimed at finding small local businesses to invest in. The winner earns a $100,000 investment from Case. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)

PORTLAND, ME – OCTOBER 2: Steve Case, founder of AOL, at far right, listens as Kay Aikin, CEO of Introspective Systems, a Portland-based software company specializing in big data challenges, makes the company’s pitch during Case’s Rise of the Rest tour at Port City Music Hall Friday, October 2, 2015. Case runs the tour – which has visited 14 cities throughout the country – and is aimed at finding small local businesses to invest in. The winner earns a $100,000 investment from Case. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)


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Applied Science: Bridging Science and Engineering

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Who makes the great innovations of the world? Are they scientists or engineers? Introspective Systems purpose is to solve wicked problems through innovation. To push the boundaries of what is possible in science and engineering. We like to say that we use applied science as the bridge between science and engineering. At Introspective Systems our lead founder is titled Chief Innovation Officer. Ours is Dr. Caryl Johnson who came from both the engineering world and the science world with degrees arguably from the preeminent engineering university in the world MIT and the preeminent science university Caltech. We purposely created this organizational position to separate the technical engineering focused functions from the innovation. It should be pointed out that we also don’t have a Chief Scientist for a reason as well. We use basic scientific knowledge in many fields combining them to solve problems. We often explain it this way.

Power Of Knowledge Line Style Illustration

A basic scientist is typically focused on a defined domain and explores the basic functioning of nature and why things happen. They may have a problem in the back of their mind but generally don’t try to solve the problem but to understand the system. So they start at a starting point (A) and announce success when they gain some understanding of the system. An engineer is given a problem to solve with clearly defined ending point (B) and starting points (A). They are provided a tool set to solve the problem and their job is to find the most efficient method to get there. An applied scientist is given a hard problem to solve but isn’t given a pre-defined approach. They are given a (B) but can start almost anywhere and combine multiple scientific domains.

As applied scientists we solve problems not by incremental engineering improvements but by asking basic fundamental questions. By using science and engineering we find new and better ways to solve tough problems. Our last successful project for the United States Geological Survey was finding an entirely new way to locate earthquakes using basic physical laws, probability science and distributed computational analytics. The result was a 6-fold increase in earthquake location performance. This applied science work not only gave earth scientists new ways to understand how earthquakes are propagated but gave us a new computational platform to solve other complex problems.

We think the best innovation is an applied science; using broad based scientific knowledge to solve unsolvable problems and being the bridge between the basic sciences and engineering.


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Female and a Scientist: The problems in securing investment

Female ScientistThis has been a blog post in the making for about 4 years. My partner and I who is an accomplished scientist, started our company Introspective Systems in earnest back in 2012. At the time I was trying to get into a local accelerator in our state and was interviewed by a three entrepreneurs /investors. One turned out to be my lead investor a year later but something happened that reminded me of the struggle again. One of the entrepreneurs on the interview board was celebrated as one of the success stories of our small state and his comments about me boiled down to: She is a women in the tech/computer industry, doesn’t know the market, won’t succeed and we shouldn’t spend any time on her.

Now it is over 4 years later and his business has just closed after spending millions in government grants, investor money and government commercialization loans. We are still here and growing. I have to admit it was a tough road and last year we went into the valley of death and are now working our way out of it with a new focus, new product (actually where we first started) and contracts that are paying the bills while we prepare to open source our platform. But we are still alive, kicking.

This came into focus when talking to one of the companies that I mentor who has a women CEO in an all female company. (Full disclosure I have mentored 3 companies in the last two years and 2 of them have female CEO’s- Sorry I am biased as well) She is in the oil industry bringing high-level data science to a very old school and male dominated industry. We were talking and telling me about the problems in getting investment. Another of her female friends is in the Fintech industry and she has tried to sell her idea to the biggest investment firms in Silicon Valley with no luck. She is now crowd-funding her crowd-financing business. Ironic that someone in the crowd-financing invoices business has to crowd finance her own business.

Why is it so hard for high technology focused, women founded, women run companies to get investment money? According to a Dow Jones study there is a direct correlation between the number of women leaders in a company and its success. Successful companies have twice the number of women executives. There are many other studies that back up these findings.

So women face a definite bias in the tech industry even though they perform better. Men generally make the investment decisions so they “go with what they know” which is other men. But I even get it from other women. I went to a women investor super-angel group 18 months ago that most will have heard of and did what I thought was a good pitch. Twenty minutes later, my sponsor (who is a technology focused women) told me they were not going to invest because they didn’t know how they could help. Thinking back I realized that the women in the room, who were all successful, were public relations, media, advertising or financial executives and didn’t know anything about computer software or artificial intelligence. So where do you turn?

I have to ask how do women break this self-fulfilling prophesy?

Kay Aikin

 

First posted March 29, 2016 on Linkedin