Builder Spotlight: Omniflow (Smart Cities)
Omniflow: Lighting the Way to Smarter Cities
“If we made our cities just a little more efficient, we could have a major global impact,” writes Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Department of Urban Studies, observing that cities are now home to more than half of the world’s population. A major component of that efficiency will be the IoT-based solutions powering tomorrow’s smart cities.
As urban populations continue to grow, government agencies, utilities, corporations, landlords, and other regional stakeholders are coming under pressure to respond to a challenging set of new demands.
In response, urban stakeholders are turning increasingly to the new capabilities offered by connected technology. As Ratti notes, “The internet is entering the physical space, merging the physical and digital layers – and this is opening up a new world of applications, from energy to mobility, water management to citizen participation.”
According to one forecast, the global “IoT in Smart Cities” market is expected to grow from USD $113.1B today to $260B by 2025, driven largely by an increasing number of government initiatives designed to make cities more productive, more sustainable, and more liveable. For IoT companies seeking to participate in the Smart City movement, the key is to solve a massive problem in a specific, focused niche.
Consider Omniflow, a Portuguese company creating carbon-neutral smart IoT applications that integrate emergent technologies from wind power and edge computing to illuminate cities in an entirely new way.
Carbon-Neutral Smart Infrastructure
Omniflow’s first commercial product was an award-winning IoT platform, powered by a vertical axis turbine coupled with solar energy, which reduces the visual impact of windmills in urban and remote areas.
This invention opened doors for the company to develop a portfolio of aesthetically pleasing, carbon-neutral smart infrastructure products. In addition to providing energy-efficient urban lighting, Omniflow’s OMNILED smart lamp posts offer capabilities ranging from public wi-fi hotspots to EV charging stations, small cell base stations, smart parking, computer vision , and more.
To understand what it takes to help spur and sustain an technology-driven sea change in civic infrastructure, we sat down with Omniflow Business Development Manager Paulo Guedes.
“Everything came out of an idea,” says Guedes. “There was an opportunity for us to solve a specific problem for a wide market. We started with a visionary product, which created a feedback loop for our own learning. As our product evolves, so does our perspective, which in turn now brings us many new opportunities.”
In this interview, Guedes shares what life is like behind the scenes and on the ground at Omniflow. Learn how his team is building a business that makes them proud and sets themselves up well for an optimistic future.
Were smart cities the focus of the team from the beginning, or did your current focus on this customer landscape evolve over time?
It evolved over time, with the product direction, as we’ve built solutions that are more customizable for our customers. Every time our customer asked us to solve a new problem, we were open to exploring new solutions. We discovered endless opportunities for savings and configurations, which empowers cities to focus on addressing their problems.
We found our customer base to be a mix of sustainability and IT departments within cities. We have also collaborated with private sector clients that include retail businesses and real estate developers.
We are now using our lighting solutions to address other needs that cities have, including understanding the way that people form groups and whether they are remaining socially distant. We are also able to communicate water sensor data to the utility service provider.
We are also exploring how to bring revenues to cities and improve communication networks with citizens.
How do you maintain such a close relationship with your customers?
We try to understand the customer’s needs, on a basic level. We then try to understand how we can increase the services that might be interesting to the specific location. We do this for customers in all of our segments, whether they are cities or in the private sector. We are always listening, learning, and exploring.
We have a partnership with companies that help us with installation, selling, and development. This layer to our business offers us extra perspective into how we can expand and evolve.
Our customer needs continuously inspire us to build new technical solutions. We are currently spinning off a new, independent product that began as an extension of our lighting solution, our smart Omnibench
What is the common thread across the products that your team develops?
The main goal is to be flexible and adaptable, as we create smart solutions for the spaces that we serve. We power our solutions with solar and wind energy, so they are carbon neutral. We are aiming to make digitization possible without adding impact to the environment. Our products are elegant and functional, but they also deliver measurable cost savings, so that our customers can show results.
We are the only solution on the market with this range of capabilities bundled into one integrated technology.
What does the smart city landscape look like as we head toward 2021?
The smart city landscape is extremely varied. There are teams that are just starting out, while others are years into their journeys. Some have completed a first initial phase and are in expansion mode.
Especially with lighting, there’s a need to upgrade infrastructure. Lighting is something focused that cities are able to replace. Omniflow has potential to make a valuable impact, in an incremental way.
Right now, we also see the opportunity for cities to use Omniflow to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. We developed a product that uses computer analysis to detect gatherings. It can trigger alerts audio warnings to help remind people to remain socially distant.
This technology can help people make wise decisions, to ensure public safety, health, and protection.
Can you share some of the challenges that your team has encountered and how you are navigating them?
There are many regulations and compliance requirements that our business needs to navigate. Connectivity technology is also advancing at a rapid pace, which means that we need to keep our eyes on new developments.
There are so many constraints to consider such as location, legislation, and other factors. Not to mention, 5G is being deployed to different regions at different rates.
We are currently exploring ways to develop more insight from the data that we have the potential to collect. At the same time, we are thinking through the ramifications of the data that we choose to collect today.
What level of scale have you reached?
We are currently in more than 30 countries. We are currently looking to expand our presence in Southeast Asia, South America, and the United States. Our projections are continuously shifting and growing because our perspective into the market continues to become deeper.
Check out the case study to learn how Omniflow uses Soracom connectivity to help build brighter, smarter cities around the world.