Drink to that

From smart grids to microbrews

DavidBaumandEdBaum
microbeer

Internet of Things innovators V2COM use Java to connect millions of intelligent devices – here’s their story.

V2COM uses Java to connect millions of intelligent
devices.

The science fiction films of yesteryear often depict a world of
pervasive automation. Computers are everywhere, and people are
constantly interacting with them. Other, perhaps more-prescient
cinematic visions foresee chic living environments without a CPU in
sight. The gadgets work autonomously, with circuits and controllers
hidden from view.

Fast-forward to the present. The technologies that we use every
day are fading into the background as the Internet of Things ushers
in a new era of intelligent, seamlessly connected devices. With
embedded microprocessors and a wireless communications fabric,
today’s “computers” require less intervention than ever before,
even as they enable a higher degree of automation. At the forefront
of this transformation is V2COM, a leading Latin American provider
of smart grid technologies and advanced metering
infrastructure.

“The Internet of Things is here, now,” says Guilherme Spina,
managing director at V2COM. “This is an interesting phase as IT
moves from the data center and the desktop out to the streets to be
embedded in all types of things. For example, in the energy
industry, companies are replacing dumb meters with smart meters
that not only enable people to conserve energy but also to play an
active role in providing other services, such as internet
connectivity and in-home automation solutions. Java is key to
creating and delivering these solutions to our clients.”

From Startup to Industry Leader with Java

When it was formed in 2002, V2COM was—in Spina’s words—a
“bootstrap startup.” The fundamental ideas upon which the company
is based were formulated during the mobile phone phenomenon that
swept through Brazil in the 1990s. Spina and his colleagues
realized they could leverage the same communications infrastructure
that connects people to automate remote devices.

One of the first orders of business for V2COM’s founders was to
choose a software platform to manage the interactions between these
remote devices and legacy systems. “We chose Java from the
beginning,” Spina says. “We liked the speed of development and
ability to reuse components by writing code once and deploying it
many times, supporting functionality on both the mobile side and
the server side. Also, we found that the majority of the people we
hired were proficient with Java.”

Spina and his colleagues also favored Java for its high level of
support for object-oriented programming and for its open source
development environment, which makes it easier to add intelligence
to a wide variety of end units such as meters, transformers, and
circuit breakers. These components work together to manage energy
flow at homes and businesses and report back to the energy
distribution systems at a utility company’s head office.

“A complex set of rules governs these devices, so we need a
software infrastructure that allows us to code in a way that is
manageable, expandable, scalable, and not too complex,” Spina says.
“Our system embeds Java in all these different computing platforms,
from the back-end applications to the edge devices and pole-top
smart concentrators, creating an environment of distributed
processing.”

Today V2COM offers hardware, software, and services that can
reduce losses and increase water and energy efficiency, connecting
more than 1 million devices on its platform. Spina believes the
electric power industry is ripe for disruption, as analog
distribution systems, control mechanisms, and usage meters are
replaced by computerized devices. Smart grids can support millions
of remote intelligent devices that handle complex operations in the
field, all connected to a data center through smart concentrators.
These massive, intelligent networks allow electric companies to
better manage the flow and consumption of energy, with less
equipment and fewer IT and field resources. And for that, Spina
explains, you need dynamic management of energy
distribution—something for which Java is innately suited.

Laying the Groundwork for Smart Cities

In the energy sector, V2COM’s innovative solutions
use Gemalto M2M’s Cinterion
modules
 with Oracle Java ME Embedded to share energy usage
data over cellular wireless networks. These modules communicate
with V2COM’s
Intelligenceware Suite
, which uses Oracle Java SE Embedded,
Oracle Utilities Meter Data Management, and GlassFish Server Open
Source Edition to transmit meter and sensor data to back-end
utility systems.

One of V2COM’s most successful projects was for Elektro, an energy distribution
company in Brazil controlled by Iberdrola Group. Elektro, which
serves 2.3 million clients and reaches 5.5 million people, enlisted
V2COM to automate its commercial and industrial metering processes.
Together the companies created a flexible solution that is
modernizing electrical power delivery in Latin America. The project
includes intelligent communication modules connected to legacy
electronic meters through the public cellular network. In addition
to improving energy efficiency and decreasing energy loss, the
solution has helped Elektro improve its remote monitoring
capabilities and respond to incidents faster. It also helps the
company detect fraud and field installation problems that weren’t
visible before.

 

 

 

V2COM and Elektro consider the venture to be an important step
toward a much more extensive set of distributed computing
solutions. “The Elektro engagement is exciting because it lays the
groundwork for smart-city projects,” says Leonardo De Moura Rocha
Lima, chief technology officer at V2COM. “Cities face huge
challenges including congestion, pollution, blackouts, crime, debt,
and rising costs, while competing with each other for investments,
jobs, and talent. Technology is the best answer to manage these
challenges.”

V2COM’s smart grid solutions are the first vector for smart
cities that will have smart street lighting, smart traffic control,
smart video monitoring, and other remote intelligent devices
sharing the same architecture and working in an orchestrated
fashion. Elektro is using V2COM’s solution as a test bed for these
highly automated cities.

“The backbone of tomorrow’s smart cities is the distribution
network of the electrical utility,” Lima explains. “Java is the
connecting fabric.”

Spina predicts that Brazil will deploy as many as 60 million
smart meters over the next 10 years. “Java is a good fit for this
massive project because it is available both on the embedded
devices and on the server side,” Lima adds. “It’s the same
technology, the same language, and the same feature set.”

Java 8 in the World of Connected Devices

V2COM has come a long way since 2002. Today, with more than 1
million devices connected to its platform, the company is a
significant contributor to the Internet of Things, which Gartner
predicts will include 26 billion connected
devices by 2020
.

Beyond the modernization of Brazil’s energy infrastructure, says
Spina, Java will play a key role in connecting and enabling the
Internet of Things on a global scale. In the meantime, as V2COM’s
distributed computing model transforms the energy sector, embedded
Java technology is establishing new patterns and precedents for
many industries.

For example, just as Java took complexity out of processes and
operating systems, it will eventually simplify networks and network
protocols. “Lots of devices utilize proprietary networks. But with
Java, we can standardize,” says Spina. “The almost 10 million Java
developers can easily start programming for the Internet of Things
without having to learn a lot of complex network protocols. Today
programming mobile apps is cool. Tomorrow it will be Internet of
Things solutions.”

New features in Java ME 8 are particularly important to this
development. “Java 8 permits a distinct separation of services,”
Spina continues, “along with modularization so we can run different
services on the same virtual machines, with a clearer boundary
between them.”

It’s no coincidence that these features that are so valuable in
delivering smart grid technology are now part of Java ME 8. V2COM
shares its expertise as a member of the Executive Committee of
Oracle’s Java Community Process
(JCP)
. Through the JCP, V2COM contributed key concepts to the
Java ME 8 specification. (See the “V2COM
and the Java Community Process
” sidebar.)

V2COM’s work with Java took a refreshing turn when company
directors realized they could use the same distributed
infrastructure to accurately monitor and control refrigerator
temperatures—a crucial variable in brewing beer.

“Our home-brew project is just one example of how flexible this
technology can be,” Lima says. “In addition to monitoring beer
temperature, it could be used in medical laboratories to control
the temperature of vaccines or in other sensitive
environments.”

Whether V2COM is monitoring electrical usage, the temperature of
beer, or movements in a video field, it uses the same basic Java
infrastructure to communicate between the end devices and the
central controllers.

“It’s the same set of Java services up to the application layer
on the embedded device,” Lima summarizes. “In the fast-growing
Internet of Things, Java can be the common connecting technology
for all these possible use cases.”

Originally published in the March/April 2014 issue
of Java MagazineSubscribe today.

About the authors

Based in Santa Barbara, California, David
Baum
 and Ed Baum write
about innovative businesses, emerging technologies, and compelling
lifestyles.

(1) Originally published in the March/April 2014 Edition of
Java Magazine 
(2) Copyright © [2014] Oracle.

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