Tech Overlook

The Internet of Things is going mainstream, Microsoft survey finds

“We wanted to find new ways to use IoT sensor technology to make a building interact with the facility manager and the owner,” says Michael Cesarz, chief executive officer for MULTI at thyssenkrupp Elevator. “thyssenkrupp is uniquely positioned to do that, because an elevator is the nervous system of a building, and the shafts are like the backbone – they are a crucial structural element and they touch every single floor and serve every single tenant.”

To help develop new solutions in the Innovation Test Tower, thyssenkrupp partnered with Willow, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network. thyssenkrupp uses the company’s Willow Twin platform powered by Azure IoT which provides a “digital twin” of the tower that delivers actionable insights to the building managers.


Each Starbucks store has more than a dozen pieces of equipment, from coffee machines to grinders and blenders, that must be operational around 16 hours a day. A glitch in any of those devices can mean service calls that rack up repair costs. More significantly, equipment problems can potentially interfere with Starbucks’ primary goal of providing a consistently high-quality customer experience.

“Any time we can create additional moments of connection between our partners and customers, we want to explore and activate,” says Natarajan “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan, vice president of global equipment for Starbucks. “Our machines are what allow our partners to create that special beverage, and ensuring they are working properly is critical.”

To reduce disruptions to that experience and securely connect its devices in the cloud, Starbucks is partnering with Microsoft to deploy Azure Sphere, designed to secure the coming wave of connected IoT devices across its store equipment.

A smart phone displays personalized recommendations to customers via a mobile app.
Starbucks is delivering personalized recommendations to customers via its mobile app and, soon, its drive-thrus. (Photo courtesy of Starbucks)

The IoT-enabled machines collect more than a dozen data points for every shot of espresso pulled, from the type of beans used to the coffee’s temperature and water quality, generating more than 5 megabytes of data in an eight-hour shift. Microsoft worked with Starbucks to develop an external device called a guardian module to connect the company’s various pieces of equipment to Azure Sphere in order to securely aggregate data and proactively identify problems with the machines.

The solution will also enable Starbucks to send new coffee recipes directly to machines, which it has previously done by manually delivering the recipes to stores via thumb drive multiple times a year. Now the recipes can be delivered securely from the cloud to Azure Sphere-enabled devices at the click of a button.

“Think about the complexity — we have to get to 30,000 stores in nearly 80 markets to update those recipes,” says Jeff Wile, senior vice president of retail and core technology services for Starbucks Technology. “That recipe push is a huge part of the cost savings and the justification for doing this.”


Just one grain of corn infected with a highly carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin can be all it takes to poison the whole harvest and sicken or even kill people and animals, not to mention the waste of having to throw out the lot when contamination isn’t found in time. Aflatoxin often can’t be seen, smelled or tasted, and it’s not destroyed by heat – so cooking contaminated food doesn’t make it safe.

Ingestion of high levels of aflatoxin can be fatal, and chronic exposure can result in serious health problems, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. There are about 155,000 new cases a year of cancer caused by aflatoxin – it’s the leading cause of liver cancer in developing countries.

A Bühler engineer is fighting aflatoxin in corn by combining new camera and UV lighting technology.
Bühler engineers are fighting aflatoxin in corn by combining new camera and UV lighting technology, shown here being assembled. (Photo courtesy of Bühler)

Since consumers can’t tell if their food is infected, the onus is entirely on growers, harvesters and processors – more of whom are having to fight the mold as it expands north amid climate change that stresses crops and makes them more susceptible. So the stakes are high for the new corn processing system Bühler engineers developed as part of an innovation challenge.

With the LumoVision optical sorter, corn gets fed from a truck into a hopper above the 6-foot-tall machine, and a vibratory feeder sends it into a chute where it accelerates to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) a second as it flows in a single layer. UV lights illuminate the corn. A camera on each side of the chute monitors the lighted grains, looking for the telltale fluorescence of aflatoxin infection.

High-speed valves operating compressed air jets – which can open or close in a thousandth of a second – simply shoot any contaminated kernels into the rejects bin, letting the rest of the healthy corn pass through into storage or shipping containers.

Weather patterns at the time of harvest, the health of other lots harvested in the area and other relevant data points can be uploaded to the Bühler Insights platform hosted on the Microsoft cloud to augment the machine data. This can then be combined with information from the cameras as they watch the grains pass by, monitored and analyzed using IoT and edge computing to provide a real-time risk assessment on the crop and guide the system’s processes. If the risk is minimal, sorting can be paused while monitoring continues. If the risk rises, sorting automatically restarts.

“This came at exactly the right time for us, because we were just starting our digital journey toward data analytics and the Internet of Things,” says Stuart Bashford, Bühler’s digital officer. “The general concept for something like this had been around for years, but the technology never existed before to make it commercially viable. But now it’s all come together in this incredibly rewarding project.”


Deep within a Chevron fuel refinery, one key machine is now talking – and revealing secrets about its own health.

That chatty piece of equipment, called a heat exchanger, removes the heat from fluids flowing through it as part of the plant’s fuel processing.

A heat exchanger affixed with cloud-connected sensors.
A heat exchanger affixed with cloud-connected sensors. (Photo courtesy of Chevron)

In a pilot program, Chevron affixed some exchangers with wireless, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors that collect and send real-time data from the heat exchanger to the cloud – supplementing information already gathered by the safety and control system.

Data scientists then analyze that fresh data to check the equipment’s health status now, and to predict its condition in the future.

“Understanding the health of these exchangers can prevent unscheduled outages as well as optimize when we clean these units,” says Deon Rae, a Chevron fellow and lead of Chevron’s IIoT Center of Excellence. “That has the potential to save the company millions of dollars a year when scaled across our whole inventory of heat exchangers.”

The company plans to expand that same IoT technology to other pieces of equipment at facilities around the world to similarly monitor their health and forecast their performance, Rae says. Chevron has more than 5,000 heat exchangers in active operations in more than 100 countries. Deploying health monitoring across different pieces of equipment has the potential to provide significant savings.

Toyota Material Handing Group

Toyota Material Handling Group is the largest forklift manufacturer in the world, but its customers require much more than warehouse trucks and equipment. To better serve them, the global business is expanding and enriching its logistics solutions with digital innovation and Toyota’s renowned principles in lean and efficient manufacturing.

By providing solutions with artificial intelligence, mixed reality and IoT, Toyota Material Handling Group is helping customers meet the global rise in e-commerce and move goods quickly, frequently, accurately and safely.

Workers ride forklifts in a warehouse.
Toyota Material Handling Group forklifts. (Photo courtesy of Toyota Material Handling Group)

With Microsoft technologies, the solutions range from connected forklift and field service systems available today to AI-powered concepts that pave the way for intelligent automation and logistics simulation – all designed with Toyota’s standards for optimizing efficiency, operation assistance and kaizen, or continuous improvement.

“Our direction is going to more systemizing and logistics solutions, services in digital automation, AI analytics and IoT,” says Toshihide Itoh, associate director and CIO of Toyota Material Handling Group, an Aichi, Japan-based division of Toyota Industries Corporation. “We also continue to improve our forklift trucks, because this is our origin. But customers need more and more efficient logistics and we need digital innovation to accelerate and expand our business.”

Toyota has presented its vision for a future warehouse with lean logistics and pre-trained, intelligent forklifts. Enabled with machine learning and IoT services in Microsoft Azure, the vehicles can quickly learn navigation in a virtual model of a customer’s warehouse, a so-called “digital twin.” Customers can experience the trucks interacting with their physical and virtual environment.

The ability to simulate and visualize a physical environment will help solve one of the biggest challenges in the industry: the long deployment time for customized IoT solutions. Installations can normally take six months to a year, but using machine learning and digital twins can significantly shorten the time.


Numerous studies have shown that bad air outside affects air quality inside homes and offices, entering through ventilation systems.

Even worse, pollutants generated inside from cleaning supplies, cooking and fireplaces can be even harder on your health than what you breathe out on the street, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A smartphone displays an app for the Pure A9, offering real-time data, including the state of indoor air quality.
An app for the Electrolux Pure A9 offers real-time data, including the state of indoor air quality. (Photo courtesy of Electrolux)

The Pure A9 – an IoT-connected air purifier built with Microsoft Azure – removes ultra-fine dust particles, pollutants, bacteria, allergens and bad odors from indoor rooms. It launched March 1 in four Nordic countries plus Switzerland and, previously, in Korea.

By linking the purifier and its associated app to the cloud, Electrolux can show the product’s users real-time data about their air quality – inside and outside – while tracking interior air improvement over time. In addition, the Pure A9 continuously monitors its filter usage, alerting users when it’s time to order a replacement filter.

And as a connected appliance, the Pure A9 eventually may have the ability to learn the daily patterns of when household occupants are typically away, enabling the device to run itself on a smart schedule, Larsson says.

“If we can predict when the house is empty, we make sure not to waste filter by cleaning air that nobody is going to breathe,” says Andreas Larsson, engineering director at Electrolux. “Then we can start the purification, so the air is clean when you come home.”

Visit the Official Microsoft Blog to read more from the survey’s breakdown of IoT trends.

Top photo: Starbucks partners are able to spend more time hand-crafting the perfect beverage and less time on machine maintenance thanks to cloud-connected devices. (Photo courtesy of Starbucks) 

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