relayr was invited by Cisco DevNet to participate in the Automation Coding Bootcamp in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) that took place between Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th of January 2017. The venue was the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Roland Plett from Cisco was kind enough to host our team for a weekend of hacking around the themes of:
The event took place at the beautiful SAIT’s Heritage Hall.
The goal was to bootstrap the usage of Cisco APIs and IoT — that’s where relayr comes in — to local students and professionals through a hacking competition. Participants had 22 hours to come up with (ideally) working prototypes of hardware and software solutions addressing the above themes.
Alberta’a economy is heavily based on Oil, Gas and Mining. Oil and gas have suffered from low prices in global commodity markets for some time. They are pressed to extract productivity gains by using automation to increase their margins. In that regard, IoT has a big role to play, since it allows for a multitude of technologies to be used in increasing the level of automation without requiring large investments. This is primarily achieved using retrofitting, which is the process of updating old equipment and machinery so that they become smart and thus can be leveraged for increased automation and concomitant lower operational costs.
The first day started with trainings provided by both Cisco and relayr. In the morning, we covered the basics around coding and development. In the afternoon, we discussed Cisco and relayr APIs. We gave two consecutive one- hour training sessions between 13:00 and 15:00.
Attendees were highly engaged and interested in learning more about IoT. Because SAIT is a polytechnic school with a big continuing education component, we had a wide range of people in the audience: from high-school students to professionals — e.g., oil engineers — that are looking to update their skills or even change their careers. They see the potential in terms of having a differentiating, in-demand skill while the IoT market is still in an early stage.
Some of them had some background on IoT — almost exclusively through maker/DIY projects, not so much in a professional setting. For most of them, it was the first time they heard of technologies like 6LoWPAN, LoRa or Linux enabled PLCs. They also discovered things like IoT device management and visualization dashboards.
The training ended at 16:00 and, after an introduction to the challenges, the competition started at 17:00, extending into the night.
Saturday morning, from 8:00 to 14:30, the relayr team was there to support all the questions around our products, and also the hardware that we provided to participants. From Python to Lua, we fielded a wide range of questions and were always busy. That’s why we love events like this. The engagement of the participants was excellent. As developer advocates, we feel particularly happy when people want to learn and take things seriously.
The pitches started at 14:30. Of the five teams in the competition, all but one used the hardware we provided and/or our products. The winning team used our API and dashboard to implement an alert system for pressure control in an oil or gas pipeline, for example.
This event had the most practically oriented judges we have ever met in any event we have attended so far. They drew on their extensive professional experience to assess the projects being pitched. Additionally, everyone presented working prototypes, which goes to show the level of engagement at the event.
The many conversations we had in Calgary taught us that there are many opportunities for IoT in general in Alberta. Big companies like Suncor Energy are looking into IoT as a way to lower operational costs with low capital expenditure (CAPEX), namely in the realm of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Even taking into consideration the very conservative attitudes that permeate tightly-integrated industries like Oil, Gas and Mining, where margins are small and highly dependent on operational performance, our understanding is that initiatives like this DevNet Automation Coding Bootcamp will nudge these industries in the direction of using IoT, namely into retrofitting their existing equipment.
It was a great event and we want to thank Cisco DevNet for inviting us. We hope to return to beautiful Calgary in the near future for another event.