In my previous blog post, Entering a Golden Age in Technology, I talked about the connection between cloud computing and electricity as a utility. I also emphasized how Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was now looking to partners and organizations using the cloud for game-changing ideas. As a company, it is focusing more on ideas and innovation, and not just on products and licenses.
With more than 600,000 partners worldwide, Microsoft is obviously hoping many of the game-changing, cloud-computing ideas come directly from its partner ecosystem, giving it a very big advantage over other cloud vendors. The Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto showcased many of Microsoft’s innovative ideas. Here’s a few highlights we found especially innovative or interesting.
Small Non-profit Develops Canada’s Amber Alert
What do you do if your country doesn’t have an amber alert system? You build your own. The Missing Children Society of Canada (MCSC) presented its solution to this problem — an app that can now communicate amber alerts within seconds to more than five million Canadians across multiple territories. This non-profit organization came up with the idea of leveraging Facebook and Twitter to send alerts through its Most Valuable Network (MVN) platform.
As the platform grew and was more widely used, the original technology MVN was built on was struggling to keep up with the spikes of capacity needed to make the system effective. In this case, time was extremely critical. MSCS partnered with Microsoft Canada to improve this application, and take advantage of the instant capacity it could leverage from Azure. Now Azure services are running behind the scenes, allowing the MVN platform to instantaneously scale with each new crisis.
With more than 600,000 partners, Microsoft hopes cloud-computing ideas come directly from its partner ecosystem.
Since the upgrade, Facebook and Twitter now push alerts within seconds instead of hours. Along with this move to Azure, location-based targeting and a widget to allow users to “donate their feeds” (or allow MVN to post alerts on the users’ feeds) were added to make the MVN platform invaluable for law enforcement and children’s safety.
Remote Solar Energy Systems that Helped Power Remote Schools and Clinics
Bringing electricity to very remote areas can truly change people’s lives. With the Internet of Things (IoT) as a primary theme in the conference, Microsoft showcased the story of Schneider Electric, a global energy company. Schneider Electric has developed utility solutions around Azure IoT Suite, a cloud-based monitoring and management system applying this technology in new solar energy systems for different schools and health clinics in Nigeria.
Azure IoT allows monitoring and maintenance from anywhere around the world through robust data collection and predictive maintenance reporting. Armed with the Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, technicians can not only access and analyze data about each solar panel and connected battery, but can also be notified when a system is underperforming or unusual. The technician can then remotely push firmware to the system, or communicate with people on-site on how to address the issues. Through cloud technologies, an electric company improved education and health care where it had not been possible.
Water Heaters Used as Batteries for Renewable Energy
Storing energy is one of the biggest challenges of the wind and solar energy industry. There is no “battery” to tap into on calm or cloudy days. Steffes Corporation, an OEM manufacturing company, leveraged water heaters to store solar and wind energy. Steffes, in partnership with Mesh Systems, designed the Grid-Interactive Electric Thermal Storage (GETS) system in response to Hawaii’s plan to rely entirely on renewable energy by 2045. This system was built using Microsoft Orleans, Azure IoT Services, and Azure Service Fabric to manage thousands of water heaters to store renewable energy as it is produced.
In utilizing Azure IOT Services, Steffes was able to start connecting water heaters in a very unique way: to use them as infrastructure for the electrical grid. These water heaters are used as virtual storage assets that can be managed instantaneously, precisely, and remotely through Azure’s monitoring system. Renewable energy storage comes with its own challenges, and by developing this system, Steffes is addressing the variability of available renewable energy, as well as providing a cost-efficient solution to stabilize the electrical grid.
Visual Technology/App that Lets Blind People Recognize the Emotions of People in the Room with Them
Blind since the age of seven, Saqib Shaikh, a developer at Microsoft, teamed up with his peers to make an application utilizing Microsoft Intelligence APIs and Pivot Head Smart Glasses. This application, called Seeing AI, allows blind people to gather visual information about their surroundings. Using a camera built into glasses, the wearer can take a picture of something going on in front of him/her, and Seeing AI will analyze the image to provide information such as text, activity, and descriptions of how people appear and which emotions they may be conveying.
Microsoft Cognitive Services has been growing for decades to automatically detect certain activity and emotions in imagery, and is utilized in a number of Microsoft solutions. By introducing this application to smart phones and Pivot Head Smart Glasses, Saqib has enhanced the context and information available and improved information accessibility for the blind.
Even More to Come
It’s been just over six years since Microsoft released Azure as a cloud-computing platform. Since then, by leveraging the lower cost and increased power of the cloud, Microsoft and its partners have developed innovative and ground-breaking solutions. Now with a renewed focus on cultivating these ideas with its partners and increasing consumption of its cloud technologies worldwide, Microsoft and its huge ecosystem seems to just be getting started and is poised to truly expand the possible.
Check back for the final post in this series coming soon, and read part one on the new golden age of technology.