Monitoring cyclists via KPN Things and Azure

November 2021

Arjen van der Knijff loves cycling, and technology. His two hobbies came together during a project for the Atos Tour. The KPN IoT technical consultant developed an application that allows for following cyclists in real-time. In order to do this, he linked bicycle sensors and smartphones via the KPN Things Platform with Azure. “The connection with Azure was ready within an hour.”

The idea came up within KPN for some colleagues to participate in the Atos Tour. This is a two-day cycling tour from Paris to Eindhoven that raises money for the fight against cancer. Unfortunately, the Atos Tour has been canceled this year due to corona. That didn’t stop Arjen from developing an application for the event. “I thought it would be interesting to find out how you can send real-time data from cyclists to Azure. I once came up with a similar concept for a Dutch cycling team. The knowledge I gained from that has now come in handy.”

Disadvantages of existing apps

“All kinds of technology are available for measuring sports performances, such as sports watches, cycling computers, and the associated apps,” explains Arjen. “But most applications are not suitable for an event. Often, you can only analyze the data afterwards. In addition, it’s not possible to follow multiple users simultaneously and you are restricted to the platform of the provider. So, you can’t build your own portal for the people at home.”

Arjen set to work himself. The first challenge was data gathering. “For that you need hardware that can read sensors and send the data to the cloud. Building hardware yourself is time consuming. I thought it would be more convenient to use a smartphone for this. It can communicate with sensors via the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or ANT+ standards, and it has a data connection and a GPS module. So, a smartphone app was a logical choice.”

From sensor to database

Arjen knew that an open-source library was available for reading the sports sensors. On that basis, he created an app that sends the data to KPN’s IoT platform: the KPN Things Platform. “Every five seconds, the app sends a message with data such as speed, position, altitude, cadence, and heart rate. Then, I linked the KPN Things Platform to the Azure Event Hub. After processing by Stream Analytics, the data ends up in an SQL database.”

The technical consultant chose Azure because he knows the technology well. “Every developer has his ‘weapons of choice.’ What’s more, I was able to reuse different components from another project. In principle, I could also have linked the smartphone directly to Azure’s Event Hub. But that would have taken more time. That is also the strength of the KPN Things Platform: you can reuse building blocks.”

KPN Things as power strip

Arjen emphasizes that the KPN Things Platform is most suited to devices with limited processing power. “Large IoT projects frequently involve economies of scale. Often, there is a modest hardware budget. To connect a device directly to Azure, the process must be smart enough to encrypt data. Let’s say that this costs ten euros extra per device, then you are quickly talking about a difference of hundreds of thousands of euros. Money that can otherwise be added straight into the development budget.”

The KPN Things Platform works as a kind of power strip, which allows you to easily organize the chains from hardware to application. “It normalizes the data, so you can reuse the links. It doesn’t matter for the platform if you have three temperature sensors from different brands. KPN Things converts the data into a universal value, for example 20 degrees Celsius. Because of the normalizing, you only have to make one link on the application side.”

“This also works the other way around, when you want to operate a device using the application,” Arjen explains. According to him, the ‘power strip’ becomes more valuable when you are dealing with multiple use cases, with various forms of connectivity and different types of hardware. “Due to its modular nature, the platform saves a lot of time and effort. In addition, you manage the hardware with KPN Things. This includes monitoring the status and rollout of any firmware updates.”

Atos and KPN IoT collaborate on IoT solutions

KPN IoT and Atos have been jointly supplying solutions for the entire IoT chain since 2020: from sensors and edge devices to a fully equipped platform with integrated connectivity services. KPN IoT is particularly strong in generating the right data and Atos is good at processing data.

An Azure connection in two steps

With the project, Arjen also wanted to experience for himself what it is like for developers to connect hardware to Azure via the KPN Things Platform. “I was already familiar with KPN Things. But I really think the average developer will find this quite easy. That certainly applies to setting up the platform, and linking the hardware is also doable. Setting up Azure requires a little more expertise.” Arjen has written a guide for people who are less familiar with the Azure platform. It describes the steps for making the data from KPN Things available in Azure.

Back to the application itself. So, Arjen has created a solution for sending real-time data to the Azure platform. But then what? “You can use that data to feed your own portal. Personally, I have already created a simple report with the help of Power BI. Atos’s original idea was to combine sports performances with photo- and video-sharing functionality. Having a social platform like that means that those at home can really feel they are part of the experience.”

The development of this platform has not started yet. Arjen hopes that this will happen in the run-up to next year’s edition. “The Atos Tour is a wonderful event, and I am sure that this technology will add value.”

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