Case Studies

Smart Elevator needs secure OTA software updates

The Device Chronicle interviews Andreas Heid, Head of Device Management and Edge Technology at Schindler Digital Group about the smart elevator and OTA software updates from Mender. 

Andreas brings his considerable experience in engineering, project management and business intelligence to help Schindler Digital Group manage its device fleet. This initiative brings digital intelligence to its smart elevators, escalators and moving walkways that move billions of passengers each day. 

Smart Elevator IoT project

Andreas started by describing the work of his team. They hold the responsibility for building a device management solution for the IoT fleet of smart elevators and escalators provided by Schindler to its customers. As Andreas says it begins with tens of thousands of gateway devices and becomes ever more challenging when you cross the rubicon of scale into hundreds of thousands of devices. Andreas and his team are also dealing with edge computing devices which in themselves come with a high degree of complexity as functional units. These nodes have to be managed with regular software updating and configuration. 

Operating on a global scale

On top of this, Andreas and his team have to deal with managing fleets and equipment across the different regions of the world. Operating this heterogeneous fleet of complex devices efficiently is the key to success.  Andres describes two key factors: “When you start to deal with a large number of gateway devices, then firstly, automation becomes a necessity. Secondly, you need a team of smart people who can find solutions to problems that are often encountered for the first time.” Andreas and his team are doing pioneering work in solving new problems. 

Challenges faced with a smart elevator

Andreas described some of the key challenges in the project. In essence, he says, a smart elevator solution needs to be provided which masks the complexity of the technology. By this, he means that it needs to be easy for the field engineers to set up and configure the gateway devices. The fleet also needs to be error-tolerant and plug and play. In this way, authorised operatives can be empowered to quickly commission devices. At the same time, there can be many technical problems with the gateway devices so the solution needs to support troubleshooting for the field engineers. Only then can the field engineers quickly solve any problems within the system. 

One of the biggest challenges in Schindler’s case is device connectivity and weak signals as the fleet system depends on cellular connectivity. Andreas remarks that in such a very large fleet of gateway devices, the physical locations of the individual devices can be different in every case. For example, a gateway device controlling a smart elevator might be located in a concrete shelf in the middle of a building. This is likely to be a poor location for cellular modem connectivity. So the device management and troubleshooting capabilities need to be able to address this location challenge. 

Key insights from the Edge

The business rationale behind IoT applications is making use of the continuous stream of data collected from the Edge devices to power value-added services. The gateway devices that control the smart elevators and escalators are very intelligent. Andreas explains if a data analysis is time-sensitive than the computing is usually performed on the edge device. If it is the case that the data analysis requires significant computational power and then the processing will be done in the Cloud. 

The most obvious use cases for Schindler is optimised equipment maintenance and the development of services to optimise a facility owner’s equipment management capabilities. Andreas provides an example of what he means by the latter: Escalator A is out of order so therefore the operator will want Escalator B to take over the job being performed by Escalator A and to handle the additional passenger load by increasing the speed of Escalator B. He continues “As a company, we also want to think about improving passengers’ experience. We are transporting billions of people daily and we want to react to the special preferences of the passengers who use our elevators and escalators.”

Security by design

In a scenario where an elevator is connected to the Internet, Andreas insists that security by design is essential. “We all see the recent attack from Solarwind and where vulnerabilities are not being patched. All devices are connected.” Andreas insists “We have to be cautious: security challenges that have been troubling us from the early days of IT will become considerably more serious if they are not properly addressed in an IoT world.” Andreas continues “From the device management and connectivity perspective, it is impossible to manage a large smart elevator fleet efficiently without having security measures in place from the ground up, and also being able to monitor what is going on with a device fleet. In the case of an intrusion then you can react quickly.”

What are the nature of these security threats? In a simple scenario, you have intruders who could exploit a vulnerability and access company confidential information. In a more extreme scenario, you could have hi-jacking of equipment and if that were to happen then users would certainly lose their trust in the technology. This scenario will be avoided by Andreas and his team addressing security from the ground up. 

Secure OTA software updates

Schindler is investing in secure over-the-air software updates from Mender for its fleet of IoT devices in North America and is part of the global device management solution. Mender provides the full firmware updates in a secure end to end manner from server to client. Andreas and his team made the smart strategic move to find a best of breed partner to provide the over-the-air software updates capability. He was looking for a technology partner that could reliably deliver the service, and hide the sheer complexity of OTA software updating behind the scenes and shield the business from this complexity.

Schindler is adding smartness to their global fleet of elevators and escalators. In this way they can get key insights from a continuous stream of IoT data. These insights can help them optimise equipment maintenance and improve the services they can offer to the passengers on their elevators and escalators. They have invested in best of breed partnerships to hide the complexity from the business, get a jumpstart to their IoT project progress and have been strategically smart enough to address security from the ground up in their IoT project. This will ensure protection of their equipment from vulnerabilities and build users’ trust in IoT technology. 

Read more about digital transformation in the process control industry.

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