By Matt Hamblen
Frankly, Bosch surprised me.
When the German technology company asked me to cover their smart city news at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, I wasn’t aware just how broad their smart city technology portfolio had become. I had known of Bosch as a white goods supplier, producing quality ovens, dishwashers and other kitchen appliances.
At a news conference on Monday here, top Bosch officials outlined an impressive array of technologies to help cities improve mobility, measure pollution and warn against rising flood waters. They are now working in 14 major cities, including San Francisco. The company also expressed a strong commitment to protecting the security and privacy of millions of Internet of Things devices.
What most impressed me was their strong enthusiasm for the value of smart city technologies. “There is no one switch that can bet flipped to make a city smart,” said Stefan Hartung, a Bosch board member.
Hartung is what many technology vendors might call a technology evangelist.He spoke about helping citizens be “more engaged and empowered, thanks to technologies that take care of things for us and save us time and allow us to move, breathe and actually live better.”
I haven’t heard that kind of passion in a long while from IBM and Cisco, the well-known major league players in the smart city space. (Both companies made a big push for smart city tech more than five years ago, so maybe I just need a refresh from them.)
If Hartung’s words sounds like lip-service to the many grizzled city CIO’s who have to take bids from vendors and wrangle over financial terms for years, it may be worth ticking off several of the new technologies that Bosch discussed at CES:
- Climo, a small, lightweight, less-expensive air quality monitoring system that can be hung on streetlight poles to measure carbon dioxide and other impurities in the air. Several of the Climo boxes have been installed in Las Vegas. (See my separate blog on Climo.)
- Automated valet parking, to let cars drive themselves into parking garages and find their own spaces at the touch of a button. It was recently demonstrated at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
- Bosch also recently acquired a stake in map provider Here Technologies to begin to build an independent technology for cars to share traffic information collected by their sensors, which can be used to update maps in real time.
- Coup, an e-scooter sharing service, launched in Berlin and Paris.
- Telematics eCall Plug that fits into any standard 12 volt outlet in a passenger vehicle, allowing emergency accident calls and a sensor that monitors driving behavior, which can be shared wirelessly to a smartphone.
- Microgrid technology for independent management of energy from renewables, like solar.
- Flood monitoring to provide early warnings by digitally monitoring water levels in real time, with ultransonic sensors and cameras. Traditional systems have used mechanical monitoring, which may offer solutions too late to be of much value.
- Streetlights with smart LED lighting that switch on when needed. San Leandro, Calif., has installed 5,000 such streetlights, estimated to save the city $8 million over the next 15 years.
- Intelligent cameras for security being added to the FivePoint community being developed in San Francisco.
“The smart city of the future is no utopian vision: it’s already here and communities around the globe are reaping the benefits,” Hartung concluded. “At the same time, the challenges faced by cities are formidable. Overcoming them will require pulling out all the stops, both technologically and politically.”
He argued that Bosch has experience working with municipalities, as well as a comprehensive portfolio.
Bosch on cyber security
In a short impromptu interview, Hartung also said its sensors and other devices are being developed to protect security and privacy from cyber attacks that can potentially disable millions of computers or less-sophisticated Internet of Things sensors.
“With all our products we always protect privacy and security,” he said. “You’ll never reach 100%, but all are carefully evaluated for security risks.”
He added that Bosch products won’t be allowed to interoperate with products from other companies that don’t meet Bosch’s standards for security and privacy. One big area of concern is whether third parties are advising consumers of the risks they face, he added. “IoT means we have to change, not that the technology changes,” he said, suggesting a higher level of disclosure to users and customers will be required by vendors as billions of small sensors are deployed in coming years.
How Bosch ranks for smart city prowess
Because I’ve been relatively uniformed about Bosch’s efforts in the smart city space until lately, I asked some for opinions from experts in the analyst community. For many analysts, the smart city sector is not mature enough to evaluate in the same way that analysts measure smartphone or server shipments or grade network management software providers.
“Bosch is not now a big player for smart city,” said Gartner analyst Bettina Tratz-Ryan. “However, they are an IoT vendor which can provide sensor data and platform analytics for the data streams coming off sensors. “ She noted they have a software platform for electric vehicle charging demonstrated in Germany.
The Climo product from Bosch could be important, she added. “Air quality is becoming an important metric for the smart city, especially with many cities measuring the particulate matter from diesel and fossil fuel cars. Smog is not a good picture for cities, so measuring the density of the pollution is becoming a big issue.”
Bosch’s decision to buy into the Here mapping service means Bosch can map all sorts of mobility services, even air quality metrics, she said.
Analysts at Navigant Research also listed Bosch for the first time among a group of 16 companies in a July 2017 report of leading smart city suppliers. Cisco, Siemens, Microsoft and IBM are at the top of the list. In terms of leadership in the field, Cisco ranked first with a score of 86, while Bosch was 16th with a score of 50.4.
The global market for smart city technologies and services was $40 billion in 2017, Navigant said. It will grow to $94 billion in 2026, an annual growth rate of nearly 10%.
Navigant assessed all 16 companies on several comprehensive criteria, such as a company’s vision and product strategy. Bosch, which introduced semiconductors for autos 50 years ago, got its highest mark from Navigant for “staying power,” besting top-ranked Cisco on that score.