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VOL. 132 | NO. 203 | Thursday, October 12, 2017

Memphis Businesses Getting Smart About Internet of Things

By Michael Waddell

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As cloud-based technologies continue to advance, a growing number of Memphis companies are hooking into the Internet of Things to become more efficient while offering consumers greater convenience.

Automated convenience store SmartMart is an example of how technology is changing the way America lives and works. (Submitted)

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a network of physical objects ranging from wearables (Apple Watches and Fitbit activity trackers, for example) to vehicles and entire buildings. And it’s gaining popularity in homes, where smart devices give consumers the ability to adjust the lighting, change the temperature, or remotely check whether the garage door is closed.

A recent study from Intel estimates roughly 71 percent of households in America will have some aspect of their home connected to a smart device by 2025. Sixty percent of organizations have already started an IoT initiative, and another 23 percent plan to start one within a year.

SmartMart Inc., a Memphis-based technology solutions company that operates a completely automated convenience store in East Memphis, released new patented cloud-based technology in August that includes a redesigned customer interface and upgrades for the store owner, allowing retailers to remotely monitor their stores.

Ashlee Rivalto is SmartMart Inc.’s chief operating officer. Her father, Mike Rivalto, started the Memphis-based technology solutions company that operates a completely automated convenience store in East Memphis. (Submitted)

“We’re able to see everything customers are doing. It checks IDs, alerts us if the cash machine is jammed or if a piece of hardware is down,” said SmartMart chief operating officer Ashlee Rivalto, whose father, Mike Rivalto, started the company in 1995. “And everything is done in real time, from updating inventory to backing up each day’s transactions. It also allows us to video conference with customers if they need help.”

SmartMart’s East Memphis store, located at Park Avenue and White Station Road, includes four kiosks, each with a touchscreen embedded on the front. After the customer selects their items and pays, the kiosk opens and a conveyer belt emerges to dispense the order. The kiosks are situated at car level, making it easy for drivers to place and receive their order without leaving their vehicle, and the average transaction takes 2 1/2 minutes from start to finish.

“It’s finally our time to make this happen, and it’s because of the Internet of Things,” Rivalto said. “It’s a whole new way of working. We have watched technology develop with us to get where we are today to be able to realize our dream to be able to run these stores remotely.”

SmartMart’s store manager lives in Memphis, while all of the programmers are in Romania. The company partnered with Germantown-based Cornerstone Technologies, led by Jason Fisher, to develop the new software.

Jason Fisher

Every component of the store, including dispensers, conveyer belts, sensors and computers, is accessible on the internet through the Amazon Cloud.

“I saw a lot of opportunities to take everything they were doing and put it on the cloud to make it a lot easier to support and to administrate,” said Fisher, who started Cornerstone in 1998 with a focus on offshore software development. “We can have one person remotely managing 10 stores at a time, which is an amazing economy of scale in the convenience store business.”

And there is no restriction on who can support the stores, which allows owners to provide jobs for people who might be disabled and unable to work in traditional retail.

SmartMart is developing its second store, which will be smaller yet able to handle nearly as much inventory, and it is working on a concept that can be used by big-box stores for 24-hour online order package retrieval.

Fisher has also worked with Memphis-based Quickboard, a sports agility training, testing and rehab application used by half of NBA teams and one-third of NFL teams. The customizable software targets speed, reaction, strength, coordination, proprioception, balance and mobility, and it gathers data related to concussions and Parkinson’s disease.

Information is sent to the cloud so it can be analyzed, with research done at places like the University of Memphis.

“There are also a lot of applications for the Internet of Things within the agriculture industry,” said Fisher, who cites the use of sensors and cameras in production and processing. “And drones are going to change the ag space. It’s a rapidly changing world.”

SmartMart founder Mike Rivalto works on a machine at his automated convenience store. A growing number of Memphis companies are hooking into the so-called Internet of Things – a network of smart objects ranging from thermostats to buildings – to become more efficient while offering consumers greater convenience. (Submitted)

Memphis-based American Residential Services, a privately held national provider of air conditioning, heating and plumbing services, is another company utilizing the IoT for its current and future growth.

ARS recently partnered with Nest Labs, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., to include the Nest Learning Thermostat as a standard component of most of ARS’ middle- and upper-tier residential HVAC system installations. The Nest Thermostat learns the temperatures a homeowner prefers and then programs itself.

“Given that ARS has the largest network of HVAC technicians in the U.S., it is a perfect partnership,” said ARS president and chief operating officer Luis Orbegoso, who is leading ARS’ partnership with Nest and Google. “Nest has the best thermostats, and ARS has the best field infrastructure in the U.S. It is a win-win for both of our organizations as well as our customers.”

Independent studies have shown the Nest Thermostat saves homeowners an average of 10 to 12 percent on heating costs and 15 percent on cooling costs. Nest’s algorithms allow customers to monitor their energy history daily, in addition to receiving an easy-to-understand monthly report. The Nest Thermostat also alerts homeowners if it detects certain problems with the home’s HVAC system.

“As the smart home industry shifts into the mainstream, there is a higher demand for IoT products that are easy to use, offer seamless integration, and can give valuable data feedback like energy savings, health monitoring or increased convenience,” Orbegoso said.

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