Video: Microsoft looks to strengthen partnerships with industrial companies

Microsoft has been offering industrial companies a range of digital services based on its Azure platform over the past few years and is probably the leading tech company in the space.

Microsoft’s global infrastructure and Azure cloud platform enables companies with worldwide manufacturing or logistics operations to create software applications either specifically for their own companies or for other companies.

The company has also developed special connectors which can accept data from devices which use the OPC-UA standard, a data transmission protocol which is increasingly being adopted in industry for sensor-laden machines and components.  Continue reading Video: Microsoft looks to strengthen partnerships with industrial companies

How Burger King’s OK Google ad exposed flaws in home automation

Burger King recently decided to try something different to promote its classic Whopper. The fast food giant aired a commercial in which a Burger King employee who says he doesn’t have time to talk about all of the ingredients in a Whopper comes up with another way for customers to learn about its ingredients.

The employee leans into the camera and says “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This activated Google’s smart speakers — Google Home, and that’s when people started having fun. The actual ingredient list, as published on Wikipedia, was edited with some items replaced with things like children, toe-nail clippings and rat — among other creative ingredients.

Google wasn’t in on the plan, which led to an interesting chain of events that exposed some of the weaknesses of virtual assistants and home automation.

Voice Recognition
The Burger King ad pointed out an issue with voice-activated home automation devices. It’s not difficult for people besides the primary owners to manipulate them.

With some creativity, someone may find a way to do something more nefarious than manipulate the ingredients of your favorite burger. If clever had turned to criminal, this would be an easy way for hackers to manipulate virtual assistants.

Learning to recognize specific users’ voices would help minimize these problems and give people more control over their devices. To get around this issue, tech companies need to start improving the voice recognition capabilities of their VAs, which they are currently working on.

Google responded to the ad by changing their devices so the voice in the ad wouldn’t wake them. They probably did this by getting the device to recognize the voice and then compare it to a blacklist before responding.
This worked for a while, but Burger King got around it by airing similar commercials featuring different actors. Google has said it’s working on the ability to recognize the voices of multiple users.

Amazon, which manufactures one of the more popular smart speakers, is also working on multiple user functionality. Users would have to set up this feature in advance by recording a voice sample. Currently, Amazon’s Alexa can recognize more than one user, but you have to switch accounts by saying “switch accounts” or by using the Alexa app.

Microsoft’s Cortana appears on Windows 10 devices, as well as some third-party devices, including smart speakers made by Harman Kardon. Although Microsoft hasn’t gotten as much attention as some other players in the home automation game, Cortana does respond pretty well to voice commands.
You can even train Cortana to recognize your voice and set it to respond to only you. It’s probably a pretty safe bet, too, that Microsoft is working on improving this functionality.

Apple’s Siri has some ability to recognize speech patterns of particular users. The company doesn’t have smart speakers on the market yet, but it has been rumored to be working on them. Voice recognition is likely a top priority for Apple as it works on this technology, as it’s important to the security and privacy of its users.

It’s even been rumored that Apple may use facial recognition technology to verify users. The fact that Apple typically only allows Siri to work with its devices, and not third-party ones, presents another challenge.

Home automation and virtual assistants are just starting to take off, and this Burger King kerfuffle is likely just one of many slightly strange happenings that will occur as they develop. Although Google didn’t seem to like the ad — it blocked its devices from responding — and some users may have gotten annoyed, Burger King did succeed in getting itself some attention.

The ad put Google Home in the spotlight, too, and highlighted its capabilities, which is a plus for Google as well. It also highlighted some weaknesses in home automation, which tech companies will have to continue to address.

Megan Wild is editor of

Sarcos Robotics raises $25 million in funding from the likes of Microsoft and General Electric

Sarcos Robotics exoskeleton
The Sarcos Robotics exoskeleton, or dexterous robotic system

Startup company Sarcos Robotics has raised another $15.625 million in financing, bringing its total funding to $25 million.

The company’s investors include Caterpillar, Microsoft and GE Ventures.

Sarcos is developing an exoskeleton which the company describes as a “dexterous robotic system for unstructured environments”.  Continue reading Sarcos Robotics raises $25 million in funding from the likes of Microsoft and General Electric

ABB and Microsoft launch next-generation electric vehicle charging services

man abb vehicle charging

The cloud based e-mobility charging platform will combine ABB’s vehicle-charging technologies with Microsoft’s cloud services

ABB and Microsoft have launched a new electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging services platform which they say is available worldwide.

The companies say the systems combines ABB’s EV charging stations with Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based services and will ensure stability, global scalability and advanced management features for ABB customers.

The collaboration will also take advantage of machine learning and predictive analytic capabilities to drive future innovations.  Continue reading ABB and Microsoft launch next-generation electric vehicle charging services

ABB and Microsoft partner to offer industrial cloud solution

abb microsoft
ABB and Microsoft have formed a strategic partnership to help industrial customers create new value with digital solutions.

The companies say the new ABB Ability service will “enable customers to benefit from the unique combination of Microsoft’s intelligent cloud and ABB’s deep domain knowledge and extensive portfolio of industrial solutions”.

The two partners say they are “committed to empowering digital transformation” in customer segments such as robotics, marine and ports, electric vehicles and renewable energy.  Continue reading ABB and Microsoft partner to offer industrial cloud solution

Caterpillar, GE and Microsoft invest in Sarcos Robotics exoskeleton

sarcos guardian exoskeleton

Sarcos Robotics says its Guardian exoskeleton (pictured) will be capable of lifting hundreds of pounds when it is commercially available

Sarcos Robotics, a developer of dexterous industrial robots for use in unstructured environments, has secured $10.5 million in funding from a group of top-tier strategic investors including Caterpillar Ventures, GE Ventures, and Microsoft.

Additionally, Cottonwood Technology Fund and two other private investment firms, together with the company’s three co-founders, Ben Wolff, Dr Fraser Smith and Dr Marc Olivier, invested in the financing round.

The company says the infusion of capital will be used to expand the Sarcos team and to accelerate the production and deployment of Sarcos’ Guardian line of robots that are significantly reducing the risk of injury and the cost of performing many of the world’s most dangerous and difficult tasks.  Continue reading Caterpillar, GE and Microsoft invest in Sarcos Robotics exoskeleton

Microsoft adds OPC support to IIoT applications


Company to support Open Platform Communications standard across IoT offerings 

Microsoft says it is working with the Open Platform Communications Foundation to enable almost any industrial internet of things network through interoperability between the millions of applications and industrial equipment compliant with the OPC Unified Architecture standard.

Microsoft will further enable its IIoT customers to connect a broad range of manufacturing equipment and software that can span decades of investment with extended support of the OPC UA open source software stack.

Interoperability between devices and assets is critical for today’s factories, which are increasingly bringing new and legacy systems online and modernizing their plants and facilities.  Continue reading Microsoft adds OPC support to IIoT applications

ABB integrates building automation into Microsoft’s Danish offices

abb knx
The Microsoft offices in Denmark where ABB has installed its KNX building automation system

Company claims to have sold its KNX intelligent building products to thousands of others already 

ABB has supplied a number of its building automation solutions, including daylight harvesting, to “increase the energy efficiency and comfort” for new Microsoft offices near Copenhagen, Denmark.

ABB’s KNX building control platform is used in several thousand installations worldwide, claims the company.

It utilizes what it calls “the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP)” to adapt control functions in line with the natural rhythm of the day.  Continue reading ABB integrates building automation into Microsoft’s Danish offices

Copa-Data to unveil new software for smart factories at Hannover Messe event

Copa-Data has launched its new zenon software and will be presenting it at Hannover Messe
Copa-Data has launched its new zenon software and will be presenting it at Hannover Messe

Copa-Data will present scalable software solutions with zenon for vertical data integration for the Smart Factory at the Microsoft booth at the Hannover Messe, between April 25 and 29, 2016.

Copa-Data will demonstrate how existing and new sensory systems can be integrated seamlessly into an overall solution, right up to the cloud. Existing production equipment is thereby also made available in the cloud for industrial IoT scenarios and for cross-site analyses according to local data protection rules.

Customised products and flexible sales markets with concurrent complex production processes characterise modern industrial production. The solutions of the independent software developer for industrial automation allow bi-directional networking from the field level, to HMI/SCADA, right up to the cloud.  Continue reading Copa-Data to unveil new software for smart factories at Hannover Messe event