Codit connects Microsoft IoT with 30-year-old car in 3,500-km relay

Classic cars are valued for many reasons, but their ability to navigate through remote, snow-packed mountain roads is not usually one of them. After all, they lack many of the advanced sensors that can be found in most modern cars, such as those that can track GPS coordinates, measure environmental data, and more.

So what happens when you participate in a long-distance relay over the Alps whose one requirement is to use a car built before the year 2000? For three employees of Codit, an IT services company that specializes in integrating and managing IoT technology, the answer was simple: Connect the car to the cloud.

Gaining an edge in the Barrel Challenge

Over six days, Codit employees Michel Pauwels, Jef Cools, and Robert Maes took part in the Barrel Challenge, a 3,500-kilometer relay tour that begins in the Netherlands and continues over the Alps, encompassing some of the most rugged and difficult terrain on the continent. To earn additional points along the way, the team also had to complete a number of unique “assignments,” such as getting their vehicle placed in the showroom of a car store, preferably one that sells cars from the same manufacturer.

For their vehicle, the teammates chose a 1990 Ford Escort MK4 with a 1.3 liter OHV engine and four-speed manual transmission. To stand out from their competition and help Europe’s large and enthusiastic rally car fan base keep track of their progress, they decided to take advantage of Codit’s IoT expertise and retrofit the car with sensors that measure the outside temperature and humidity, current altitude and speed, location, and total number of kilometers traveled both per day and throughout their trip. They connected these sensors to a Raspberry Pi loaded with Codit’s Nebulus IoT gateway; this out-of-the-box IoT solution—built with Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge, as well as Stream Analytics, Azure Storage, Azure Functions, Azure Service Bus, Visual Studio Team Services, and more—seamlessly links disparate devices to the cloud, making it easy to monitor, manage, and configure each of them from a single place.

The Codit team then used Azure Stream Analytics and the ASP.NET web API to display all the consolidated information via a dashboard on their website. This included not only the raw data, but also graphs depicting daily, hourly, and 15-minute averages of temperature, speed, and altitude. This way, both the team and their fans had access to vital statistics as they traversed the course and completed each assignment.

“The Nebulus IoT gateway was rock-solid in connecting our old car with the 21st century,” said Pauwels. “Although we were driving a 1990 Ford Escort MK4, we were able to generate and transmit as much information into the cloud as any modern vehicle does, if not more.”

The amount of data they generated wasn’t the only impressive feat. Despite tough competition from more than 250 other teams, they placed third overall.

Building a comprehensive IoT solution

Although the team had a blast retrofitting their old Ford and participating in the Barrel Challenge, the relay also helped show how the Microsoft Azure IoT platform can connect technologies together and build a full-service solution in the cloud. In particular, the edge capabilities included in Microsoft’s solution proved how resilient and dependable IoT devices can be, even in the harshest conditions.

For instance, while driving through the Alps, the car’s GPS suddenly stopped functioning properly. Fortunately, Codit’s Managed Services technicians in Ghent, Belgium, were able to remotely patch the device, solving the issue without involving the three drivers at all. Other times, the remote  mountain roads meant the Codit team was occasionally unable to connect their cellular data to the cloud. However, thanks to the automatic buffering built into their Nebulus IoT gateway, any data they generated during offline periods was saved and sent back to the cloud as soon as service was restored, ensuring that no information was lost. Real-world applications for edge capabilities like these include transportation logistics, such as when trucks pass through remote locations, as well as offshore tankers and other industrial operations based in the ocean.

These sorts of benefits speak directly to why Codit depends on Microsoft IoT tools to create its products.

“IoT is never an island,” said Francis Defauw, marketing and communications manager at Codit. “When you build an IoT solution and start collecting data, you have to build on top of that data. That’s why we use Azure. It’s a full-service cloud application that you can use to build a full-service solution—complete with security, edge-computing capabilities, and more.”

Codit’s successful partnership with Microsoft has helped it expand to seven European countries, as well as offer its consultancy and custom software development services to customers in a range of industries, including manufacturing, retail, and transportation.

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