Internet of Things – the digital revolution is afoot
The Internet of Things is the next logical step in a world of digital transformation – and it´s already upon us.
Outfit – Tailored Agile Solutions, true to its core principle of spearheading the digital revolution, will soon present an innovative offer in the field of IoT combined with OutSystems technology.
But what exactly, is – the Internet of Things?
A somewhat over simplified but still very useful and on-point definition would be “the field of human enterprise that deals with machines and objects, equipped with sensors or devices, communicating with one another via the internet, in order to produce a specific result”.
This short video by Forbes will be useful in apprehending the basic concepts:
What is at the core of this new scientific / business field?
On a basic level – the collection and processing of data and information from any number of environmental, mechanical or managerial sources, that will provide the basis for actionable strategies.
Information gathering and processing devices are all around us, and are so much a part of our lives that it would be practically impossible to think of going back to a time when they didn´t exist.
Take a moment to consider all the information gathering devices that you use on a daily basis, even without noticing – to process information that allows for you adjust your behavior or your environment in some way.
From the thermostat on your toaster when you´re cooking breakfast, to the speedometer on your car, (and the radar on the highway that will eventually catch you if you don´t keep an eye on said speedometer…) the air conditioned in your office space that regulates the room temperature – the blood pressure monitor used on your health check-up, the thermometer you use to check your kid´s temperature when he has a cold…
We, as a species, have always tried to devise new ways to gather information about ourselves, our immediate environment, the world around us and even beyond that – building sensors, devices and developing technologies that allowed us to seek and process information way past the limited scope of our five senses – from Galileo´s telescope to Marie Curie´s X-Ray machine, this was the driving force behind many of science´s greatest advances.
The Internet of Things is simply the next logical step in this technological ladder – allowing the integration of sensors and devices in a seamless network, and opening a whole new world of possibilities.
In this visual representation of a “smart landscape” where IoT has been fully integrated, Libelium shows us a small glimpse of the possibilities (click to view full size):
But – is it all about new, jazzed up sensors and devices?
No – in fact, all the data gathered by these sensors is only a part of a much more complex equation.
The key issue here is connectivity – the fact that sensors and devices are connected in such a way that matter-of-factly changes the dynamics of human / machine interaction, that is what opens up all these new possibilities.
Think of it this way: so far, the interaction was always between human and device (a person using a spreadsheet on a computer) or between humans, with a device as a mediator (one person calling another one on a cell phone) – what the connectivity between devices produces is a free flux of information from one device to another, with as much or as little human participation in the process as necessary to achieve the end result.
Imagine an industrial facility, equipped with drilling machines, with sensors that constantly monitor the condition of the drill bits and communicate this information to a control center that regulates the facility´s workflow so as to optimize the maintenance down time and drill bit replacement operations.
And in turn, that control center automatically places an order for new drill bits of a specific type, based on wear and tear patterns – with the human operators only having to provide the final clearances and authorizations.
Or a logistics operation, where routes are optimized automatically and fuel waste is reduced to a bare minimum – based on information coming from sensors in the packages, the vehicles, even other external sources such as traffic control sensors that detect an accident or a gridlock situation, and suggest an immediate course of action that will result in saving time and money.
Complex network patterns – where information flows from one device to another, and then to humans, in optimized architectures, than no longer require human intervention for simple data processing tasks.
So what is the market landscape like, for this type of technology?
Recent surveys (Venture Scanner) about the number of start-ups dedicated to specific niches in the IoT ecosystem show a clear tendency towards the healthcare industry as a primary area of interest, as well as the consumer market – driven in great part by the domotics / home automation segment and the lifestyle / fitness industry.
Image: ZDNet / Data: Venture Scanner
Nevertheless, when it comes to average funding levels, the leaders are the Enterprise and Utilities/Energy sectors.
Image: Venture Scanner
This can be explained by the massive benefits that can be obtained by implementing IoT solutions to manage resources, reduce waste and optimize procedures – in areas where small improvements and adjustments can translate into millions of euros saved down the line; that justifies the investment in this area.
In an effort to try to understand just how much traction IoT solutions are getting on the corporate landscape, Machina Research conducted a survey in March/April 2016 covering 200 executive decision makers in US companies with annual revenues of at least 10 million dollars. The main sectors represented were manufacturing, banking/finance, technology and healthcare, with an average annual revenue of 425 million dollars.
The survey confirmed great interest in the IoT, with nearly half of companies – 48% – already actively using IoT solutions, and a further 43 % planning to initiate within the next one to two years.
Image: Machine Research/TIA
Even more traditional sectors such as agricultural and farming operations are beginning to see the benefits of IoT solutions, ZDNet covered some of those cases in this article – such as Tassal, a Tasmanian salmon producer:
Sam Boyes, senior manager for ICT at Tassal, told ZDNet that a typical lease area from which the company operates will consist of 20 pens holding approximately 20,000 salmon each. The pens have been fitted with smart cameras above and below the water to get more accurate information about the water’s oxygen levels, temperature, and current. The software to which the cameras are connected can then identify the optimum time to feed the salmon and release food accordingly. This ensures the company maximises the salmon’s growth patterns, while also minimizing food wastage, said Boyes.
“That’s the single biggest cost in our business — the feed. So the last thing we want to do is waste any of it or not get the return on it through [the salmon’s] growth.”
Boyes added that a reduction of one kilo of food every day saves the business AU$25,000 per year.
“Any small improvements we can make there are quite significant. If we can reduce any [losses] by understanding what’s happening in the environment — for example, if there’s a fast-running current — then we can make decisions about when and how we feed those fish so that even a small amount of food isn’t taken away by the current,” he said. “These are the types of insights we’ve been able to get to reduce the cost of operation.”
“Likewise, when the fish want to eat and the feeding conditions are good, we can make sure we are maximizing the opportunity for fish to grow well,” he added.
For further reading on IoT use cases, in scenarios that vary from monitoring the growth of kiwifruit plants in Italy, to precision farming of corn crops, public service applications such as a “smart water” consumption efficiency system, mining, manufacturing, health care, retail and logistics solutions – refer to this article.
One can always take refuge in the apocryphal Danish quote, often attributed to Niels Bohr, Mark Twain and the baseball player Yogi Berra, that “it´s hard to make predictions – especially about the future”.
But it is also true that some technologies, once implemented, rarely take a step back – one cannot “uninvent” the airplane or the automobile and expect people to returt to horsecarts and steamships.
In our opinion, the Internet of Things is here to stay, and it provides some of the most fertile ground for technological breakthrough and innovation – and it is in that sense that Outfit – Tailored Agile Solutions is developing a number of initiatives in this field, wich we will announce shortly.
In all likelihood, the field of IoT will develop in such a way that – a few years from now, these network connected devices and sensors will be as much a part of our lives – and as indispensable, as the thermostat on our toaster, the speedometer in our car or the thermometer we use to check our infant’s fever.