The next wave of automation is here, and it involves making the Internet invisible and ubiquitous.
From vending machines to soap dispensers, to jet engines and even liquor bottles — it’s all becoming “smart” and in practice this means that these objects will hold, exchange and interact among themselves with massive amounts of data.
The Internet of Things first became a “thing” in 1999, when British technologist and innovator Kevin Ashton coined the term. The insight that he saw – a decade or so before it became part of the mainstream tech narrative – was that computers were deprived of their fullest potential because they relied on humans to operate them. As smart as human brains can be, Ashton posited, they are simply incapable of processing billions upon billions of data bits, and then make decisions in real-time on the basis of the insights from that data.
One of the more famous applications for IoT we have seen today has been innovation in home appliances like the thermostat, which can now be turned on remotely. But that’s just a fraction of the connectivity that is in the works.
The market for such connected devices is on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar industry with 200 billion smart machines by 2020, or 26 connected objects per person. Leading the charge are household names including Intel, Cisco, Ericsson, General Electric and IBM, which plans to invest $3 billion over the next four years to build an IoT unit with 1,400 workers.
Intel is gung ho about its IoT investments, which saw 6 percent revenue growth over the last year. With the acquisition of Altera, the custom- design semiconductor maker, for $17 billion, Intel entered the IoT race and perched itself among the top contenders in the market.
Surprisingly, retail IoT products like ovens, door locks and baby monitors have yet to find a firm ground among consumers perhaps due to security concerns.
“Last year, there was a great deal of optimism and bullishness around home automation,” said Dave Bottoms, chief operating officer of PEQ, a smart-home startup, to The Wall Street Journal. “The reality is it is a lot harder and tougher than everybody imagined,” he said.
But that trend might eventually change as consumers interact with these devices in their environment. ZipLine, a new phone application revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, uses infrared sensors to monitor the number of people at a supermarket checkout line and directs the user to the fastest moving lane. And then there are devices that alert the user with health information like body mass index, weight and heart rate.
The road to consumer adoption will be paved by creating a rich IoT experience.
And a robust enterprise environment might be closer than we think. AT&T is already building a framework of connected devices in cities through its Smart Cities Organization. Smart devices in that model include utility meters, water systems and street lights which will detect speeding cars, conserve energy and prevent water waste. The proof is always in the pudding — when up and running, the technology will transmit data on water pressure, temperature and help the city make informed decisions. The telcommunications major has forged alliances with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM and Intel and is expected to soon pilot the smart cities framework in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas.
At its plant in Atlanta, Coca-Cola overhauled its supply chain system by automating much of its manual operations in inventory management, shipping and support. The company deployed a VoIP-based system designed for “picking” bottles, which was previously done by 3,000 employees in over 100 facilities, handling more than 7.5 million orders annually.
At hospitals, IoT will allow a patient’s vital signs to be monitored via a sensor in her hospital bed, and trigger medication and outreach to doctors and nurses at programmed intervals as well as provide updates to family members. It will also allow hospital pharmacy inventory to be monitored in real-time based on what that patient might require and to replenish that inventory as needed, updating billing records as medication is administered, and monitoring the productivity of hospital staff to properly record time and work activities. It will allow a pharmacy within geographic proximity of the patient’s home to be notified 24 hours in advance of her discharge to have an adequate supply of medication on hand, and for that medication to be filled and delivered to her home when she arrives.
The floodgates to the machine-to-machine (M2M) market have opened up and will only be accelerated going forward. As roaring demand translates into steady supply, economies of scale will result in reduced costs. And as more devices become connected, even more devices will be forced to connect to them, with the Internet spreading its tentacles wide. This will create an environment where smart sensors will communicate with other smart sensors and efficiently run themselves with little manual interference. The backbone of this data transfer is, of course, the commercial Internet.
And since the devil is always in the details, monitoring, maneuvering and managing this light-speed data lies in the challenge of interoperability. There are a myriad of devices produced by different OEMs operating on different systems with different communication programming for the performance to happen seamlessly.
This will require a coming together of industry giants to formulate and agree upon an open standard for operation. There are early signs of this — The ZigBee Alliance and Thread Group, are two industry groups working together on developing standards for this and later this year they will rollout an offering that will integrate the work of both consortiums.
It’s an interesting time to be a part of this next industrial revolution. And while it’s a lot to keep up with, we will track it all right here in the PYMNTS.com Internet of Things Tracker.
For more on the trends and happenings within the Internet of Things market, click here to download the January edition of the PYMNTS.com Internet of Things Tracker, powered by Intel, a monthly glimpse into the world of enterprise IoT and the web of data that’s being built around it.
For more updates from Intel, click here.