To develop technology for the future is to develop technology for the Internet of Things

The name “Internet of Things” describes the many connected devices that make up this rapidly growing technology industry, and from Bain Capital to General Electric — investors are forecasting a big future for the Internet of Things. Sometimes known as IoT, the industry is predicted to see revenues in excess of 470 billion USD by 2020.  

As smart devices inevitably become ubiquitous, businesses must consider the importance of keeping all this new technology secure. With so many connected devices, peer-to-peer distributed database encryption (known as “blockchain”) becomes an attractive solution. If you want to read more about blockchain encryption, check out our previous post on the subject. For more on the IoT and its industrial applications, keep scrolling.

What is the Internet of Things?

The IoT includes all connected devices of every kind, from mobile phones to military drones, smart light bulbs to wireless health monitors. The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things or the Industrial Internet) is a subset of the IoT, referring to connected devices with specifically industrial applications. Examples of IIoT devices are manufacturing equipment capable of delivering real-time production information and pipes outfitted to collect data for predictive analysis about corrosion.

Embracing the IoT offers many potential benefits to business owners and industry professionals. IIoT technology boosts operational efficiency through remote management systems like SCADA and predictive maintenance alerts provided by big data analytics. The connected ecosystem of the IoT is based in software that facilitates machine-to-machine communication and human-machine interfaces (HMI); in turn, human-machine collaboration has the potential to yield exceptional growth in productivity.    

Outcome Economy describes the practice of marketing a product based on the results it is expected to deliver. Rather than try to persuade customers to buy a tractor because it’s a tractor, outcome economies sell tractors to customers by promising a yield per acre delivered by their machines. The IoT fits nicely into the an outcome economy model; through careful data analysis and innovations in software and hardware, accurate and often impressive outcomes can be promised.  

Like any emerging industry, the Industrial Internet faces certain challenges. Interoperability of devices is unfortunately complicated by so many devices being designed and manufactured by as many different companies. Investing in new, potentially underdeveloped, technology assumes a risk. The IoT is also currently seeing a shortage of digital talent, though this will likely change as the industry continues to grow.  

International businesses face the implications of having few laws governing and data administration across international boundaries. A hugely relevant concern is of course, cybersecurity. Typically dependant on having a set number of endpoints, traditional cybersecurity methods cannot be applied to IoT technology. New security frameworks will need to span the entire physical stack of connected devices, through device-level authentication to system-wide assurance.  

Where is the IoT?

The Internet of Things spans a wide range of industries, trades, and applications. Below, we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential held by this market.  

Automotive

Thanks to companies like Tesla and Google, many people have heard of self-driving cars. But relatively few know the wider possibilities of the IoT when applied to the automobile industry. On a city-scale, connected vehicles provide public wifi on busses and trains as well as real-time update to transit schedules.  

Vehicles are equipped with either an embedded or tethered connection. An embedded connection, as the name implies, describes an embedded antenna and chipset. A tethered connection requires hardware to interact with the car via a smartphone. While computers have been in cars for years, internet connectivity brings crucial developments, such as the ability to push software updates as they are released.

Energy

The energy industry is at the core of all business infrastructure. Yet our current distribution grid is inefficient, overtaxed, and vulnerable to cyber attacks. Applying IIoT technology is an essential step in taking our energy industry towards the 21st century goal of a self-diagnosing, self-correcting, superlatively efficient power delivery system.  

Managing a grid requires collecting and analyzing information on power flow. Current methods of data collection are costly to implement, requiring individual connections to electricity. New Industrial Internet systems use backscattering technology to wirelessly power monitoring devices up to 30 meters away. Implementing these kinds of new systems has been predicted to deliver savings up to 1000%.  

Healthcare

Connecting medical technology to the Internet of Things will unquestionably revolutionise the healthcare industry, making it easier than ever to deliver better care. Already hospitals dipping their toes in the ocean that is the IoT report higher patient satisfaction due to the more direct connection between them and their doctors.  

Healthcare apps that integrate with connected medical devices are able to update patient information while the patient is still in the office. This readily available information makes it easier for doctors to be well-informed about their patients as well as giving patients an easy way to access their information or contact their doctor from anywhere.  

The challenge comes when hospitals have to not only provide storage space for this tremendous amount of patient data, but also keep it secure and compliant with privacy regulations. Setting up and maintaining such a system requires a much larger IT department than most hospitals currently have.  

From remote monitoring of infants to medication distribution for elderly patients, IoT technology offers new ways to keep people safe and healthy. At Boston Medical Center, the NICU has started using wristbands to track the location of newborns. If taken too close to an exit door without permission, elevators will stop and all doors will lock. Nurses also receive alerts on their mobile phones with information such as their patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen level.  

Retail

Applications of IoT technology to the retail industry could be split into two categories: maintaining and distributing inventory and selling to customers through both e-commerce as well as brick and mortar store fronts.  

When it comes to controlling and supervising inventory, IoT systems such as demand-aware warehouses and smart inventory transportation have the potential to ease distribution costs, in addition to eliminating wasteful overstocking. In addition to this, predictive equipment monitoring technology keeps maintenance proactive instead of reactive.  

The connected consumer can price-check while standing in your store, but IoT solutions offer ways to provide customers with their favourite online features in-store. Smart warehouses with robots could even provide a new take on an early-20th century idea — the automat.    

When you have them in store, bluetooth hotspots can connect to customers smartphones to provide them with exclusive deals or to inform associates of loyal, high-paying customers. Wireless sensors can also track foot traffic, offering an enormous amount of data for analysis as well as real-time alerts for store staff.  

Agriculture & Manufacturing

Key to efficiency in both the agriculture and manufacturing industries, data collection is the primary benefit extended by connecting your business to the IoT.

In agriculture, connected tractors and other vehicles provide farmers with easy access to crop yield data. Monitoring systems send alerts to livestock owners and could offer predictive analysis based on collected data.  

Tomorrow’s factory is the connected factory. Current iterations of this technology are typically closed environments, communicating not with The Internet but with its own intranet. Moving to connections on the world wide web will force manufacturing companies, like so many other industries, to address cybersecurity concerns.  

Smart buildings

The most fundamental goal of smart buildings is to deliver essential building services (light, heat, air quality, etc) in the most environmentally and financially efficient way possible. For example an IoT connected building could use information from the security system to automatically disable lights and lower heating when no one is present.  

Complex systems such as these are best implemented from the initial construction of the building, rather than after the fact. Additionally, to make all the necessary devices interoperable requires cooperation between businesses and industries that have traditionally been competitors. Despite these adversities, smart buildings are being built around the world.

Smart motorways

Here in the U.K., smart motorways are beginning to be implemented. These motorways use IoT technology to monitor the flow of traffic and deliver said data to a regional control centre. From the control centre, signs can be activated and changed.  

Increasing the speed limit during times of heavy use has the effect of increasing the capacity of the road without the expensive and time-consuming process of widening it. The least controllable factor comes in the form of getting humans to adhere to the variable signs!  

What’s next for the IoT?

Every nascent technology must go through its awkward adoption period. Like the world wide web in the early 90s, the Internet of Things is still relatively new. Just as it took time for people to accept the existence of a digital world, so will it take time for them to accept its integration into the physical world.  

In essence, the Internet of Things is a large-scale collision of the physical and the virtual. It combines the global reach of internet with the novel ability to manipulate things in the real world. Industrial applications and new HMI will undoubtedly change the way people work in a fundamental and lasting manner.

Unskilled labor (both physical and cognitive) is being, and will continue to be, replaced by machines. But at the same time, implementing mechanical systems requires the creation of new highly-skilled jobs for those design, operate, and maintain them.  

While many crucial questions about the effect of IoT technology on existing industries and business models remain unanswered, research shows that future IoT implementations will be nothing short of transformative. It will redraw boundaries between industries and change the nature of market competition. The Internet of Things will see its own Google, Amazon, and Netflix — companies that disrupt norms and change the landscape of industries.  

Despite the exciting and revolutionary implications ahead, present day companies are slow to grasp the realities of the IoT. Cost of implementing new systems is high and hiring personnel to maintain them is even higher. As different devices frequently do not share a designer or manufacturer, risk of incompatibility can significantly increase the cost and complexity of deploying IoT systems. This problem is further complicated by the long lifespan of existing manufacturing equipment. Business owners see no reason to replace a functioning-but-old systems with an expensive-but-new one. Even retrofitting existing equipment to interface with the IoT can be costly and is often imperfect.  

Connections To Remember

With the emergence of Internet of Things, focus is shifting to hardware and new devices. Good relationships between software firms and OEMs will be invaluable. Even businesses that are in competition with each other will need to collaborate in order to stay relevant in the market. To develop technology for the future is to develop technology for the Internet of Things.  

For years, the technology industry in the West has been rooted in software development. As circuit board manufacturers in China continued to create computers with more storage space, the software industry was given a free ride to the world of terabytes and HD streaming we live in today. Now in the wake of the early Internet of Things, it’s a crucially important time to diversify interests and broaden horizons.  

At Zudu, we’re excited to be a part of this rapidly expanding and changing industry, readily taking advantage of opportunities like the city of Edinburgh’s creative partnership with Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen is sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Valley of Hardware” and is known as the “mecca for electronics” — a young city built with the intention of supporting manufacturing, now the place to be to prototype new ideas or discover IoT devices before they hit the market.  

The Internet of Things as an industry is representative of our globally connected world. The IoT not only connects things to the internet — it connects hardware manufacturers to software developers, business in Scotland to business in China and intrinsically, virtual reality to physical reality.  

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