How Does Your Business Fit into The Internet of Things?

By Matt Cameron

A lot of people are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). The term refers to a sensor-based network of devices, machines and systems connected to the internet and to each other. The term spans both commercial and industrial applications. There is currently a lot of media hype surrounding IoT, but make no mistake, it is real and it will likely affect how you live and work in the next 10 to 15 years, much like the internet did in the last 10 or 15 years.

Think about a service you use, a wearable device you put on, your commute to work, or how your home operates and it’s sure to include devices already part of the Internet of Things. The driving force pushing us to the IoT is cost benefits to industry, government, and logistics. Companies focusing on this market estimate trillions of dollars to be saved by deploying IoT capabilities to all industrial sectors. While the home and personal devices market will see less economic impact, some of what I think are the more interesting applications will happen in this arena.

Home and wearables technologies aim to give us more real time information about everything we do. For product development engineers, the potential for innovation is huge. For example, the automated home is entirely possible now, if not fully adopted. Consider the following scenario:  Police issue an alert that a dangerous criminal has escaped in the area. Simultaneously, your phone and your connected home automation system receive the same alert and before you can digest the news, your home has verified that all doors and windows are locked and the status is reported to you.

Another example demonstrates predictive maintenance in a consumer product. Given that most appliances in our home already have a microprocessor controlling their operation and user interface, it’s not much of a stretch to add additional sensors and wireless connectivity to the electronics. This enables the reporting of information about the health of the system. For example, an accelerometer, costing about a quarter, could be added to a washing machine which could report vibration data of the main bearing, and letting you know it needs work. Additionally, wearable devices are already influencing our behavior around fitness and communication. Though the connected watch or band device is fairly common in the fitness realm these days, there is a lot of capital going toward proliferating wearable connected technology into all sorts of apparel – for example: shirts that monitor our body temperature and heart rate, both of which you can monitor from an app.

While home applications and personal devices may be the items that we identify with most, the biggest impact of the IoT will be in manufacturing, government organizations and real-time tracking. Automated machinery in all types of factories will employ sensor networks to collect data enabling system performance analysis and predictive maintenance. For example, SIGMADESIGN has developed several battery powered wireless devices to test products in a production environment. These devices allow for wire free installation of the test system while enabling remote data collection using a computer or app.

Top Sectors to Change from IoT
Sector Main Change Probable Benefits
Industry / Manufacturing Operation efficiency, safety and reliability, using smart sensors and digital control systems. Reduced energy consumption, fewer disruptions and improved efficiencies.
Government Smart lighting, water, power, fire, and other public services. Environmental benefits and cost reductions with improved use of resources and preventive maintenance of systems.
Logistics Real-time tracking. Improved planning and operations, increased safety and more responsive and reliable services.

In the government realm, cities are deploying IoT solutions in the areas of public safety, traffic control and resource management to use limited resources more effectively and reduce cost. One example of this is the all too familiar photo-radar system that most major cities have deployed in recent years. Instead of getting your speed checked by a police officer, who then spends 20 minutes of her and your time to pull you over and write you a ticket, you now get clocked and photographed in a fraction of a second and receive your ticket  in the mail a week later. Same penalty, delivered in a very efficient (but not less painful) manner.

In the logistics sector, routing, autonomous vehicles and navigation have great potential as we’ve seen with the growing interest in this industry. The debut of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck earlier this year demonstrates that self-driving vehicles aren’t just for passenger vehicles. While autonomous vehicles are the Holy Grail in the transportation sector, all the major shipping companies have already deployed fleets of delivery trucks outfitted with tracking and sensing capabilities. These capabilities allow central command to know a truck’s location, whether or not the driver is in it, and the delivery status of a package. All of this information helps improve the efficiency of delivery, safety of the driver and the consumer experience. Another example, is the trip optimizer by GE, a type of cruise control that scours and synthesizes heaps of data in order to maintain the most efficient speed for the locomotive in order to save fuel.

The number of connected smart devices is increasing, with 50 billion devices predicted by 2020 (Source: cisco). Similarly, machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, a fundamental part of the fabric of IoT, are also on the rise with estimates that M2M connections will grow to 18 billion by 2022 (Source: Machina Research). With more things being tapped for data, soon a higher level of information will be available for evaluation and decision making. The transformation from data to information is key because it will allow for faster more intelligent decisions and effective control of our environments. IoT is simply the means to gather more information than ever before. The challenge is to make sure that the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time.

For businesses like SIGMADESIGN, the IoT is a natural extension of applying technologies that we are already familiar with in new ways. We look forward to providing solutions to our clients that include some of the exciting possibilities offered up by the Internet of Things.