What comes to mind when you hear the phrase Internet of Things (IoT)? Connected healthcare wearables like smart watches and fitness wristbands? Smart meters and remotely controlled thermostats in connected smart homes? Connected cars?
IoT includes all that, but it’s not just about clever gadgets. IoT is about connecting an ever-increasing range of things, including retail signs, medical diagnostic equipment, industrial machinery, buildings, and even honey bees.
It’s also about the data from all these connected things. That data is used to control things either manually or automatically, such as powering down machinery for maintenance from a remote location or self-regulating air-conditioning to improve energy efficiency in connected industrial settings.
The data becomes even more valuable when connected to a central system with analytics to provide business intelligence and insights. Analytics can quickly identify important and even future trends.
Internet of Beer
IoT is about innovative applications, like the SteadyServ iKeg. These smart kegs ensure that bars never run out of their customers’ favorite beers, thanks to a sensor in each keg that sends data to the cloud via Intel IoT Platform technology. Analytics provides brewers with timely insights into demand for their beverages, enabling them to optimize production and deliveries, and improve the effectiveness of future marketing activities.
Devices are getting smarter too, especially when linked to an IoT gateway. These smart devices and gateways can together process and analyze specific data onsite, sending only important or relevant data to a cloud-based system for business analysis. Known as “edge computing,” this can greatly improve the efficiency, security, and effectiveness of IoT systems.
For example, UK company MimoCare has developed a system to monitor elderly people in their homes. Tiny sensors are placed around the home to monitor the residents’ activities, such as sleeping hours and hours sitting still. Intel IoT Gateways are also used to make decisions, like sending alerts to relatives if, say, a cooker has been left on too long.
IoT applications can also use just about any type of legacy equipment. For instance, Daikin Applied uses Intel IoT Gateways to connect its Rebel rooftop air conditioning units to a cloud-based system that allows maintenance workers to greatly improve their response times for repairs.
Intel IoT Rapidly Expanding
Business and IT leaders who haven’t started at least planning IoT applications for their organizations are in danger of being left behind.
The World Economic Forum’s recent report Industrial Internet of Things: Unleashing the Potential of Connected Products and Services, found many organizations were struggling to understand the IoT’s implications. “For these organizations, the risks of moving too slowly are real,” the report warns.
IoT will “change the basis of competition, redraw industry boundaries, and create a new wave of disruptive companies,” the report adds.
Momentum is gathering quickly. According to research firm IDC’s 2015 Global IoT Survey, 73 percent of decision makers have already deployed IoT systems or plan to deploy them in the next 12 months. By 2020, IDC’s IoT Market Forecast for Asia Pacific predicts, the number of connected devices in the region will nearly triple to 8.6 billion.
Measurable IoT Benefits
Businesses are seeing significant, quantifiable benefits. According to Internet of Things: The Complete Reimaginative Force, a recent report by Tata Consultancy Services: “In some companies, the IoT is already having a big impact on revenue, product and service customization, and customer service.
“Companies with IoT programs in place reported an average revenue increase of 16 percent in 2014 in the areas of business where IoT initiatives were deployed. In addition, about 9 percent of firms had an average revenue increase of more than 60 percent.”
Shifting to Industry 4.0
IoT is driving a new industrial era known as Industry 4.0, with the first three stages referring to the industrial revolution, assembly-line manufacturing, and current automation.
The vision for Industry 4.0 is that products, plant and processes will all use sensors, so products can be manufactured to an order placed by a customer on a website, packed, and shipped without human involvement.
IoT is enabling this by accelerating the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). IT applications such as remote management can transform the operations of industrial machinery.
Some companies are well advanced in the transformation. Formosa Plastics – a Taiwanese company that turns petrochemicals into a wide range of plastics – is using Intel IoT technology in a smart manufacturing solution that includes real-time analytics to provide sophisticated monitoring and forecasting. It enables staff to quickly identify changes and anomalies; prevent manufacturing interruptions; and address capacity, environmental, energy consumption, and industrial safety issues.
Three Essentials of IoT
The applications of IoT are many, but successful implementations have three things in common: they must be secure, they must be easy to manage, and they must be scalable.
For example, Patina Lighting’s smart lighting systems can support deployments ranging from 50 to 50,000 or more light fittings. The company’s light fittings connect via Intel gateways to the cloud, and the system intelligently controls office lighting levels to minimize power consumption. The Intel IoT solution includes McAfee security, which is paramount because of the sensitivity of some of the data being transmitted. For example, the system can track smartphones and turn lights on and off for security guards doing their rounds.
Using Intel’s IoT Gateway Development Kit, Patina developed a smartphone app that allows facilities managers to track data such as energy usage – and the savings can be substantial. For example, Patina’s smart lighting has saved Intel’s European offices almost US$3 million a year.
These are just a few early examples of what IoT technologies can do. The truth is, IoT’s uses are only limited by the imaginations of business and IT leaders. Future applications will be more sophisticated and far-reaching, IoT ecosystems such as smart cities will become the norm, and industries will be profoundly transformed.