When my elementary school going son walks out to his bus stop in sub-freezing weather, as a parent it is comforting to know that he does not have to wait more than a minute or so for the bus. The school bus now has a GPS tracker which coupled with a smart phone app will tell him exactly where the bus is by the minute and he only walks out when it is time to step out. This is the magic of three technologies: sensors (in this case GPS tracker), connectivity (the satellite link) and some rudimentary “analytics” (the smartphone app). 

IoT

All three have existed for some time and now they come together in the form of internet of things. This works out very nicely for many industries, particularly manufacturing, transportation, and utilities because these industries have already heavily invested in those three core technologies. The current trend in wearables is only the tip of the iceberg of applications which is limited to consumer space. The real action will happen in the business to business arena. 

According to a recent survey, telematics will account for 80% of this market in the next few years. Underscoring this point, manufacturing has experienced more than 200% year over year growth in adoption of IoT. However the adoption of IoT within manufacturing is going to transform the industry by adding a service provider tag to manufacturers in a unique way. This is specially the case for producers of large and expensive equipment which require regular maintenance. Examples include jet engines, CT scanners, production plant equipment and eventually even automobiles. Manufacturers currently offer service contracts to purchasers that are like insurance policies (similar to what electronic stores offer you when you buy a new TV), which may be lucrative only when the customer does not make use of it. 

Automobiles are somewhat similar: while manufacturers do not consider warranty as an additional revenue stream, it can be a significant cost and if warranty issues lead to a recall situation, this becomes a major branding problem affecting future revenues.

Another area where IoT can help manufacturers is in the product development phase. Car makers typically test hundreds of prototypes during the development cycle and these test vehicles already have the first ingredient: sensors. Every major system within the car such as engine control unit or transmission control unit has sophisticated data collection systems.  Large amounts of operating data is available every time the prototype is tested in real world driving conditions. Adding the two remaining pieces of the puzzle is relatively straight forward. 

The data from the control units can be tapped from the vehicle’s on board diagnostic port and wirelessly transmitted to a cloud storage. Analytics can then be developed on this data to provide a variety of insights. To start with we can establish the ranges for “normal” operating conditions for each system or component. This will allow us to identify and eventually predict faulty conditions which are by definition outlier events. By harnessing the power of IoT for hundreds of test vehicles, we can significantly reduce the product development time and come up with fixes or solutions that are more robust. 

A device that has a sensor is “aware” of its surroundings, it is able to communicate with the external world via the internet and finally allows us to control the device (act/respond) based on data. In other words, IoT allows our products to become “smart”. While sensors and connectivity technologies have matured rapidly, analytics is still the evolving challenge. This is where many applications get stuck today.

Originally posted on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 @ 09:45 AM

Photo by Kirill Tonkikh on Unsplash

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