The true promise of IoT is massive connectivity across industries, but can it deliver?
In this article...
- An interactive look at how IoT will completely transform transportation, manufacturing, retail, energy and healthcare
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Contrary to popular belief, the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is not just about your alarm clock knowing when you leave the house or your thermostat adjusting the heat upon your return.
Yes, these technological advancements offer myriad possibilities, but IoT technology is so much more than a connected light bulb—it’s connected factories and retail stores, hospitals and oil fields.
“IoT is one of these core disrupters in technology that intersects so many fields,” says Amy Webb, CEO of Future Today Institute, a consulting firm that follows tech trends. “The things we don’t normally associate with technology are being connected, and that’s creating an enormous trove of data,” says Webb.
According to Gartner, 5.5 million new things will be connected each day; and by 2020, there will be some 21 billion connected devices that share data. This massive connectivity across industries is the true promise of IoT—a promise that’s encouraged industry insiders to refer to IoT as the driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“IoT is a core disruptor in technology that intersects so many fields.”
Here’s a look at what’s coming for Industry 4.0:
The connected car market is expected to hit $225 billion in 2016 (up from $32 billion in 2015) and by 2020, nearly 250 million vehicles will have automated driving capabilities. Soon, more sophisticated infotainment systems, graphic accelerators and human-machine interface technology will be the norm. And while there’s been obvious investment in—and serious hype around—the connected car, there are still hurdles to overcome.
“The challenges now relate to public acceptance, regulation, security and the wider social implications of having driverless cars on the road,” says Matt Hatton, CEO of London-based Machina Research, a technology and research firm that follows IoT trends.
Other shifts toward IoT in the transportation industry are coming to fruition at a faster pace. In Helsinki, buses and traffic lights are connected to create more efficient routes. While at the airport, connected beacons may alert passengers to open spots in its parking garage. For example, the airport in Columbus, Ohio will eventually be outfitted with connected sensors to help save energy in escalators and locate traveler’s bags.
“Travel is going to be far more efficient,” says Jim Lizotte, director of Technology Services for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. “And we’re right on the cusp.”
“The Industrial IoT will not only increase the efficiency of factories, but it will fundamentally change the way manufacturing firms produce and do business,” said Volkhard Bregulla, VP of HPE’s Global Manufacturing and Distribution Industry. “In the future, when you order a car, the entire supply chain will be configured on the fly according to the features of your unique order. It will not take months, but days until your car is delivered. For manufacturing firms, this means they have to both digitize their plants and develop new forms of value creation and collaboration.”
For a glimpse at how IoT is transforming manufacturing look no further than aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The company plans to create the “Factory of the Future”—building aircrafts in virtual reality with production lines that include computer-suited personnel and robots working side by side.
One day, manufacturers will be connected to multiple factories and suppliers, allowing devices to talk to each other, uploading data in real time. The RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips in a pallet, for instance, combined with an integrated device in the shipment vehicle can tell factories where parts are located via GPS and give updates on traffic conditions, weather and average speed of a driver. Eventually, manufacturers can anticipate product issues in time to fix the problems, save on fuel costs by optimizing routes and handle other details like ensuring temperature stability of products and manage stock inventory.
Imagine walking into a store, browsing the shelves, taking what you want, and, as you leave, a sensor scans your items and automatically charges your credit card. This scenario isn’t too far off. Retailers are projected to spend $2.5 billion by 2020 on sensors, beacons, RFID tags and other hardware and installation—quadruple the $670 million spent in 2015.
Some vendors are trying to implement the future right now. Luxury retailer Rebecca Minkoff has partnered with eBay to equip its stores with beacons and cameras to track customers’ movement patterns in an effort to improve store layouts, inventory, pricing and window displays. The stores’ interactive fitting rooms let people browse and select products on augmented reality touchscreens. By clicking on the mirrors, customers can request items to their fitting rooms and pay for them in seconds using a mobile app.
“By 2020, there will be some 21 billion connected devices that share data.”
For decades, the energy industry has established networks of millions of connected devices reliably and securely. But the grid is getting even smarter, using data, machine learning, sensors and Wi-Fi to let meters, pipes and other equipment talk to each other in real time and identify potential problems before they happen. In fact, energy companies are expected to install one billion smart meters by 2020 to meet energy demand.
In the not-too-distant future, companies will create portals where consumers and small businesses can trade their energy and consumption online, selling surplus energy from batteries charged by solar panels and electric vehicles, according to a report by management consulting firm DestinHaus.
As the price point for wearable devices drops and wireless infrastructure becomes more reliable, healthcare data will increasingly go wireless. Machina Research expects the number of connected healthcare devices to increase from the roughly 140 million devices today to 1.3 billion in 2025—the fastest growing IoT sector over the next 10 years. That data could eventually predict problems like high blood pressure and diabetes complications—potentially reducing emergency room admissions.
While some hospitals are already equipped with smart beds that alert healthcare providers when a patient is attempting to get up, there’s more on the horizon. Soon, home medication dispensers will automatically detect when medication isn’t taken and whether medical personnel should be alerted. Hospitals could use technology to ensure a wayward Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t wander off or share health data with a midwife delivering a baby at home.