Tag: industrial internet of things

What the Internet of Things will look like 10 years from now

I was asked recently where do you see the Internet of Things in 10 years?

It is a cool question to think about, and to frame it properly it helps to think back to what the world was like 10 years ago, and how far we have come since then.
iPhone launch 2007

Ten years ago, in 2007 Apple launched the iPhone. This was the first real smartphone, and it changed completely how we interact with information.

And if you think back to that first iPhone with its 2.5G connectivity, no front facing camera, 3.5 inch diagonal 163ppi screen and compare it to today’s iPhones, that is the level of change we are talking about in 10 years.

In 2027 the term Internet of Things will be redundant. In the same way that we no longer say, “Internet connected smartphone”, or “Interactive website” because the connectedness and interactivity are now a given, in 10 years time all the things will be connected and so the term Internet of Things will be superfluous.

Having said that, while the term may have become meaningless, that is only because the technologies will be pervasive, and that will change everything.

With significant progress in low cost connectivity, sensors, cloud-based services, and analytics, in 10 years we will see:

  • Connected Agriculture move to vertical and in-vitro food production, which will see higher yields from crops, lower inputs required to produce them including a significantly reduced land footprint, and the return of unused farmland to increase biodiversity and carbon sequestration (in forests)
  • Connected Transportation will enable tremendous efficiencies, and a major increase in safety as we transition to predictive maintenance of transportation fleets, as vehicles become autonomous and have vehicle-to-vehicle communication protocols as the norm, and as insurance premiums start to favour autonomous driving modes (Tesla cars have 40% fewer crashes when in Autopilot mode according to the NHTSA)
  • Connected Healthcare will move from the current reactive model to a more predictive healthcare, with sensors alerting of irregularities before any significant incident occurs, and the possibility to schedule and 3D print “spare parts”
  • Connected Manufacturing will enable the transition to manufacturing as a service, distributed manufacturing (3D printing) and make mass customisation with batch sizes of one very much the norm
  • Connected Energy with the sources of demand able to ‘listen’ to supply signals from generators, will facilitate moving to a system of demand more closely matching supply (with cheaper storage, low carbon generation, and end-to-end connectivity). This will stabilise the the grid and eliminate the fluctuations introduced by increasing the percentage of variable generators (solar, wind) in the system thereby reducing electricity generation’s carbon footprint
  • Human computer interfaces will migrate from today’s text-based and touch based systems towards Augmented and Mixed Reality (AR and MR) systems, with voice and gesture enabled UIs
  • And finally, we will see the rise of vast Business Networks. These networks will act like automated B2B marketplaces, facilitating information sharing amongst partners, empowering workers with greater contextual knowledge, and augmenting business processes with enhanced information

Many other aspects of our lives will be greatly improved (I’ve not mentioned improvement to logistics and supply chains with complete track and traceability all the way through the supply chain as a given, for example).

We are only at the start of our IoT journey. In 2007 when the smartphone was starting out the incredible advances we’ve seen as a consequence (i.e Apple’s open sourced ResearchKit being used to monitor the health of pregnant women) weren’t obvious, but they have happened. With the increasing pace of innovation, falling prices for components, and amazing network effects from the connected Internet of Things, the future looks very bright, even if we no longer use the term Internet of Things.

Photo credit Garry Knight on Flickr

Italy’s train operator invests big in IoT

TrenItalia has invested €50m in an Internet of Things project which it expects to cut maintenance costs by up to €130m anually, to increase train availability, and improve customer satisfaction ratings.

There is a lot of hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) these days, so it is refreshing to see an IoT story with some real traction (terrible pun, sorry!).

TrenItalia, the primary train operator in Italy, and SAP had a big launch event recently to announce a partnership whereby TrenItalia are using SAP’s IoT technology to help manage the maintenance of the TrenItalia fleet.

TrenItalia operates around 8,000 trains per day, which is in itself, no mean feat. However, it wanted to make its service even more efficient so it looked to the Internet of Things to help.

Historically maintenance on trains was scheduled based on how long the train was in service, how many kilometers it had travelled, or if a failure ocurred, and as a consequence many times the maintenance happened before it was needed.

Trains have had sensors installed for some time now, however typically they wrote their data to log files which were examined at the journey’s end. With the new Dynamic Maintenance Management solution (DMMS), TrenItalia is deploying sensors on all its trains to report back detailed data on the trains’ performance in realtime. The data is used to track where the trains are, to schedule maintenance when it is actually needed, and to increase the safety, and reliability of the entire locomotive fleet.

The trains have between 500-1,000 sensors capable of generating up to 5,000 data points per second measuring variables like motor temperature, line voltage, and braking effort. This data is transferred to TrenItalia’s 6 terabyte in-memory database, and can be stored ultimately in their 1 petabyte cloud storage facility.

The cost of the project to TrenItalia is €50m, which may sound like a lot, but according to TrenItalia CIO Danilo Gismondi, they expect the solution to save them between €104m – €130m per annum (8 – 10% savings in the annual maintenance budget of €1.3bn). There are also savings of an estimated €10-€20m from not having to pay fines and penalties to customers and regulators associated with train failures and delays.

Apart from the financial savings, other benefits of the solution include:

  • a reduction in the unplanned unavailability of trains (leading to a 5-8% increase in train availability)
  • a reduced stock of spare parts
  • a reduction in the amount of time locomotives spend in maintenance and
  • a realtime look into the status of the entire TrenItalia fleet with the ability to be alerted to issues on any one individual locomotive before problems arrive

At €50m, this is a significant outlay for TrenItalia, but they are now battling against competitors on many fronts (air travel, buses, and even ride-share schemes like Uber). Knowing this, a big motivator for TrenItalia’s undertaking the project was to increase customer satisfation ratings. As TrenItalia CEO Barbara Morgante put it

Customers have to choose us because we’re better than others

The transformative nature of the Internet of Things should not be underestimated. With this one solution TrenItalia is saving over €100m a year, it is increasing the safety and reliability of its trains, and it is providing a better service for its customers.

Is the IoT hype justified? Will it change everything, or is it a passing fad?

All the buzz in tech these days is about the Internet of Things. Is the hype justified? Will it change everything, or is it a passing fad?

Tl; dr. It depends, yes, and no. In that order.

To expand a little on that:

Is the hype justified?

It depends on where it is being used, and what for.

So, the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) in industry is really taking off. In fact, just recently (end of July 2016) 451 Research released a report stating that 65% of enterprises are already using the Internet of Things.

There are numerous examples across many sectors – everything from:

As you can see the Industrial Internet of Things (often termed IIoT) is booming, driven by large cost savings, accompanied by deep data insights, and very often reduced carbon emissions.

In the residential sector though, the story is quite different.

There are now Internet of Things connected doorbells, thermostats, lights, televisions, coffee makers, watches, baby monitors, security cameras, lawn sprinklers, refrigerators, even hearing aids.

But the smart home Internet of Things is not yet living up to the hype. The Google Nest, for example only sold 1.3m devices in 2015. All these Things are supposed to offer more convenience, so why aren’t they flying off the shelves?

Two reasons:

  1. Cost – Internet connected things for the home are not cheap. In an industrial setting, adding $1,000 worth of sensors to a wind turbine (for example) is a no-brainer if that wind turbine costs $10m, and the sensors are going to make it more efficient at producing energy, and reduce the chances of its failure, whereas if you are a homeowner, it is very hard to justify paying €200 for 3 internet connected Lightbulbs when a regular Philips LED bulb retails for €6!
    Amazon Screenshot
  2. Lack of convenience – this may sound like a strange one given I said that the Internet of Things was supposed to add to your convenience. Unfortunately the opposite is often true. Each of the IoT items I listed above has its own app, which you need to download, setup, create an account on, and then open up, every time you want to use/control your Thing. We are starting to see some over-arching platforms now which are supposed to help us control all our devices (HomeKit from Apple, SmartThings from Samsung, and Thread from Google), but, if anything are adding to the confusion.


We have Philips Hue, and Lifx LED bulbs in my home, along with Belkin WeMo Switches. The bulbs are now turned on and off at the wall, because it is easier than using an app, and so could just as easily be ‘dumb’ bulbs, and the Belkin WeMo switches failed shortly after getting them (they no longer can connect to the wifi network), so they are taking up space now at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

Is the residential Internet of Things doomed?

Not at all. If the technology world has taught us anything it is that devices get better and cheaper as time goes by. Just compare the first iPhone to an iPhone 6 to see what I’m talking about.

So, in time, the cost of making connected bulbs will be so low that all bulbs will be connected by default. Ditto coffee machines, refrigerators, etc. Whether we choose to make use of devices ‘smarts’ will depend then very much on how the standards war works out.

The transition will take longer as well because, while we typically change phones every 1-2 years, Our home appliances (doorbells, refrigerators, even LED lightbulbs) tend to have a life more typically of 10-20 years.

So, the residential Internet of Things, as long as it remains expensive, lacks the type of economic imperative which the IIoT has, and doesn’t have a dominant, open standard, will proceed slowly. It will be 5-10 years at the very least, before homes are truly ‘smart’. And even then, a lot of the growth in this sector will likely come from devices subsidised by utilities (such as British Gas’ Hive product range), for energy efficiency programs, or the provision of services.

In the meantime, the Industrial Internet of Things will boom. Justifying the hype, changing enormously how businesses operate, and demonstrating that this is no passing fad.