The IoT is a vision of how the world can change through digital interconnection. It is based on cyber physical systems (CPS) which translate the real world into digital signals and data using sensors, electronics, software and connectivity.
What are we actually doing with this data and what could we do with it in the future? Let’s take a deep dive on the IoT and it’s capabilities.
The first step into the IoT is the sensing of external conditions and presentation of the digitised data; highly interesting for research but without economical importance in the past. However the (economical) value of sensor data will grow because it is the basis of all the next steps as well as the IoT in general.
The second step is to process the data. Borders within the real world can easily be crossed with digital information as IoT data is characterised through unique features. Enabled by the Internet and cloud technology data is now location and time independent and can be accessed from everywhere at any time. Further data is detached from physical systems and can be translated into units which make it possible to compare apples and oranges. Need an example? You can compare the energy you’ve used during swimming with the calories burnt while running with a wearable fitness tracker.
The availability and unique features of the data together with advanced processing enable us to access new types of information. One of the most important products of the IoT are forecasts and estimations. Such prognoses are especially valuable for industrial applications and offer huge economical possibilities.
The application of market forecasts is best known from marketing and advertisement industries in which the user behaviour is monitored and analysed in order to develop the most effective promotional strategies. However similar approaches are relevant for other areas such as insurance companies. IoT data enables companies to estimate risks and the impact of a certain event more accurately which is viable in order to optimise products and insurance premiums.
Through new sensor technology it is further possible to improve and customise for example weather forecasts which can be of significant importance for the agricultural and energy sectors.
Based on cloud computing and interconnectivity we will see sophisticated new supply chain management tools which will be able to predict availability of resources and stock.
The combination of these new possibilities will further influence transport industries and especially aerospace and shipping industries. The recent successful landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship (see video below) is probably the perfect example for the new possibilities which are created by the IoT.
The third level of IoT evolution will not only sense the real world but influence it actively and in some cases even autonomously. In terms of single consumers this happens already based on user preference and sensed data. An example are connected thermostats like Google’s Nest which controls heating and air conditioning systems in order to create the perfect indoor climate.
Similar IoT developments can be seen in way bigger scales if we take a look at decentralised energy supply. Energy suppliers seek to coordinate solar plants, wind turbines and cogeneration units in order to provide demand-oriented supply of energy.
In the fourth step, the IoT will not only sense and influence, but also create physical objects. This materialisation which gives us the ability to transform digital content into existing objects has already started as demonstrated by thousands of projects within the maker movement.
3D printing technology is one of the driving forces within this trend. You can download a design from the internet, modify and adapt it to your needs and have it manufactured accordingly. Sophisticated 3D printers are able to scan an object in order to reproduce it in exactly the same way or with any desired changes. Basically all you need to do is walk into a maker store and you will be able to produce your own designs, parts and components with a little support from the pros.
Less complex design can be ordered online easily, as many software tools already feature an interface for 3D printing services.
An even more common and less complex example for IoT materialisation are pictures snapped with your smartphone which you can print wirelessly via your own printer or order them online in different formats, shapes and styles (e.g. as poster or calendar) via apps.
Currently, products of this IoT level are pretty simple but it is likely that we will witness new developments rather sooner than later. It is predictable that we will see platforms which will allow us to combine products from different manufacturers in one custom design. Within this trend the driving forces are open source hard- and software because it will be important that the assembly of custom products is made possible in the first place.
This trend is further the driving force behind the change in production technology. We will have to move away from mass products which are targeted at groups of people and will need to supply individualised products for small groups of customers or even single persons.
The customers of tomorrow will select designs within data bases, modify them according to own preferences and order products alike. In doing so the consumer will be able to choose the basic design, form, colour, functionality and software. This process will change production as we know it radically.
Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I will analyse how these steps of sensing, processing, influencing and creating the real world through modern technology and the IoT will affect economic models as well as how those things correlate with Industry 4.0.