The Internet of Things is something like a gangly, acne-covered adolescent with knobby knees and a clumsy gait. We can see the bright eyes, the long legs and strong hands, and we know it is chock full of “potential”, but it sure is awkward right now.
Notwithstanding all of this awkwardness, however, this clumsy youngster has already made a tremendous difference in the world. The very thought of its possibilities has sent a tremor to the core of our civilization, touching every aspect of our material and intellectual lives. Just consider the fact that the sentence you just read – as blustery and over-the-top as it may seem – is not even inaccurate. Sure, a person can still live a simple life without all of the trappings of modern technology or communication media (I assume?), living only from sustenance won by his or her bare hands directly from the natural world, never interacting with another living soul. I suppose this is possible, and maybe this person could make a strong case that his/her life remains untouched in any way by the Internet of Things. This person, however, will not be reading this and need not be a part of the conversation.
So, to reiterate: the Internet of Things – or at least the thought of it – is influencing every component of our world today. This is because it is not simply an evolution of technology; it the sort of technological/philosophical movement that transforms civilizations. On the order of agriculture, kingship, or industrialization.
Yes, it is that significant.
That is to say, the technological/ philosophical movement started by the Internet itself is that significant. After all, the words, images, videos, and applications that inhabit the regular old Internet are themselves ‘things’. The concept behind what we call the Internet of Things is simply the dawning of the realization that the Internet is not just about people communicating with people; it’s about everything communicating with everything.
Consider what we already see happening to:
In Oskarshamm, Sweden smart building technology has helped reduce the city’s power consumption by 350 MWh, reducing their carbon footprint by 80 tons of CO2. Houston, Texas has used new sensing technology to retrofit 40 municipal buildings for energy efficiency, delivering $3 million in yearly energy and water savings.
Entire cities are changing the way they govern their populations, the way they distribute resources, the way they police themselves. Cities are changing the way they transport goods and people, the way they measure and control their impact on their environments. Everything that defines what a city is and does is being transformed by not just new technologies, but the new ideas inspired the Internet of Things.
One of the foundational elements of civilization, a technological/philosophical movement that predates history itself, is being profoundly influenced by the Internet of Things. Farmers large and small are using networked data to maximize the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheromones. Decreased resource consumption and increased yield are very tangible benefits that have the potential to solve some very serious problems related to food shortages and ever-increasing populations, while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of farming and bringing the family-owned farm back into the global marketplace.
This is the realm of autonomous factories and self-healing machines. Through the convergent development of advanced computing power, sophisticated network technology, sensors, robotics, and analytic techniques, we are seeing the integration of industrial systems both vertically and horizontally. Machines to Machine communication, predictive maintenance, and continuous improvement programs are completely reinventing manufacturing.
Companies like Honda and ABB are using IoT technology to consolidate and organize their manufacturing and maintenance operations through systems of real-time communication and process automation. Companies are using advanced analytics to discover unknown opportunities for improved efficiency. Consider how Kennametal reduced their production cycle time by as much as %40 by simple modifications to their processes like changing the angle of a cut in a particular machining operation.
Real-time consumer data is helping companies be more responsive to the needs and expectations of their customers, and eliminating gaps between supply and demand. Predictive analysis is helping to reduce maintenance costs and incrementally improve production processes through systems of continual improvement. A unique quality of the impact the Internet of Things is having on Industry is its benefits extend beyond the marketplace. Whereas previously profit increases were sought by increasing the scale or speed of production, the new paradigm focuses on increasing efficiency, reducing resource consumption and eliminating waste. The new industrial landscape of smart, connected devices will incidentally lead to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable planet, which leads to the next item…
It is certainly possible to see new technologies as a double-edged sword in this arena. Historically, what humankind has deemed to be good for itself has quite often seemed to be detrimental to our environment. As the Internet of Things makes it easier for us feed and accommodate larger populations, and populations continue to grow, it is not difficult to see how this could negatively impact the environment. An interesting quality of the philosophical thrust behind most Internet of Things initiatives, though, is the tendency toward reduction and conservation. Use fewer resources. Create less waste. Do as much as possible with what is available to us. In a way that may be unprecedented, this worldwide technological evolution may actually improve our relationship with the natural world.
Yes, the Internet of Things is a gangly, awkward, stumbling bunch of possibilities right now, but it is already changing our world. And while we may not have reached that tipping point yet – the point where what is possible becomes what is necessary, and a movement truly transforms our civilization – I think most of us can feel the axis tilting.
There will inevitably come a time when what is happening becomes what has happened, and we will only recognize the revolutionary quality of it when we look back at it in retrospect. In the case of the Internet of Things, I think we have reason to be optimistic.