Sensing the future through IoT

The ‘Industry of Things’ event in Berlin on 18/19 September has given manufacturers the opportunity to exchange visions about disruptive technologies. The founder of IoT, Kevin Ashton, gave an emphatic introduction speech. 

Kevin Ashton is known for coining the term ‘The internet of things’.

The future is predictable, said Kevin Ashton, futurologist and so-called ‘godfather’ of IoT having coined the term.

He noted that technological trends typically progress from being a ridiculous prediction in the beginning to a miraculous phenomenon – which lasts only for a few hours – until it turns into a monotonous technological habit.

The conclusion is, according to Ashton, that only with sufficient understanding of how quickly the development hits us, it is possible to take advantage of it.

The technology pioneer pointed out that technological development within the past 10 years has been moving so fast because costs have fallen so rapidly and the level of efficiency has similarly risen – for example, the dramatic increase in how much data a radio wave can transmit 10 years ago.

Ashton claimed as a futurologist, that predicting the technological future regarding costs and efficiency is quite easy. The hard thing is to believe that it really happens. And only, he underlined, if you believe it, do you have an advantage over people who do not believe it.

The first ever best practice example of IoT

As an example of the first company who used IoT technologies, Ashton named the German manufacturer of offset printing presses, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG.

Ashton explained how the company used to send maintenance workers in trucks to faulty printing machines . However, as soon as the internet appeared, Heidelberg realised that the same sensors its maintenance team used for diagnostics could be connected directly to the internet.

In the 1990s, the company’s first printers had a dialogue connection. And if a client had a problem, the printer could be plugged into a phone line and upload a little bit of data for the maintenance team to try and determine why the printer wasn’t work properly.

IIoT has transforming the traditional face of the factory through streamlining processes and maximising production yields - image courtesy of Datawright.

However, because that maintenance approach was so successful, Heidelberg implemented thousands of IoT-enabled sensors and much of its business model now depends on its data.

Additionally, Heidelberg established a consultant arm which started analysing data from different customers, comparing them and explaining to clients how they could better make use of their machines.

Ashton emphasised that Heidelberg is a perfect example of a company using IoT to actually help its customers and improve the clients’ business, instead of using and collecting data for its own profit.

The ‘added value’ service aspect of IoT was highlighted as the principal benefit by most of the speakers during the event in the Congress Centre in Berlin. However, several noted that IoT is not an end in itself and it does not rely on data created by people.

IIoT, structure and software 

Ashton commmented that real time data cannot come through a keyboard handled by a human being.

IoT takes data through GPS, cameras etc. It is important that IoT works only with data taken from the real world, which are then put on to a network and streamed into some kind of decision-making platform.

Ashton explained that data itself does not mean anything. For intelligent data-based decision-making, software is needed. This led to an interesting discussion on how data is not only reflecting but changing the world and of course businesses.

The futurologist said he was often asked, when does the Internet of Things really start to happen? And he always answered that the best example is the so called ‘mobile phone’ in our pockets, which in fact is less a phone than a collection of apps enabled by IoT.

The installed camera and the dictaphone can do amazing things, following the steps of sensing, deciding, acting, which are three elements at the core of any IoT technology.

The camera inspired Ashton to mention one of the latest innovations, enabled by photosensors collecting data in the process of manufacturing, the ‘sewbots’, robots which can make a T-shirt quicker and cheaper than ever before.

Ashton states, that the labour costs of a T-shirt in the US are currently $7.47 and in Bangladesh $0.22. A sewbot in the US can manufacture a T-shirt for $0.33, displacing 17 workers.

IoT might have the potential, as Ashton stated optimistically, to make the world really a better place.

Speakers in Berlin were among others CEOs, directors, managers, scientists from VW, Bosch, Volvo CE, Lego, Opel, ZF Friedrichshafen or Pfizer.