The Internet of Things and opportunity

IoT2The “Internet of Things” tends to start a lot of silly conversations based on misconceptions about the topic. For starters, what “thing” are we talking about? If it’s a connected car, there might be a lot to talk about. If it’s a light bulb or a toaster, maybe not so much.

Can we take a step back and think about this? Isn’t this amorphous “Internet of Things” starting to sound like a justification for almost anything? It’s a marketing phenomenon used by clever semiconductor marketing types to accelerate the use of communications chips. I get that. And I am OK with it.

My hat is off to whoever came up with it. IoT is incredibly clever, because every time an “Internet of Things” thing-y gets sold, it is going to pull a lot of other electronics content along with it. Think of the migration of security cameras. Old-school, analog, tube video security cameras are now Internet hosting CCD imagers with their own light source and super cheap. You can buy a nice four-piece set of cameras and a base station for $300, with 1 Terabyte of memory and mobile access to your surveillance images (I want to say “footage,” but that only applies to analog tapes). So, old things are made new in the Internet of Things era.

Condition monitoring of electric motors and large mechanical drive trains has been around for decades. In the current era, we have reinvented this application by putting the sensors on wired and wireless networks to ease the acquisition of vibration data. The network aspect of these systems is especially helpful since large process plants are often very difficult to navigate, making data collection time consuming and difficult. Now the data are live from everywhere in the plant and real time, at the push of a button. Violà, IoT is instantly re-inventing an entire industry.

Commerce may have been the point to some in the IoT industry, technologists and engineers are looking at it more deeply. What are the real implications of having not just Big Data, but data that are more critical to the operation of the real world? Grid 2.0, for example, is not about having lots of data, but about enabling intelligent electrical grid operations that can bring balance to supply and demand, reduce costs and increase reliability. These are simpler, yet more complex goals, whose mathematical descriptions are not yet clear.

IOT1This is the future of the IoT, where providing useful information is not bounded by location. Where the technological infrastructure for solving complex systems problems is transparent. The Internet, when viewed as a high-speed text messaging system using computers and computer networks, has now become the repository of content for all of mankind. As if by accident, we (or Al Gore) had invented this infrastructure in which information has virtually no cost and no location.

Now that it does exist, what we choose to do with it will say a lot about who we are.

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