As 2019 comes to a close and we give thanks for all the blessings we have, we’re likely spending time with our families and friends, and looking forward to an even better 2020. If you are in any way shape or form involved with the Internet of Things (IoT), or its various subsets (such as the Industrial IoT), you have good reason to be optimistic from a professional standpoint. We all trip over “IoT” and “Edge Computing” and “5G” as we cruise the Internet, the backbone of modern 21st century technology. The future is bright for IoT, but in case you have any doubts about how “real” this all is, I can share with you a Use Case (we Product Managers are notorious for talking in “use cases”, sorry) that will prove that IoT is not only the wave of the future – we’ve been doing it, and taking advantage of it, for quite some time.
I’m not really talking about connected cars, or intelligent transportation systems, or even over the air firmware updates to increase capability after the car was manufactured. I’m not talking about making your SUV a Wi-Fi hotspot, either. Rather, the mere fact that modern cars exist with high performance, good gas mileage, and clean burning engines is a testament to the human being’s abilities to say, “hey, we can do better than that.”
Cars in the early 1970’s were faced with new smog control laws, new safety laws, and after the dramatic rise in oil prices due to geopolitical events, fuel economy. Internal combustion engines designers had to worry about more than horsepower as the muscle cars gave way to weak, anemic, and poorly built models in a desperate attempt to raise gas mileage.
Worse still, all three of those new requirements meant bad news for performance: smog restriction techniques such as exhaust gas recirculation meant lower fuel economy as big V-8 engines went from 300 HP down to 150 HP, and fuel economy suffered. Safety concerns meant adding more weight to the vehicle for more safety equipment, which made them even slower and thirstier. The response from the world’s car manufacturers was initially uninspiring: smaller vehicles, smaller engines, malaise cars. Detroit, Tokyo, and every other hub of car design and manufacturing reeled.
But real engineers are never satisfied. Certainly, customers weren’t happy.
But by the mid-1990’s internal combustion car engines started to rebound: power started to rise again, fuel economy became better, and air bags combined with finite state analysis of body chassis yielded stronger, more lightweight vehicles even as smog laws tightened further. By the 2000’s, things were looking up as average MPG (miles per gallon) continued to rise even as smog laws tightened. By 2019 a 770 HP Ford Mustang competes with a 498 HP mid-engine Corvette, and neither pollute very much at all. They are substantially safer than their earlier counterparts, too.
But what has this all got to do with IoT? It is this: car manufacturers got really good at three things: microcontrollers and microprocessors for engine management, software, and using data to provide insights into everything from the combustion process to anti-lock strategies for brakes to the production and quality process itself used to build those vehicles. The secret was in paying attention to the data, and in order to do that you had to want to get the data.
IoT is really just asking, “what does the data say” and working from there. What data should I collect? Where can I get this data? What sensors or information sources can provide me with that data? How can I use this data to reign terror on my competitors and cause the lamentations of their stockholders?
In telehealth, the IoT of healthcare, monitoring patient’s chronic diseases using simple sensor devices such as blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, weight scales, and blood glucometers and storing that data for analysis means human health can be more closely monitored, diet adjusted, medications tracked and dosages adjusted, and lifestyles correlated to chronic disease. Even just two-way video conferencing to enable virtual doctor visits helps reduce health care costs and improve quality of life. The result: healthier patients with far fewer relapses requiring trips back to the hospital, where we all know costs are (still) skyrocketing. Better outcomes, less expense, a sort of “preventative maintenance for the human body.”
In oil and gas, the shale and fracking revolutions have turned the USA again into a net oil exporter even as the world looks for greener energy in solar, wind, off-shore wave, and even fresh-to-salt-water estuary sources. Oil and gas has been relatively slow to adopt modern industrial IoT devices, systems, and practices, but its making up for it now – every single energy provider has research going on to better manage exploration, production, yields, temperature, flow, the amount of “sour” hydrogen sulfide in the gas, and many other factors. Of course, the solar industry nor the wind farm industry wouldn’t exist without semiconductors, battery management systems, and microprocessor/software control. All gather data, and now modern artificial intelligence and machine learning can analyze it for thousands of cofactors and correlations. Fine-grained control over the production process leads to safer, cleaner, and better yielding fields.
For factory floor IoT (IIoT, or IoT 4.0), robots controlled by sensors and microcontrollers build things much more precisely than before, with far less waste (thank you, “just in time!”) and the promise of all this will be products customized for each individual consumer. There are dozens of other market segments such as building automation saving energy and protecting assets that it would take many more blog postings to list them.
But the instinct – the impetus, if you prefer – for all of this is that real engineers are never satisfied. The application of that to our world, to allowing devices to tell us how they “feel”, to predict when they’re going to “catch a cold” and start failing, to provide data to feed back into the production system, is very likely going to surpass even the evolution of cars and show us a brighter future where problems are avoided instead of becoming disasters. The 21st century has embraced mobile phones, mobile internet, hybrid cars, electric cars, and finally some really amazing energy sources (Exxon doing algae? Its real!). I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings us all.
Never give up. Never surrender. Never be satisfied with “nah, it works good enough.” And enjoy the ride towards BETTER for everything. The future for us in Industrial Computing, Edge Computing, IoT, and Data Analysis is bright indeed. Your friends at Corvalent have developed IoT solutions that provide the data, the analysis, and the systems to avoid trouble, make money, and save money.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!