Internet of Things spectrum: Cool, hot to extreme

Amazon chief technology officer Dr Werner Vogels

When your fridge is network enabled, it can send you a tweet that your milk is gone. Or, can this job be better done, perhaps, by the trash bin? It will scan the empty milk container you threw out and order one for you.

Dr Werner Vogels, chief technology officer at Amazon Web Services, posed this two-pronged scenario as one of the ways the Internet of Things (Iot) is “talking to the consumer side of things”.

In his keynote at the AWS re:Invent conference, Vogels listed new applications for IoT, or the growing network of connected devices, and their impact on both consumers and enterprises.

He noted how IoT is influencing behaviour. DrivePlus provides a plug-in to your car which determines how well you drive. This information is provided to your insurance company which can lower your premium if you are a good driver, said Vogel.

Then, there is also the “social cooler”. It opens only when two of your friends check in at the same location so the three of you can enjoy your beer together.

Another case is the Internet enabled toothbrush. You can brush your teeth while watching your phone to see whether you are doing it properly.

Dropcam allows users to analyse data and video streams. “Video is no longer something to be watched, it is something to be analysed,” he stated.

Video is no longer something to be watched, it is something to be analysed.Dr Werner Vogels, AWS

While a lot of things are happening in the consumer space, Vogel said the area of IoT that is “heating up” is in the industrial sector.

Sensors are now placed at the bottom of the ocean and the data they gather flow into AWS to be analysed. Data generated from the Mars Rover also flows back to their cloud systems to be ‘collaboratively assessed’.

In New Zealand, a power company built an “interesting app” (Mighty River Power’s GLOBUG) to alert pre-paid customers when their account is running low and need to top off their amount. The customers have an internet enabled lamp whose colour will change if their money is running out (orange for low credit alert, red for disconnection warning).

“Apparently it is very effective,” said Vogels.

Street lamps, meanwhile, provide data to the city’s light management system. After a football game, for instance, the system can light a path for people going to the train station for the ride home and save on energy when no one is around.

Vogels, however, said some IoT uses are a “little bit extreme”.

For instance, researchers have discovered that sport teams that work together have their heart rate go up and down in a synchronised manner. If a player is not functioning well, his or her heart rate will be out sync with the other players.

Each player is equipped with a heart monitor, and the coach sitting on the sideline will be looking at his/her iPad and singling out the player with the ‘out of sync heart monitor’ to get out of the court and be replaced.

“That is pretty extreme stuff, but it is happening in this world,” he said.

Connected cars, connected drivers

At the re:Invent conference, Vogel highlighted how the automotive industry is shifting its business models using IoT.

“The car is becoming a platform for innovation,” he stated.

Dieter May, BMW: 'The car is becoming a platform for innovation'

This was demonstrated by Dieter May, senior vice president, digital business models at BMW, who showed a video of a car providing remote control parking and lane control assistance.

Software and digital services are becoming increasingly important to create value for our customers, said May. “They are becoming increasingly a purchase criteria, but they are also great opportunities for us to create opportunities and capture value.”

He said the car of the future will have sensors, digital connectivity and cloud based connectivity.

As a major manufacturer of premium automobiles, BMW has 116,324 working on three brands: Rolls Royce, BMW and Mini.

Last year, it produced, for the first time, more than two million cars and generated revenues of $80.4 million.

But the industry itself is undergoing massive disruption, he said.

This shift is caused by three major trends. First is autonomous driving with its technology challenges and regulatory hurdles. The second one is the integration of the car as “a really powerful IoT device” into the digital life of the consumer in a very seamless way. The third is mobility services spreading across the globe.

He said BMW continues to develop its existing infrastructure towards an integrated architecture. It will still keep its traditional IT, but also invest in new cloud based solutions such as AWS.

“Through this bi-modal approach, we can augment the power of our infrastructure.”

Agile development is key to this as it allows for real-time innovation that cuts the development cycle for a car from several years down to four weeks.

The connected systems in the cars deliver data into the cloud, he said. We aggregate them, transfer them to the cloud digital map which is dynamically updated. The update cycles are becoming shorter and shorter and this creates pressure for more accurate digital map information.

“Data is key to the future to enable automated driving and highly sophisticated driving assistance function.

“We collect anonymous data from all our on board sensors, we upload them to the cloud services which in this case are hosted by AWS in Frankfurt. This data is sent and processed with our partners and leads to a much fresher map," he said.

This has clear consumer benefits because BMW has more accurate speed limits on the map and better route guidance for all its connected drivers.

BMW will use cloud services to create digital models and services which will change the consumer experience and help the company adapt to new market requirements, he said.

“Agility, flexibility, scalability...this is what matters to us in the car industry going forward.”

Hi-tech food bowls

Patrick Pinkston, vice president, information solutions at John Deere, discussed how IoT is helping the 170-year old company meet the increasing need for food, amidst a more complex and challenging agriculture environment.

“As we look into the future, the next opportunity for agriculture is to seamlessly connect people, technology and insights to uncover new opportunities to deliver more products in a sustainable fashion,” said Pinkston.

He said John Deere is creating a platform in the cloud to achieve this.

Patrick Pinkston, John Deere: The next opportunity for agriculture is to seamlessly connect people, technology and insights to uncover new opportunities to deliver more products in a sustainable fashion.

“With technology and expertise we provide capabilities to monitor and manage in real time every task the farm performs from tillage to spraying to harvesting.”

An example is ExactEmerge which plants the seeds at the right time, space and depth. It is an “intelligent planter with GPs accuracy” which sends data on the seeds “seamlessly to the cloud”.

The operator can see the performance of the machine system in real time and also engage in real time with the farm manager.

John Deere also has an operations centre that allows the growers to connect to trusted advisers that can help them derive more value from their farm.

IoT continuum

“You will see a lot more companies going into the IoT space, or having partnerships with the likes of Siemens or GE,” said Jens Butler, principal analyst at Ovum.

He said in the automotive industry, every company has an example around IoT.

“The car is a nicely controlled environment for IoT.

“It is not just the car. It is about servicing and maintenance, where the nearest workshop is, and it is also tied to understanding the music preference or your temperature."

Michael Warrilow, Gartner: You want to make sure you maximise the value for that asset, you connect it to a network that can allow better visibility, better monitoring.

As to how these developments are impacting the CIO role, Michael Warrilow, research director at Gartner posited: “It gets to the core of the business value.”

“They should already be on that path, and increase the visibility of the whole business process.

“IT has to continue on what is their place in that, is it just managing the data that comes out of these sensors and things and analysing it and continuing to make sure the company is having value from it?"

This can vary industry to industry, he stated.

“Those [IoT] activities have been going on and it is just accelerating massively.

“Everything, from the thermometer in a refrigerator, to giant trucks with tyres that cost $2000 each. You want to make sure you maximise the value for that asset, you connect it to a network that can allow better visibility, better monitoring,” said Warrilow.

“You can, as a CIO, demonstrate immediate value if you can improve the asset maintenance and lifetime of the capital.”

Previously you defined a problem and then you solve the problem...Now you create the right environment and get ideas refined.Nikhil Ravishankar, Accenture NZ

Nikhil Ravishankar, managing director at Accenture New Zealand, sees a combination of different factors behind the focus on IoT.

“There are cheap sensors out there, we are starting to get ubiquitous connectivity and people are working on it [IoT],” he said.

“The ingredients are there, what can you cook, what meals can you make? What use cases can you solve that have true commercial benefit?

“It is about how can we introduce, based on observing the process landscape more closely and in real time, how can we solve operational issues, how can we make those efficient?”

In the case of BMW, he said, the manufacturer knew before most people, except for those involved in the crash, that an airbag went off because of the sensors on the car. Thus, they have introduced a service they never thought of – ambulance dispatch – based on this insight.

BMW just wanted to see how everything was operating using the sensors, but now it has a real use case it can solve because of that data.

“That is the beauty of some of these digital technologies,” he stated. “Previously you defined a problem and then you solve the problem...Now you create the right environment and get ideas refined.

“The big mindshift for enterprises is you no longer own all your ideas, it can come from anywhere,” he said. “You just have to create an environment where you can absorb those ideas easily.”

Ravishankar said a lot of the rhetoric is about startups are where innovation is and big businesses are protectionists. Or, how can big business disrupt startups?

“But really, the conversation needs to be, what is the role of big business in an ecosystem of disruption?”

The author attended the 2015 re:Invent conference in Las Vegas as a guest of AWS.

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