McKinsey IoT Report Nails It: Interoperability is Key!

I’ll be posting on various aspects of McKinsey’s new “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype” report for quite some time.

First of all, it’s big: 148 pages in the online edition, making it the longest IoT analysis I’ve seen! Second, it’s exhaustive and insightful. Third, as with several other IoT landmarks, such as Google’s purchase of Nest and GE’s divestiture of its non-industrial internet division, the fact that a leading consulting firm would put such an emphasis on the IoT has tremendous symbolic importance.

McKinsey report — The IoT: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype

My favorite finding:

“Interoperability is critical to maximizing the value of the Internet of Things. On average, 40 percent of the total value that can be unlocked requires different IoT systems to work together. Without these benefits, the maximum value of the applications we size would be only about $7 trillion per year in 2025, rather than $11.1 trillion.” (my emphasis)

This goes along with my most basic IoT Essential Truth, “share data.”  I’ve been preaching this mantra since my 2011 book, Data Dynamite (which, if I may toot my own horn, I believe remains the only book to focus on the sweeping benefits of a paradigm shift from hoarding data to sharing it).

I was excited to see that the specific example they zeroed in on was offshore oil rigs, which I focused on in my op-ed on “real-time regulations,” because sharing the data from the rig’s sensors could both boost operating efficiency and reduce the chance of catastrophic failure. The paper points out that there can be 30,000 sensors on an rig, but most of them function in isolation, to monitor a single machine or system:

“Interoperability would significantly improve performance by combining sensor data from different machines and systems to provide decision makers with an integrated view of performance across an entire factory or oil rig. Our research shows that more than half of the potential issues that can be identified by predictive analysis in such environments require data from multiple IoT systems. Oil and gas experts interviewed for this research estimate that interoperability could improve the effectiveness of equipment maintenance in their industry by 100 to 200 percent.”

Yet, the researchers found that only about 1% of the rig data was being used, because it rarely was shared off the rig with other in the company and its ecosystem!

The section on interoperability goes on to talk about the benefits — and challenges — of linking sensor systems in examples such as urban traffic regulation, that could link not only data from stationary sensors and cameras, but also thousands of real-time feeds from individual cars and trucks, parking meters — and even non-traffic data that could have a huge impact on performance, such as weather forecasts.  

While more work needs to be done on the technical side to increase the ease of interoperability, either through the growing number of interface standards or middleware, it seems to me that a shift in management mindset is as critical as sensor and analysis technology to take advantage of this huge increase in data:

“A critical challenge is to use the flood of big data generated by IoT devices for prediction and optimization. Where IoT data are being used, they are often used only for anomaly detection or real-time control, rather than for optimization or prediction, which we know from our study of big data is where much additional value can be derived. For example, in manufacturing, an increasing number of machines are ‘wired,’ but this instrumentation is used primarily to control the tools or to send alarms when it detects something out of tolerance. The data from these tools are often not analyzed (or even collected in a place where they could be analyzed), even though the data could be used to optimize processes and head off disruptions.”

I urge you to download the whole report. I’ll blog more about it in coming weeks.

I Have Seen the Future of Agriculture & It is the IoT (Grove Labs)

Agriculture is a passion of mine, partially because of environmental concerns, and also because I love veggie gardening. There has been an encouraging trend in the US recently, with the advent of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and the localvore movement. However, that’s counterbalanced by the terrible continuing California drought, and the sobering realization that, worldwide, there are more than 805 million who are undernourished. Clearly, we need to produce more food — and do it much more efficiently and in line with natural principles.

Grove Labs Aquaponics system

That’s why I’m so excited about the new Grove Labs system being developed in, of all places, Somerville MA (which has become a start-up haven for ag-related companies through the Greentown Labs incubator. They include Freight Farms [ I will blog about them later..], which is pursuing a similar closed-loop approach on a larger scale, and Apitronics, which presented at one of our Boston IoT Meetups last year.).

It was developed by two young MIT grads, Jamie Byron (who became “obsessed” with the problems of current worldwide agriculture while on an internship) and Gabe Blanchet, who created the primitive precursor of the aquaponics system in their frat house. Now, in its beta testing form (sign up ASAP if you live in the Hub to buy a prototype!), the “Grove” is an integrated ecosystem attractive enough to be placed in your kitchen.

According to The Verge  (which pointed out that dope growers’ experience with hydroponics may have helped Byron and Blanchet, LOL!):

“The Grove system looks like a 6-foot-tall wood cabinet with four LED-lit boxes for plants. Three are smaller, for leafy greens and herbs, and one is larger, for things like tomatoes or peas. On the bottom left is an aquarium whose fish provide fertilizer for the plants. The fish are what make the system ‘aquaponic,’ a particularly organic variant on traditional hydroponics.

….” ‘Essentially we took the philosophy and biology of an actual ecosystem and shrunk it down and put it in a bookshelf tower,’ Blanchet says. The fish produce ammonia in their waste, which gets pumped to the plants, where bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrate. The plants consume the nitrate, filtering the water, which gets returned to the fish. ‘If you keep the system running optimally you can grow plants faster than you can outside,’ says Blanchet.”

A critical component that qualifies the system as an IoT one is the “Grove” app, which will tell owners important information about lighting schedules, when to add nutrients, etc. The all-important sensors will provide critical real-time data about growing conditions and what’s needed.

The Grove isn’t a panacea for world hunger: for one thing, it’s pricey ($2600), although economies of scale when the company is in full swing may bring that down. It also requires involvement by the owner: you can’t just sit there and admire how things grow. You’ll need to actively monitor the app and do routine maintenance. The LED lighting system, as efficient as it may be, won’t work in remote, poor areas where there’s no electricity (but that might come from an nearby PV panel!

Nonetheless, I can see the grove playing a growing (groan, sorry for the pun..) role in meeting the world’s food needs, and, best of all, doing so in a way that capitalizes on one of my key beliefs about the IoT, that it will bring about an era of unprecented precision in use of raw materials, manufacturing, whatever, because of real-time monitoring, and, increasingly, M2M systems where a sensor reading on one device will trigger operation of another. Large-scale farming is also getting more precise due to systems such as John Deere’s FarmSight, so count agriculture as yet another industry that will be revolutionized through the IoT.

The Grove Labs approach really resonated with me because I’ve been using two 8′ x 4′ 30″ high modules for my own veggies for the last twenty years, planted according to engineer/gardener Mel Bartholomew’s great “Square Foot Gardening” system, with varying levels of success. I had grand visions of manufacturing modules from recycled plastics and adding greenhouse-fabric domes to extend the season, and an app to remind owners of when to plant and fertilize but never followed through, so I really admire those who did, and the way they’re incorporating IoT technology.

New Alchemy’s Institute’s “Ark” (in rear)

When I contacted the co-founders, they were unaware that they stand on the shoulders of giants who have developed a natural systems-based approach to agriculture right here in the Bay State, especially John Todd, who (I believe) pioneered the approach with his wonderful New Alchemy Institute on the Cape, where he methodically added new elements — plexiglas water storage, tilapia, etc. — to the passive-solar “Ark” until he had a balanced, self-sustaining system.  John, who has since gone on to develop great natural-systems based wastewater treatment facilities, had a young apprentice, Greg Watson, who went on to become the Commonwealth’s incredibly innovative ag commissioner.

Oh well, it appears these guys have more than reinvented the wheel! Good luck to them.

Global Warming: The IoT Can Help Fill Some of the Gap Due to Government Inaction

I won’t dwell on politics here, but  97% of scientists agree that global warming is real, and, according to the latest United National report this month, it is worse than ever (according to the NYTimes,

“The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.”). (my emphasis)

Thus, it should be noted that the chances of significant government action to curb global warming during the next two years have vanished now that Senator James Inhofe will chair the the Senate Environmental Committee (I won’t repeat any of the clap-trap he has said to deny global warming: look it up…).

While probably not enough to combat such a serious challenge, the Internet of Things will help fill the gap, by helping bring about an era of unprecedented precision in use of energy and materials.

Most important, the IoT is a critical component in “smart grid” electrical strategies, which are critical to reducing CO2 emissions.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Because a smart grid can adjust demand to match intermittent wind and solar supplies, it will enable the United States to rely far more heavily on clean, renewable, home-grown energy: cutting foreign oil imports, mitigating the environmental damage done by domestic oil drilling and coal mining, and reducing harmful air pollution. A smart grid will also facilitate the switch to clean electric vehicles, making it possible to “smart charge” them at night when wind power is abundant and cheap, cutting another huge source of damaging air pollution.”

And then there’s generating electricity from conventional resources: GE, as part of its “industrial internet” IoT strategy, says that it will be able to increase its gas turbines’ operating efficiency (which it says generate 25% of the world’s electricity) by at least 1%.

Equally important, as I’ve written before, “precision manufacturing” through the IoT will also reduce not only use of materials, but also energy consumption in manufacturing.

In other important areas, the IoT can also help reduce global warming:

  • Agriculture: conventional farming is also a major contributor to global warming. “Climate-smart” agriculture, by contrast, reduces the inputs, including energy, needed while maximizing yield (Freight Farms, which converts old intermodal shipping containers into self-contained “Leafy Green Machine” urban farming systems, is a great example!).
  • IoT-based schemes to cut traffic congestion.  As The Motley Fool (BTW, they’re big IoT fans of the IoT as a smart investment opportunity) documents, “1.9 billion gallons of fuel is consumed every year from drivers sitting in traffic. That’s 186 million tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions each year just in the U.S. “

The Motley Fool concludes that, combined, a wide range of IoT initiatives can reduce carbon emissions significantly while increasing the economy’s efficiency:

“A recent report by the Carbon War Room estimates that the incorporation of machine-to-machine communication in the energy, transportation, built environment (its fancy term for buildings), and agriculture sectors could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent annually. That’s 18.2 trillion pounds, or equivalent to eliminating all of the United States’ and India’s total greenhouse gas emissions combined, and more than triple the reductions we can expect with an extremely ambitious alternative energy conversion program.

“Increased communication between everything — engines, appliances, generators, automobiles — allows for instant feedback for more efficient travel routes, optimized fertilizer and water consumption to reduce deforestation, real-time monitoring of electricity consumption and instant feedback to generators, and fully integrated heating, cooling, and lighting systems that can adjust for human occupancy.”

It always amuses me that self-styled political conservatives are frequently the ones who are least concerned with conserving resources. Perhaps the IoT, by making businesses more efficient, and therefore more profitable, may be able to bring political conservatives into the energy efficiency fold!

Seeing’s believing: the mother of all #IoT infographics is here!

Posted on 5th March 2014 in agriculture, design, Internet of Things, M2M, manufacturing, marketing

Like wow!  Trevor Harwood at the go-to IoT site Postscapes has teamed up with Harbor Research to create a “little” infographic (by my calculations it is about 2 miles horizontally by 3 miles vertically!!) that tells all you need to know about the IoT (download here: I wouldn’t attempt to do a screen grab: couldn’t do justice to it!).

I’ve been looking at it for several hours, and still haven’t processed all the information, but I think you’ll find it invaluable to introduce newbies to the IoT and all of its aspects (I was particularly impressed by several of the case studies that I hadn’t read about before).

Download it now, then study it carefully. Nice job!

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Libelium’s Alicia Asín Pérez: crafting an IoT leader from the ground up!

Any time you run into a leading IoT engineer who says she draws inspiration from the early NYC skyscrapers (Why? “..Most of them were built during the Great Depression and make me think that in big crisis like the one we are living there are also the greatest opportunities for creating amazing things.”) you know you’re in for some outside-the-box thinking!

Alicia Asín Pérez of Libelium

That’s the case with Libelium’s Alicia Asín Pérez, who I had a chance to interview just before she was to leave for this year’s Mobile World Congress, where Libelium unveiled its new Smart Water sensors, the latest addition to the eight-year old company’s impressive list of IoT sensors.

What impresses me the most about the company is how Asín and co-founder/CTO David Gascón have pursued their vision of an open-source system (their Waspmote platform “sends any sensors’ data using any communication protocol to any information system so that anyone can play in the IoT”) without compromise from when they started the company.

After attending the Universidad de Zaragoza, the young engineers decided to enter the decidedly un-cool field of hardware, not app design.

They didn’t want to get trapped into serving only one industry vertical (at present they’re serving smart cities, smart water, smart metering, smart environment, security and emergencies, logistics, industrial control, smart agriculture, smart animal farming, home automation, and ehealth.  Any areas they’re not serving?), so they refused to deal with VCs, bootstrapping the company before the days of crowdsourcing. They even appeared on a quiz show for entrepreneurs to get cash, and were prepared to head to Hollywood quiz shows (Asín knows a lot about a lot of subjects, LOL!) if need be.

Libelium is intent about focusing on open source solutions, walking their talk to the point of even using Linux computers.

They also get it about one of my “Essential Truths” of the IoT, that it “democratizes innovation.”  On one hand, Libelium has partnered with major firms such as IBM (with the “Internet Starter Kit”), and, on the other, 30% of its revenues come from its work with the “Maker Movement,” through its “Cooking Hacks” division, which includes:

  • +4000 products for DIY projects
  • Waspmote starter kits
  • Step-by step-tutorials to get started
  • A community forum

Asin sounds like a revolutionary with her call for “democratizing the technology of the Internet of Things,” and speaks proudly of how Libelium quickly created a Radiation Sensor Board used by an ad-hoc network of activists who documented radiation levels after the Fukushima accident. Speaking to Postscapes, she emphasized that while IoT projects by major companies are important, it’s equally important to use the IoT to empower individuals:

When you are in front of such a revolution, you can neglect individuals. It is a big mistake thinking about the IoT players as big companies or just companies. If we look at the general sociopolitical situation, at the citizen movements all across the globe, we see that individuals are just claiming more transparency and not depending on governments and big companies for accessing data: people want Open Data, Open Source, Open Hardware, Open Funding… Because of that, we see projects like Safecast for detecting radiation levels in Fukushima or Air Quality Egg in the Netherlands. People want to do things on their own and are finding support in all the crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and companies backing open hardware that allows them to access inexpensive technology. For example, we just launched a kit to experiment with eHealth and we have already sold more than 1,000 units. People are being more creative and innovative than ever, and everyone needs tools for doing that. Those ‘tools’ are sensors and providing them is our vision.” (my emphasis).

It’s too early in the IoT’s evolution to predict the ultimate winners, but I suspect that Libelium’s passion for open systems, its technical expertise at creating a growing array of sensors, and its ability to partner with both big and small firms will help it prosper over the long haul.

Best quick intro to the IoT that I’ve seen!

Following up on my last post, I’ve found what I think is the best quick intro to the Internet of Things!

Internet of Things,” released today by the Center for Data Innovation (hadn’t heard of them! BTW, they also get points in my book for covering XBRL, the magic potion for data…) is a quick read: it has short intros to most of the major consumer-oriented areas affected by the IoT, from healthcare to home automation, combined with two examples for each of those topics. I hadn’t heard of some of the examples (thanks, authors Daniel Castro and Jordan Misra!), although most are frequently cited ones ranging from the Nest thermostat to the Vitality GlowCap.  All in all, they’ll show almost any skeptic that the IoT is already a reality and that it will change their life!

The report concludes with brief policy recommendations for government and business alike:

  • (for government agencies) lead by example, i.e., include funding for sensors in bridge projects, etc. Yea (you listening, Obama Administration?).
  • reduce barriers to data sharing (this harkens back to my Data Dynamite book: data gains value by being shared!).
  • give consumers access to their data (again, something I wrote about in Data Dynamite).
  • avoid inundating consumers with notices (a fine line, since they need to be informed, in plain English, about how their data will be used).
  • regulate the use of data, not the collection (in line with Mercatus Center’s advice)

All in all, a nice intro to the IoT!

BTW: Thanx to ol’ friend Pete O’Dell for turning me on to this report!

Two good sites if you’re introducing the IoT

Categorize this under “posts I’ve been meaning to write for a long time!”

For the current writing assignment I’m working on, I’m looking for as many good examples of practical Internet of Things applications that are available right now.

There are two sites that I repeatedly go to for those examples that deserve some praise.

postscapesOne is Postscapes, which I find to be an important all-around IoT news source. It features products (and links to their sites) in the “Body,” “Home,” “City” and “Industry” categories, as well as a DIY/Open Source grouping. The descriptions are well written and it’s attractive.

The other site is a corporate one, from Libelium, the Spanish open source sensor platform. A portion of its site is devoted to “50 Sensor Applications for a Smarter World,” grouped under “Smart Cities,” “Smart Environment,” “Smart Water,” “Smart Metering,” “Retail,” “Logistics,” “Industrial Control,” “Smart Agriculture,” “Smart Animal Farming,” “Security and Emergencies,” “Domotic and Home Automation,” and “eHealth.” There’s a wealth of accompanying information about — surprise! — the Libelium sensors that are matched to each of these applications. Of course it’s marketing for Libelium, but the range of applications does illustrate the wide range of ways that the IoT is already affecting industry, cities, and personal lives.

Check both sites out — and point your skeptical contacts who wonder if the IoT is just a laboratory curiosity to them!


Agriculture and the Internet of Things

Posted on 21st October 2013 in agriculture, environmental, Internet of Things, M2M, management

I’m particularly interested in how very traditional businesses will make the transition to the Internet of Things (Exhibit A: see my post from last year about the incredible way the Union Pacific Railroad has been able to switch to “predictive maintenance” by stringing sensors all along its tracks).

What could be older, and more basic, than agriculture?

Lance Donny, the founder and ceo of On Farm Systems, gave an overview of the potential of the Internet of Things to radically increase productivity and cut costs in agriculture at last week’s GigaOM Mobilize conference, saying that agriculture is a “sleeping giant,” when it comes to real-time data.

At present, the industry is handicapped by the high cost of sensors — they can run hundreds of dollars apiece — and lack of infrastructure — there’s no wi-fi, and, more often than not, bandwidth on the farm is limited.

Despite that, On Farm and other firms in the field (ooh, bad pun) are already helping farmers, especially with the critical issue of managing water use. He said there are already 14 million “connected farms” in the US and Europe, and by 2020 there will be 70 million connected devices on farms (interest in the technology is also increasing in developing nations.

Donny mentioned that a big issue with really serving farmers’ needs is that since they’re operating in a moving tractor, “you can’t give them too much data,” but must pay a lot of attention to the user interface, and only give them limited amounts of actionable data.

This “precision agriculture” yields tremendous volumes of data, and one of the problems facing IT firms in agriculture is that there are no common platforms (On Farm uses ThinkWorx), so adding a new data source from another provider requires contacting them directly and then connect to their API.

He said that reducing water usage by pinpointing when it is needed and how much is the biggest challenge, pointing out that 70% of fresh water usage is for agriculture —  even a 5% reduction in use could have tremendous implications not only for farmers, but a world with inadequate water supplies.

Donny said that Monsanto’s recent purchase of Climate Corp., which underwrites weather insurance for farms, for nearly a billion dollars “started a data war” in agriculture. He said that the goal will be to combine enough real-time data so that farmers would have 90% or more accurate 5-day weather forecasts in order to manage water better.

If the IoT is emerging as a priority for as basic an industry as farming, can other mainstream businesses be far behind?