The IoT Will Reinvent Replacement Parts Industry

Of all the Internet of Things’ revolutionary impacts on industry, perhaps none will be as dramatic as on replacement parts, where it will team with 3-D printing to reduce service time, inventory and costs.

I came to that realization circuitously, upon noticing Warren Buffett’s blockbuster purchase of Precision Castparts, the major precision parts supplier to the aeronautics industry.  Having read last year about yet another breakthrough innovation by Elon Musk, i.e., the first totally 3-D printed rocket engines, I was curious to see what Precision was doing in that area.  Unless my search of their website was flawed, the answer is zip, and that suggests to me that Buffett, who famously once said he doesn’t invest in technology because he doesn’t understand it, may have just bought …. a rather large dinosaur.

I noticed that one of Precision’s biggest customers is GE, which not only is using 3-D jet fuel nozzles on its engines but also ran a high-profile contest to design a 3-D printed engine mount that was open to you, me and the kids trying out the new 3-D printer at our little town’s library (note to Mr. Buffett: might be good to schedule a sit-down with Jeff Immelt before one of your biggest customers takes things in-house). As I’ve written before, not only is GE a world leader in the IoT and 3-D printing, but also in my third magic bullet, nanotech: put all three together, and you’re really talking revolution!

OK, I know 3-D printing is sloow (in its current state), so it’s unlikely to replace traditional assembly lines at places such as Precision Castparts for large volumes of parts, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rapidly replace them in the replacement parts area.  I talked to a friend several years ago whose biz consists of being a broker between power plants that need replacement parts yesterday and others with an excess on hand, and couldn’t help thinking his days were numbered, because it was predicated on obsolete technology — and thinking.

Think of how the combined strengths of the IoT and 3-D printing can help a wide range of industries get replacement parts when and where they need them, and at potentially lower cost:

  • sensors in IoT-enabled devices will give advance notice of issues such as metal fatigue, so that repairs can be done sooner (“predictive maintenance“), with less disruption to normal routine, cheaper and reducing the chance of catastrophic failure.
  • because data can be shared on a real-time by not only your entire workforce, but also your supply chain, you can automate ordering of replacement parts.
  • perhaps most important, instead of a supplier having to maintain a huge inventory of replacement parts on the possibility they may be needed, they can instead be produced only when needed, or at least with a limited inventory (such as replacing a part in inventory as one is ordered). This may lead to “re-shoring” of jobs, because you will no longer have to deal with a supplier on the other side of the globe: it might be in the next town, and the part could be delivered as soon as printed, saving both delay and money.
  • your company may have your own printer, and you will simply pay the OEM for the digital file to print a part in-house, rather than having to deal with shipping, etc.

And, as I mentioned in the  earlier post about GE’s leadership in this area, there are other benefits as well:

  • “We’ll no longer do subtractive processes, where a rough item is progressively refined until it is usable.  Instead, products will be built atom-by-atom, in additive processes where they will emerge exactly in the form they’re sold.
  • “Products will increasingly be customized to the customer’s exact specifications. The products will be further fine-tuned based on a constant flow of data from the field about how customers actually use them.”

Sooo, Mr. Buffett, it’s time that you come to terms with 21-st century technology or Berkshire Hathaway’s financial slide may continue.

 

Give It Up, People: Government Regulation of IoT Is Vital

Could this be the incident that finally gets everyone in the IoT industry to — as I’ve said repeatedly in the past — make privacy and security Job 1 — and to drop the lobbying groups’ argument that government regulation isn’t needed? 

I hope so, because the IoT’s future is at stake, and, frankly, not enough companies get it.

I’m referring to the Chrysler recall last week of 1.4 million Jeeps for a security patch after WIRED reported on an experiment in which two white-hat hackers remotely disabled a Jeep on an Interstate from miles away, exploiting a vulnerable link between its entertainment and control systems.  Put yourself in the place of reporter Andy Greenberg, then tell me with a straight face that you wouldn’t be out of your mind if this happened to you:

“As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

At that point, the interstate began to slope upward, so the Jeep lost more momentum and barely crept forward. Cars lined up behind my bumper before passing me, honking. I could see an 18-wheeler approaching in my rearview mirror. I hoped its driver saw me, too, and could tell I was paralyzed on the highway.

“You’re doomed!” Valasek [one of the hackers] shouted, but I couldn’t make out his heckling over the blast of the radio, now pumping Kanye West. The semi loomed in the mirror, bearing down on my immobilized Jeep.”

OK: calm down, get a cool drink, and, when your Apple Watch says your heart beat has returned to normal, read on….

But, dear reader, our industry’s leaders, assumedly knowing the well-publicized specifics of the Chrysler attack, had the hubris to still speak at a hearing of the Internet Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week and claim (according to CIO) that that government regulation of the IoT industry wasn’t needed.

CEA CEO Gary Shapiro said in calling for government “restraint”:

“It’s up to manufacturers and service providers to make good decisions about privacy and security, or they will fail in the marketplace….. Industry-driven solutions are best to promote innovation while protecting consumers.”

Sorry, Gary: if someone dies because their Jeep got spoofed, the survivors’ attorneys won’t be content with the company’s failure in the marketplace.

There are some important collaborative efforts to create privacy and security standards for the IoT, such as the AllSeen Alliance. However, as I’ve written before, there are also too many startups who defer building in privacy and security protections until they’ve solved their technology needs, and others, most famously TRENDnet, who don’t do anything at all, resulting in a big FTC fine.  There are simply too many examples of hackers using the Shodan site to hack into devices, not to mention academics and others who’ve showed security flaws that might even kill you if exploited.

One local IoT leader, Paddy Srinivasan of LoMein, gets it, as reported today by the Boston Globe‘s Hiawatha Bray:

“‘I think it is a seminal moment…. These new devices need a fresh approach and a new way of thinking about security, and that is the missing piece.'”

But it’s too late to just talk about self-policing.

Massachusetts’ own Ed Markey and his Connecticut counterpart, Richard Blumenthal, have called the associations’ bluff, and filed legislation, The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act (AKA SPY Car, LOL)  that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to secure cars and protect drivers’ privacy. It would also create a rating system — or “cyber dashboard”— telling drivers about how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy beyond those minimum standards. This comes in the wake of the Markey study I reported on last Winter documenting car companies’ failure to build in adequate cyber-hacking protections.

Guess what, folks?  This is only the beginning.  Probably the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Dick Cheney on (ok, we agree it’s cool to have been born in Wyoming and that Lynne Cheney is a great writer), is that it wouldn’t be cool for the Veep to have his pacemaker hacked, so you can bet there will be legislation and regulations soon governing privacy and security for wearables as well.

As I’ve said before, I come at this issue differently from a lot of engineers, having earned my keep for many years doing crisis management for Fortune 100 companies that bet the farm by doing dumb things that could destroy public trust in them overnight. Once lost, that trust is difficult, if not impossible, to regain.  Even worse, in this case, cavalier attitudes by even one IoT company, if the shock value of the results is great enough, could make everyone in the industry suffer.

So, if you’re arguing for no regulation of the IoT industry, I have just one suggestion: shut up,clean up your act and take a positive role in shaping regulations that would be performance-based, not prescriptive: the horse has already left the barn.

Now I have to check my Apple Watch to see when my heart rate will get back to normal.

 

Criteria to evaluate IoT “SmartAging” devices

Posted on 25th July 2015 in aging, design, health, home automation, m-health

I haven’t been able to put a lot of time into fleshing out my “SmartAging” paradigm, which combines Quantified Self devices to change seniors’ relationship to their doctors into a partnership and give them incentives to improve their fitness, with smart home devices that make it easier to manage their homes through automation.

So here’s an attempt to move that along, a draft of (hopefully) objective criteria.  I’d love to hear your comments on additional criteria or changes to these, and hope to soon set up a formal system where seniors will evaluate devices in their homes using these criteria.

Smart Aging device evaluation criteria:

Ease of Use

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email?
  2. Is it easy for you to program, or allow someone else to do it remotely?
  3. Does it have a large display and controls?
  4. Is it intuitive?
  5. Does it require professional installation?
  6. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies?
  7. Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?
  8. Do any components require regular charging, or battery replacement.

Privacy, Security, and Control

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anomized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Is it password-protected?
  4. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?
  5. Can you control how, when, and where information is shared?
  6. Will it work when the power goes out?

Affordability

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high? Long term contract required?
  2. Is there major upfront cost?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?
  4. Minimum cost/maximum cost

Design/UX

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors? “Medical” looking?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?
  4. Is it sturdy?
  5. Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)? (This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user.)

Architecture

  1. Inbound
    1. Protocols supported (eg. Bluetooth, BluetoothLE, WiFi, etc)
    2. Open or closed architecture
  2. Outbound
    1. Protocols supported (eg. WiFi, Ethernet, CDMA, GSM, etc)
    2. Data path (cloud, direct, etc)
  3. Remote configuration capability (i.e., by adult child)

Features and Functions

  1. Reminders
    1. Passive, acknowledge only
    2. Active dispensing (of meds)
  2. Home Monitoring
    1. Motion/Passive Activity Monitoring
    2. Environmental Alarms (Smoke, CO, Water, Temp)
    3. Intrusion Alarms (Window etc)
    4. Facilities/Infrastructure (Thermostat)
  3. Health Monitoring
    1. Vitals Collection
    2. Wearables Activity Monitoring
    3. Behavioral/Status Polling (How are you feeling today?)
    4. Behavioral Self-improvement
  4. Communications Monitoring
    1. Landline/Caller ID
      1. Identify scammers
    2. eMail and computer use
      1. Identify scammers
    3. Mobile phone use
  5. Fixed Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  6. Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  7. Fixed Fall Detection/Prediction
  8. Mobile Fall Detection/Prediction
  9. Telehealth (Video)
  10. New and Innovative Features

Eureka! MYLE TAP: Nice Example of IoT Letting You Do Something You Couldn’t

I like to occasionally feature products that aren’t earth-shaking in their own right (such as the cameleon shoes that can change their appearance with the swipe of an app) , but nicely illustrate one of my IoT acid tests: what can you do that you couldn’t do before?

I love those, because they can get our creative juices boiling to think of other unprecedented IoT devices.

The MYLE TAP Thought Recorder

Here’s a nice example that I suspect may itself facilitate a lot of “Archimedes Moments” (just coined that one, LOL), where IoT users will leap from their baths and run nude through the streets, shrieking “Eureka,” because of their sudden insights into some great new IoT device (actually not sure of that image.  Are IoT enthusiasts slim and attractive?),

One little factoid really makes this one come alive: “the average person generates over 70,000 thoughts a day.” Now that’s a staggering unstructured data challenge!

Might be of particular interest, Dear Readers, to those of us on the far side of 50 who have a ton of great ideas but, how shall we say this delicately, don’t always remember them 15 minutes later).

At any rate, the crowd-funded ($83,707 raised so far, by 755 people in 15 days, compared to a $50,000 goal. As of this writing the campaign goes for 16 more days, so you can still get in on the ground-floor.) MYLE TAP will allow users to effortlessly record their thoughts in real-time (which, BTW, is a crucial element in how the IoT really transforms everything: instead of limited data, obtained retroactively, we can get limitless data now, when we can still act on it).

To activate the attractive device you simply tap it.  It understands 42 languages right out of the box!

There are some really neat components of the device that could really make your life a lot simpler because you can speak what you want to record (I don’t know about you, but the more I learn about the powers of Siri and her friends, the more I think voice-interface is really the way to go in the future, especially for tech-averse seniors, the targets of my Smart Aging concept). As the site says, “your saved notes are analyzed by context to generate you meaningful results via smartphone applications.” Here are the first uses:

  • Calorie Counter: “’I had one Caesar salad and one big apple.’ MYLE calculates how many calories you have consumed.”
  • Budget & Spending: “’Spent $7 on coffee and $40 on gas’, and MYLE enters it into your personal and business expense tracker.”  IMHO, this could be a REAL value!
  • Grocery List: “Tell MYLE ‘buy eggs, milk, flour,’ Your shopping list is built automatically.”
  • Calendar: “Tell MYLE ‘Pick Sophia up from school at four,’ and a new item is added to your calendar.”
  • Social Media: “Share your memorable event or experience. One tap can post can post it on your Facebook or Twitter account.”
  • Exercise: “Excercise with your MYLE TAP. Build and keep records of your progress.”

I can already do a lot of these things with my iPhone and Apple Watch, and perhaps the Watch will eventually do all these things once developers have created new apps, but I like the idea of a single, snazzy-looking device that can do all of them. And, smart people that they are, the MYLE developers have developed an open SDK and API. Once the IFTTT community gets hold of it, they’ll come up with ideas to extend the device’s utility that the MYLE folks never would have conceived of!

The MYLE TAP — doing something that we couldn’t do before!


 

Here are the technical details, courtesy of Atmel:

“Based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4S MCU, the super compact and lightweight gadget is equipped with an accelerometer, a Bluetooth Low Energy module, a few LEDs and a built-in battery capable of running up to a week on a single charge. MYLE TAP boasts some impressive memory as well, with a storage capacity of up to 2,000 voice notes.”

 

GE & IBM make it official: IoT is here & now & you ignore it at your own risk!

Pardon my absence while doing the annual IRS dance.

While I was preoccupied, GE and IBM put the last nail in the coffin of those who are waiting to launch IoT initiatives and revise their strategy until the Internet of Things is more ….. (supply your favorite dismissive wishy-washy adjective here).

It’s official: the IoT is here, substantive, and profitable.

Deal with it.

To wit:

The two blue-chips’ moves were decisive and unambiguous. If you aren’t following suit, you’re in trouble.

The companies accompanied these bold strategic moves with targeted ones that illustrate how they plan to transform their companies and services based on the IoT and related technologies such as 3-D printing and Big Data:

  • GE, which has become a leader in 3-D printing, announced its first FAA-approved 3-D jet engine part, housing a jet’s compressor inlet temperature sensor. Sensors and 3-D printing: a killer combination.
  • IBM, commercializing its gee-whiz Watson big data processing system, launched Watson Health in conjunction with Apple and Johnson & Johnson, calling it “our moonshot” in health care, hoping to transform the industry.  Chair Ginny Rometty said that:

“The Watson Health Cloud platform will ‘enable secure access to individualized insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health,’ IBM says each person generates one million gigabytes of health-related data across his or her lifetime, the equivalent of more than 300 million books.”

There can no longer be any doubt that the Internet of Things is a here-and-now reality. What is your company doing to catch up to the leaders and share in the benefits?

 

Outside the (Shoe) Box Internet of Things Thinking!

Posted on 30th March 2015 in design, Internet of Things, retail, strategy, wearables

Could someone please forward this to Carrie Bradshaw? I don’t think she reads this blog, but she’d definitely be interested!

I’ve got to confess that I’m usually oblivious to the world of fashion — or appalled by it (there’s a current ad by Gucci in one of my wife’s magazines that frankly scares me: not sure which looks more weird: the emaciated, heavily-made-up model or the dress!), but this one caught my eye as a way women can have a more versatile wardrobe that takes up less space and saves them money!  Neat, huh?

Equally important, it may be the precursor of a wide range of mass-customized Internet of Things devices of all types that are more personal, create new revenue streams, and provide valuable feedback to the manufacturer on customer tastes.

Ishuu, a Lithuanian startup, is creating a new line of très stylish women’s shoes, Volvorii, that include a strip of e-ink material (similar to a Kindle screen) that can be customized by the owner simply by opening an app on her phone! The requisite electronics are housed in the heels.

As of this writing, the Volvorii Indegogo campaign has raised $34,000 of its $50,000 target, with 14 days to go. If I didn’t send every spare dollar to Loyola University – Maryland for my son’s tuition, I think I’d drop a few on this one: it really intrigues me!

If Ishuu is smart, I’d suggest that they throw open the API for the shoes, and allow bright young fashion design students to submit new designs for the insert.

As for those IoT-based products that are more personal, create new revenue streams, and provide valuable feedback to the manufacturer on customer tastes, here are a few more exciting examples to get you noodling about how you might redesign your own products to capitalize on this potential:

What I love about this as a consumer is that we will no longer have to make difficult binary choices between products: instead of either/or, it will be this/and this (in the case of the Watch and these shoes, I love that there will be so many choices that you’ll be able to change your choice on the fly depending on your mood or other factors.  I’m going to choose toe-tapping Mickey when I’m with my grandchildren, the Utility to keep track of biz during the day, and the Simple for more dignified evening wear.

These fall into my What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before category. It’s going to take us a while to ditch our old, more limited mindsets, but the rest will be better for everyone.

Smart Aging: Kanega watch for seniors Kickstarter campaign ends today

“Independence with Dignity” is the motto for Jean Anne Booth’s Kanega Watch, which is in the last day of its Kickstarter campaign.

I’m not crazy about it, but in general I like what you see, and hope you get on board.  It addresses three major concerns for the elderly:

Kanega watchlike what I see, and hope you’ll get on board!  It’s designed to deal with three critical aging concerns:

  • falls
  • medication reminders
  • wandering.

I met the woman behind it at a conference in Boston last Summer, and even though the prototype at that point looked very unappealing, this looks more promising.

I’m in the process of creating a list of 10 objective criteria for evaluating devices and apps that fit with my “Smart Aging” paradigm shift, which combines Quantified Self devices to encourage healthy habits and change your relationship with your doctor into a partnership, and smart home devices, which make it easier to manage your home when elderly, so you can “age in place.”  Here’s how it stacks up against my criteria (which, BTW, are still in development — comments welcomed). Bear in mind that I haven’t seen current prototype, and the site doesn’t answer all of my questions. :

Is it easy to use?

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email?
  2. Does it give you reminders?
  3. Is it easy for you to program, or allow someone else to do it remotely?
  4. Does it have a large display and controls?
  5. Is it intuitive?
  6. Does it require professional installation?
  7. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies?

YES: voice-activated, rather than requiring buttons. No programming.


Does it protect privacy & security?

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anomized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Does it protect against exploitation by scam artists (such as identifying callers)?
  4. Is it password-protected?
  5. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?

NO CLUE.


Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?

YES: doesn’t require a smartphone to function, and is voice-activated rather than using buttons.

Does it protect privacy and security?

NO CLUE.

 

Is it affordable?

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high?
  2. Is there major upfront cost?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?

IFFY: You can get one by contributing $279 to the Kickstarter campaign. If that’s the retail price, it’s a little pricey, but lower than the Apple Watch base, $349, and probably a good price considering the value added services . Didn’t see anything about a monthly fee for the fall reporting & response service.

Does it stigmatize and/or condescend?

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?

NO: it doesn’t have a stigmatizing button, & uses a familiar form factor (watch).

Does it use open or proprietary standards?

NO CLUE.

 

Is the information shareable if you choose to do so?

NO CLUE.

 

Can you learn something from it to improve your life and empower yourself?

  1. For example, does health data encourage you to exercise more, or eat better?

NO: doesn’t give you feedback, measure your activity, etc.

Does it help you do something you couldn’t do before?

  1. Does it create a new range of services that were simply impossible with past technologies?

YES: The wandering alert (offers directions home) is new. Otherwise, just does some things such as medication alerts and calling for help that other devices have done.

Is it sturdy?

YES.

 

Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)?

(This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user)

YES: it has a Siri-like voice, which you can name, which gives reminders about taking meds and gives you directions home if you wander.
I’d give it about a 5 out of 10: I wouldn’t call this a must have — I’d like a little more of a multi-purpose tool that combines smart home and Quantified Self functions — like the Apple Watch (again, disclaimer that I work part time at Apple Store — but don’t have any proprietary info.) The watch is a little too clunky looking for me (prefer the Jony Ive-aesthetics of the Apple Watch), but it looks promising — and doesn’t require coupling to a smartphone, which is befuddling to a lot of seniors.

Kickstarter backers will begin receiving their Kanega watches in February 2016, with general market availability in summer 2016. The site doesn’t say anything about price.

Only a few hours left to join the Kickstarter campaign!


Yeah, I couldn’t figure out the names either. Turns out it’s from Cherokee: “Unalii” is “friend”, and “Kanega” is “speak.”  You learn something every day….

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.

“Enchanted Objects” — adding delight to the IoT formula

Posted on 21st January 2015 in design, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, marketing, smart home

For good reason, most discussions of opportunities with the Internet of Things focus on the potential to improve businesses’ operating efficiency or creating new revenue streams.

But what if the IoT could also bring out the hidden 6-yr. old in each of us? What if it could allow us to invent — enchanted objects?

That’s the premise of IoT polymath David Rose’s Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things

Rose is both a stalwart of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneering, serial IoT entrepreneur. Oh, and he’s got an impish grin that shows you he is still as delighted at tinkering with things as he was as a little boy in his grandfather’s workshop:

“Grandfather’s tools were constructed and used with a respect for human capabilities and preferences. They fit human bodies and minds. They were a pleasure to work with and to display. They made us feel powerful, more skilled and capable than we were without them. They hung or nestled quietly, each in its place, and never made us feel stupid or overwhelmed. They were, in a word, enchanting.”

Rose fears that’s not the path we’re heading down with most current techno-products, dismissing them as “cold, black slabs … [resulting in a ] colder, more isolated, less humane world. Perhaps it is more efficient, but we are less happy.”  Yea!

By contrast, enchanted objects resonate with our deepest desires:

“The experiences that do enchant us reach into our hearts and souls. They come from the exotic place of  ‘once upon a time.’ They help us realize fundamental human desires. The fantastic technologies we have invented over the centuries , the ones of ancient tales and science fiction, enable us to do things that human beings earnestly want to do but cannot do without a little (or a lot) of help from technology. They make it possible to fly, communicate without words, be invisible, live forever, withstand powerful forces, protect ourselves from any harm, see farther and travel faster than the greatest athletes. They are tools that make us incredible, supercapable versions of ourselves. These are the visions and stories of our most beloved authors of fiction and fantasy — Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling and the Grimms — and the realities of fantastic characters such as Cinderella, Dick Tracy, James Bond, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The designers creating enchanted objects must, therefore, think of themselves as something more than manipulators of materials and masters of form. They must think beyond pixels, connectivity, miniaturization , and the cloud. Our training may be as engineers and scientists, but we must also see ourselves as wizards and artists, enchanters and storytellers, psychologists and behaviorists.”(my emphasis).

Rose discusses a number of the products he’s designed, such as the Ambient Orb, which can be hacked to unobtrusively (the physiological phenomenon that makes them work is called “pre-attentive processing” in case you’re looking for a term to throw around at a cocktail party…) display all sorts of information, from stock market trends to energy consumption and the Ambient Umbrella, whose handle glows if rain is predicted (that one hasn’t been a big success, which I predicted — it’s as easy to lose an expensive, “smart” umbrella as a $10 one. I prefer the IFTTT recipe that has your HUE lights blink blue if rain is predicted, reminding you to take your utterly conventional, cheap umbrella…), as well as one of my favorites, the Vitality Glow Cap, which can reduce the billions in wasted medical spending attributable to people not taking their prescriptions.

Skype Cabinet

And then there’s one that every child or grandparent will love, the Skype Cabinet, a square that sits in your living room, and, when the door is opened, shazaam, there is your grandchild or grandparent, instantly connected with you via Skype. Enchantment indeed!

However, the real meat of the book is his methodology for those of us to whom enchantment doesn’t come as naturally. First, Rose lists seven basic human drives that designers should try to satisfy: omniscience, telepathy (human-to-human communication), safekeeping, immortality, teleportation (that’s high on my personal list after my recent up-close-and-personal encounters with rogue deer.), and expression.

Then Rose explains how technology, especially sensors, will allow meeting these desires through products that sense their surroundings and can interact with us.  In terms of my IoT “Essential Truths,” I’d classify enchanted objects as exemplifying “What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before,” because we really couldn’t interact with products in the past.  Other examples in this category that I’ve cited before range from the WeMo switches that helped me make peace with my wife and the life-saving Tell-Spec that lets you find food allergies.

Other thought-provoking sections of the book include “Seven Abilities of Enchantment,  “Five Steps on the Ladder of Enchantment,” and “Six Future Fantasies,” the latter of which is must reading for product designers and would-be entrepreneurs who want to come up with fundamentally new products that will exploit the IoT’s full potential for transformation.

The other day I finally met with Mahira Kalim, the SAP IoT marketing director who whipped my thinking into shape for the “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” i-guide.  She asked me for examples of the kind of radical transformation through the IoT that are already in existence.  I suspect that some of Rose’s inventions fall into that category, but, more important, Enchanted Objects provides the roadmap and checklist for those who want to create the next ones!  Get it, devour it, and profit from it!

Good Checklist for Creating #IoT Strategy

Still not ready to tackle an analysis of the November Harvard Business Review cover story, by PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann and Professor Michael Porter, on How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, but I did want to do a shout-out to a companion piece, Digital Ubiquity: How Connections, Sensors, and Data Are Revolutionizing Business, by two HBS profs, Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani.

In particular, I wanted to suggest that you use the last section of the paper, “Approaching Digital Ubiquity,” as a checklist of priorities to create your own IoT strategy (I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” i-guide and this blog’s “Essential Truths” as references as well..).

Here are their points, and my reflections on them:

  1. Apply the digital lens to existing products and services.
    This is a profound transformation, because we’ve become so accustomed to working around the gaps in our knowledge that were the reality in an analog world.As Iasanti and Lakhani say, you now need to ask:
    “What cumbersome processes in your business or industry are amenable to instrumentation and connectivity?
    Which ones are most challenging to you or your customers?”
  2. Connect your existing assets across companies.
    We “get” competition, but collaboration, especially with competitors, is a little less instinctive.

    “If you work in a traditional analog setting, examine your assets for new opportunities and look at other industries and the start-up world for new synergies. Your customer connections are especially valuable, as are your knowledge of customers’ needs and the capabilities you built to meet knowledge of customers’ needs and the capabilities you built to meet them. Nest is connecting with public utilities to share data and optimize overall energy usage. If you work in a start-up, don’t just focus on driving the obsolescence of established companies. Look at how you can connect with and enhance their value and extract some of it for yourself.knowledge of customers’ needs and the capabilities you built to meet them. Nest is connecting with public utilities to share data and optimize overall energy usage. [my note: this is a great example of thinking expansively: even though your product is installed in individual homes, if data can be aggregated from many homes, it can be of real value on a macro scale as well. The smart grid is a great example of bringing all components of energy production, distribution, and use together into an integrated system.]  If you work in a start-up, don’t just focus on driving the obsolescence of established companies. Look at how you can connect with and enhance their value and extract some of it for yourself.”

  3. Examine new modes of value creation.
    Just because you make tangible products doesn’t mean that you’re limited to just selling those products to make money in the future. You’ll be able to make money by selling customers actionable data that will allow them to improve productivity and reduce maintenance. Perhaps you’ll stop selling altogether, and make money instead by making your products the cornerstone of profitable services.

    Begin to ask:
    “What new data could you accumulate, and where could you derive value from new analytics?”
    “How could the data you generate enable old and new customers to add value?”

  4. Consider new value-capture modes.
    “Could you do a better job of tracking the actual value your business creates for others?”
    “Could you do a better job of monetizing that value, through either value-based pricing or outcomes-based models?”
  5. Use software to extend the boundaries of what you do.
    You will still make products, as in the past, and that gives you a tangible basis for the future. But you’ll need a digital component as well.

    “Digital transformation does not mean that your company will only sell software, but it will shift the capability base so that expertise in software development becomes increasingly important. And it won’t render all traditional skills obsolete. Your existing capabilities and customer relationships are the foundations for new opportunities. Invest in software-related skills that complement what you have, but make sure you retain those critical foundations. Don’t jettison your mechanical engineering wizards—couple them with some bright software developers so that you can do a better job of creating and extracting value.”

    What do you think?  Any more questions you’d add? Let me know!