Lifting the Veil After the Sale: another IoT “Essential Truth”

Count me among those who believe the Internet of Things will affect every aspect of corporate operations, from manufacturing to customer relations.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic impacts will be on the range of activities that take place after the sale, including maintenance, product liability, product upgrades and customer relations.

In the past, this has been a prime example of the “Collective Blindness” that afflicted us before the IoT, because we basically had no idea what happened with our products once they left the factory floor.

In fact, what little data we did have probably served to distort our impressions of how products were actually used. Because there was no direct way to find out how the products were actually used, negative data was probably given exaggerated weight: we heard negative comments (warrantee claims, returns, liability lawsuits, etc.), loud and clear, but there was no way to find out how the majority of customers who were pleased with their products used them.

That has all changed with the IoT.

Now, we have to think about products  in totally new ways to capitalize on the IoT, and I think this merits another “Essential Truth” about the IoT:

Everything is cyclical.

Think about products — and industrial processes in general — in the old industrial system. Everything was linear: perhaps best exemplified by Henry Ford’s massive River Rouge Complex, the world’s largest integrated factory, and the epitome of integrated production.

Ford River Rouge Complex

“Ford was attempting to control and coordinate all of the necessary resources to produce complete automobiles.  Although Ford’s vision was never completely realized, no one else has come so close, especially on such a large scale.  His vision was certainly a success, one indication of this is the term Fordism, which refers to his style of mass-production, characterized by vertical integration, standardized products and assembly-line production”

At “The Rouge,” raw materials (literally: it had its own coke ovens and foundry!)  flowed in one side, and completed cars flowed out the other, bound for who knows where. Once the cars were in customers’ hands, the company’s contact was limited to whatever knowledge could be gleaned from owners’ visits to dealers’ service departments, irate calls from customers who had problems, and (in later days) safety recalls and/or multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits.

That linear thinking led to a terrible example of the “Collective Blindness” phenomenon that I’ve written about in the past: who knew how customers actually thought about their Model T’s? How did they actually drive them? Were there consistent patterns of performance issues that might not have resulted in major problems, but did irritate customers?

Sure, you could guess, or try to make inferences based on limited data, but no one really knew.

Fast forward to the newest auto manufacturer, Tesla, and its factory in Fremont, California (aside: this massive building — Tesla only uses a portion, used to be the NUMMI factory, where Chevy built Novas and Toyota built Corollas. Loved the perceptual irony: exactly the same American workers built mechanically identical cars [only the sheet metal varied] but the Toyotas commanded much higher prices, because of the perception of “Japanese quality.” LOL. But I digress….).

Tesla doesn’t lose track of its customers once the cars leave the plant.

Tesla assembly line

In fact, as I’ve written before, these “iPhones on wheels” are part of a massive cyclical process, where the cars’ on-board communications constantly send back data to the company about how the cars are actually doing on the road. And, when need be, as I mentioned in that prior post, the company was able to solve a potentially dangerous problem by simply sending out a software patch that was implemented while owners slept, without requiring customer trips to a repair shop!

I imagine that the company’s design engineers also pour over this data to discern patterns that might indicate elements of the physical design to tweak as well.

Of course, what would a blog post by me about IoT paradigm shifts be without a gratuitous reference to General Electric and its Durathon battery plant (aside to GE accounting: where should I send my W-9 and invoice so you can send me massive check for all the free PR I’ve given you? LOL)?

I can’t think of a better example of this switch to cyclical thinking:

  • including sensors into the batteries at the beginning of the production process rather than slapping them on at the end means that the company is actually able to monitor, and fine tune, the manufacturing process to optimize the critical chemical reaction. The same data allows the workers to remove defective batteries from the assembly line, so that every battery that ships works.
  • once in the field (and, remember: these batteries are deployed in incredibly remote areas where it might take days for a repair crew to reach and either service or repair them) the same sensors send back data on how the batteries are functioning. I don’t know about the specifics in the case of these batteries, but GE has actually created new revenue streams with other continuously-monitored devices by selling this data to customers who can use it (because the data is shared on a real-time basis, not just historically) to optimize performance.

Elsewhere, as I’ve mentioned before, General Electric’s William Ruh has said that being able to lift the veil of “Collective Blindness” through feedback from how customers actually use their products has even revolutionized their product design process:

“… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies. “’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he (Ruh) said. ‘It used to take three years.’”

Back in the ’90’s, I used to lecture and consult on what I called “Natural Wealth,” a paradigm shift in which we’d find all the inspiration we needed for an information-based economy in a table-top terrarium that embodies billion-year-old  principles of nature:

  • embrace chaos, don’t try to control it. (i.e., use open systems rather than proprietary ones)
  • create symbiosis: balance competition with cooperation (IFTTT.com, where you release your APIs to create synergistic mashups with others).
  • close the loop.

With the IoT, we can finally put that last principle into practice, substituting cyclical processes for linear ones.  At long last, the “systems dynamics” thinking pioneered by Jay Forrester and his disciple, Peter Senge, can become a reality. Here’s a closing tip to make that possible: in addition to SAP’s HANA or other analytics packages, look to systems dynamics software such as isee systems’  iThink to model your processes and transform linear into cyclical ones. Now get going: close the loop!

Is GE the future of manufacturing? IoT + nanotech + 3D-printing

The specific impetus for this post was an article in The Boston Globe about heart stents that fit perfectly because they’re 3-D printed individuallly for each patient.

GE jet engine 3-D-printed fuel nozzle

That prompted me to think of how manufacturing may change when three of my favorite technologies — nanotech, 3-D printing and the Internet of Things — are fully mature and synergies begin (as I’m sure they will) to emerge between the three.

I’m convinced we’ll see an unprecedented combination of:

  • waste elimination: 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.
  • as with the stents, 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.

Guess what?  The same company is in on the cutting edge of all three: General Electric (no, I’m not on their payroll, despite all my fawning attention to them!):

  • Their Industrial Internet IoT initiative is resulting in dramatic changes to their products, with built-in sensors that relay data constantly to GE and the customer about the product’s current status, allowing predictive maintenance practices that cuts repair costs, optimizing the device’s performance for more economical operations, and even allowing GE to switch from selling products to leasing them, with the lease price determined dynamically using factors such as how many hours the products are actually used.  Not only that, but they practice what they preach, with 10,000 sensors on the assembly line at their Durathon battery plant in Schenectady, plus sensors in the batteries themselves, allowing managers to roam the plant with an iPad to get instant readings on the assembly line’s real-time operation, to fine-tune the processes, and to be able to spot defective batteries while they are still in production, so that 100% of the batteries shipped will work.
    They’re also able to push products out the door more rapidly and updating them quicker based on the huge volumes of data they gather from sensors built into the products: “… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies. “’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he [William Ruh] said. ‘It used to take three years.’”
  • They’ve made a major commitment to 3-D printing, with 100,000 3-D printed parts scheduled to be built into their precision LEAP jet engines — a big deal, since there’s not a great deal of fault tolerance in something that may plunge to the earth if it malfunctions! As Bloomberg reported, “The finished product is stronger and lighter than those made on the assembly line and can withstand the extreme temperatures (up to 2,400F) inside an engine.”  They’re making major investments to boost the 3-D printers’ capacity and speed.  Oh, and did I mention their precedent-setting contest to crowd-source the invention of a 3-D printed engine mount?
  • They’re also partnering with New York State on perhaps the most visionary technology of all, nanotech, which manipulates materials on the molecular level. GE will focus on cheap silicon carbide wafers, which beat silicon chips in terms of efficiency and power, leading to smaller and lighter devices.

GE is the only member of the original Dow-Jones Index (in 1884) that still exists. As I’ve said before, I’m astounded that they not only get it about IoT technology, but also the new management practices such as sharing data that will be required to fully capitalize on it.

Thomas A. Edison is alive and well!

Smart Washing Machine: another example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

When I buy the much-hyped smart refrigerator, you’ll know I’ve officially gone around the bend, and have officially surrendered to IoT hype: it makes sense for those who buy a ton of processed foods with bar codes on them, but I just can’t see the value to those of us who buy a lot of label-less veggies from farmers markets, for example.

In a close second place on my personal list of those IoT devices that violate one of my Essential Truths of the IoT: “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” would be a smart washing machine.

As the Washington Post wrote about Whirlpool’s $1,699 “smart” washer,

“Few expected ‘smart’ machines would fly off the shelves. They’re expensive, and Americans don’t typically replace their washers and dryers all that often. But analysts say the problem is bigger than that. Today’s smartest washer and dryer set won’t fold your clothes, erase wrinkles or stop you from mixing reds and whites. It won’t even move a load from one machine to the other. So what’s the point?”

I know there are going to be some false starts in creating IoT-enabled products that really do provide value, and good for Whirlpool for experimenting, but I do wonder whether something we used to call “common sense” is sorely lacking in some companies’ IoT decision-making.

IMHO, it would really be helpful if my washer and dryer could go on late at night to take advantage of utilities’ off-peak pricing as part of their smart grid initiatives (to their credit, as you’ll see from the photo of the companion smart dryer, a smart grid link is part of these appliances)

smart grid button on Whirlpool dryer

. However, I suspect that would be easily possible if the utilities just published APIs so some smart IFTTT user could create a “recipe” that would turn on an utterly-conventional washer that was plugged into a WeMo smart plug (hmm: did a search for that, and found a recipe that would automatically turn off a washer plugged into a WeMo if a Nest alarm detected a fire: nice, but rather low on my list of what I’d want to have done in case of a fire….).

So, yea, smart appliances, but let’s also make sure that one of the questions companies ask before committing to a really expensive initiative is: “do we really need it?”

Thermostats: yet another example why open standards win with #IoT

Despite my passion for all things Apple and the incredible functionality that comes from Tim Cook’s passion for integrating all parts of the ecosystem seamlessly (and, as I’ve noted in prior disclaimers, my part-time work at the Apple Store ..), I don’t think there’s any doubt when it comes to the Internet of Things that open standards win out.

That’s because they meet the test of my favorite Essential Truth, “who else can use this data?”

It goes back to my Data Dynamite book and my work with Vivek Kundra when he was opening up data in the District of Columbia before becoming the US CIO: when you share data, you empower end users and can go beyond your own developers’ talents and interests, to harvest others’ interests and developments.

opower_sHere’s a great example. Opower’s OpenStat API enables the electric  industry’s only open thermostat management platform. It allows any smart thermostat provider to participate in existing Opower-managed utility thermostat programs. It combines energy usage, billing, parcel and weather data to engage customers, drive measurable energy efficiency, and deliver reliable demand response.  It already has 95 partner utilities, 50 million (really? that sounds high to me…) homes in 35 states sharing data.

By contrast, Nest (which of course was created by Apple alums) had to create a specific API to allow sharing its data. 

This API is Nest’s answer to the Learning Thermostat’s lack of Z-Wave or ZigBee wireless communication. Nest came under fire from the CEDIA crowd when the Learning Thermostat launched since it wouldn’t work within even $100k home automation systems. The thermostat wasn’t friendly with others. It wouldn’t talk to other home automation products using the legacy home automation protocols. This API could change everything.

The jury’s still out — and it will really be interesting to see how many other companies decide to integrate with Apple’s new Health and Home apps. On one hand, a proliferation of standards just retards more creative API mashups, a la IFTTT (my heros!!). On the other, seamless integration and ease-of-use, the Apple hallmarks, could go a long way to ingraining the IoT into consumers’ daily lives.

What do you think?

 

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Live-blogging @ Wearables + Things

 

Just arrived @ Wearables + Things conference (I’ll speak on “Smart Aging” tomorrow). Hmm: there’s one noteworthy player absent from the conference: those guys from Cupertino. Wonder why they’re not there (perhaps in stealth mode??)

Conference already underway, about to have 2 new product reveals!

  1. iStrategyLabs, “Dorothy,” connects your shoe to your phone. You’re stuck in a conversation, need way to leave. What if you could click your heels together three times (get it, Dorothy???) and you’d get a bail-out call (or you can trigger an IFTTT recipe or call for a pizza…). “Ruby” goes in shoe.  OK, this ain’t as significant as either the Lechal haptic shoe, but who knows how it might evolve…
  2. Atlas Wearables’ fitness product, Atlas. Their goals is seamless, frictionless experiences. “What if device could recognize specific motions you’re making?” This is really cool: it recognizes and records a wide range of fitness activities, such as push-ups.  I really don’t like fact that my Jawbone can’t do that, so this looks good!

Sony Mobile, Kristian Tarnhed. Challenges:

  1. g data overload. They have a “lifelog” app that tries to make sense of all the data.
  2. too many devices that want your attention. Make them complement smart phone as much as possible.
  3. is it really wearable, usable? 

Very funny: no one mentions Apple. 10-ton gorilla in the room????


Amazing preso by Jim McKeeth: “Is Thought the Future of Wearable Input?”  Guy wearing Google Glass is controlling a drone! Wouldn’t that be an incredible thing for “Smart Aging”  to allow a frail elder to control various household things just by thinking them?


 

Oren Michels, chief strategist, Intel (he was an API pioneer at Mashery):

  • APIs make connections. The Epocrates platform from Athena Health is an example: may save $3.5B.
  • Also working in travel. Example is Sabre, which has switched to an open API.
  • APIs create better customer experiences: Apple Pay! 30% of Starbucks revenue from its phone purchase app.

Quick time to market: Coke was able to restock vending machines instantly during 2012 Olympics through API.

  • Examples:
    • better healthcare monitoring: give small devices processing power through cloud
    • connected car ecosystem (BMW iConnected Services, MyCityWay, TomTom’s WebFleet)
    • Snapshot from Progressive
    • Inrix — “data for planning smart cities”

This, IMHO, is sooo important: open APIs are great example of my Essential Truth of “who else can use this data?” — you don’t have to develop every kewl use for your device yourself: open the API and others will help!


Peter Li, Atlas Wearables (the company that debuted their new device yesterday):

  • iPhone: remember, it was a 3-in-one solution.
  • sensors now commoditized: cheap & tiny
  • he was a biomedical engineer
  • synergistic benefits by combining data streams
  • era of augmentation: making you better without you having to think about it.
  • frictionless actions

“sensors root of the revolution”


Brad Wilkins, Nike science director:

  • he’s exercise physiologist
  • they have whole detailed process to understand physiological phenomena. Role of sensor is the describe the phenomena. Then apply that data to enhance athlete potential

Noble Ackerson, Lynxfit, “Hacking Your Way Through Rehab With Wearables”

  • they let content publishers (they work with Stanford Health, UnderArmour, etc.) in rehab area to push info to devices. Prescribe workouts.  Device agnostic.
  • They’ve imported 65 different activities into program.
  • Track: heart rate, pace, position, speed, endurance, breathing, sentiment.

Panel: Jim Kohlenberger, JK Strategies; Jose Garcia, Samsung; Mark Hanson, BeClose; Alison Remsen, Mobile Future:

  • BeClose is working with seniors!!
  • Samsung working with airports to make flying experience more enjoyable.
  • BeClose: take some of burden off health care system.
  • how government can help: faster networks. “First, do no harm.” — Digital Hypocratic Oath.

DHS (sorry, didn’t get his name):

  • In a crisis,  “data  must inform at the speed of thought” Brilliant
  • To be operational, data must be intuitive, instinctive, interoperable, and wearable.
  • Creating “Next Generation First Responder”
  • Creating fire jackets with sensors built in.

Proximity-aware apps using iBeacon:

  • beacons are Bluetooth v4.0 Low Energy transmitters.
  • mobiles can identify and determine proximity to beacon: usual range is 25 to 40 m, but you can tune it to much shorter range.
  • beacons broadcast unique identifier for the place. Also provide Measured Power Value: what’s signal strength of beacon at specific distance.
  • the beacon only sends out a unique identifier, which triggers the app contains all the info that drives the experience.
  • app is notified whether you’re in immediate range, near, or far range (might even want to present content when person exits the area).
  • beacons protect privacy by being opt-in. They are transmit only: don’t receive or collect signals from mobile devices.
  • Apple requires that the app specifically ask user to allow proximity-aware mobile app to access their location.
  • non iBeacon versions: AltBeacon (Radius Network’s opsolves en source alternative), and other ones that specific companies will introduce, optimized for their products.
  • Radius multi-beacon: solves fragmentation problem or multiple, incompatible beacon ad types. Their RadBeacons handle both types.
  • RadBeacon: USB powered, coin-cell battery powered, AA battery powered.  Most beacons will only last about a month before battery change.
  • Future of beacons: will be split in market: corporate (one of their questions has rolled out more than 16,000 — they won’t powered or long-battery-life versions & remote monitoring) vs. consumers (cheap & disposable). Will be integrated into equipment (wifi access-point hotspots, POS terminals, fuel dispensers, self-service kiosks.

My presentation about “Smart Aging”


 

Privacy & Security Panel:

  • There is real risk of personal data being intercepted. “No perfect solutions.”
  • Data can be stored on smart phone OR uploaded to cloud. What control does user have? What if you have health wearable that sends info on blood pressure, etc., to cloud, where it gets shared with companies, and, for example, it can link data to your Facebook data, could be risk of disclosure.
  • HIPPA and variety of other regulations can come into play.
  • Things moving very quickly, data captured & used. Example of Jawbone data from people who were sleeping during California quake: users upset because the data was disclosed to news media — even though it was just aggregated, was creepy!
  • FTC went after the Android flashlight app that was aggregating data. A no-no.
  • have to make it simple to understand in statements about how your data will be collected & used.
  • Tiles: if the device is gone from home, will send alert to ALL Tile devices. You might be able to modify the software so you (bad guy) could retrieve it it while the owner would think it was still lost.  Stalker might even be able to use this data..

Scott Amyx, Amyx & McKinsey,  “The Internet of Things Will Disrupt Everything”:

  • Example of McLean, the developer of intermodal shipping container. Hmm: does Amyx know about how Freight Farms has created IoT-enhanced food growing in freight containers???
  • future of M2M will allow sensors with embedded processors — smarter than today’s computers.
  • memory: over time, memory will only grow.
  • wifi: most locked networks are idle most of day. Harness them.
  • lifi: 2-way network to turn any light as a network. Higher-speed than wifi.
  • mesh networks (long-time fascination of mine, especially in disasters): every node creates more powerful network. Can’t be controlled by a central gov.
  • Implications:
    • can disrupt telecom (mesh networks)
    • shifting consumer data from cloud to you
  • they’re testing a system that would tell what a person really feels while they’re in store, film companies can test from pilot whether people will really like it. Creepy??
  • working with Element to bring this to fashion show: would gauge reaction.
  • IoT won’t be great leap, but gradual trend (like my argument that companies should begin with IoT by using it to optimize current manufacturing).
  • incredible vision of how you’ll drive to a biz appt. in driverless car, you’ll get briefing on the meeting from your windshield.
  • opportunities at every stage of the IoT development shift.

Why It’s So Hard to Predict Internet of Things’ Full Impact: “Collective Blindness”

I’ve been trying to come up with a layman’s analogy to use in explaining to skeptical executives about how dramatic the Internet of Things’ impact will be on every aspect of business and our lives, and why, if anything, it will be even more dramatic than experts’ predictions so far (see Postscapes‘ roundup of the projections).

See whether you thing “Collective Blindness” does justice to the potential for change?

 

What if there was a universal malady known as Collective Blindness, whose symptoms were that we humans simply could not see much of what was in the world?

Even worse, because everyone suffered from the condition, we wouldn’t even be aware of it as a problem, so no one would research how to end it. Instead, for millennia we’d just come up with coping mechanisms to work around the problem.

Collective Blindness would be a stupendous obstacle to full realization of a whole range of human activities (but, of course, we couldn’t quantify the problem’s impact because we weren’t even aware that it existed).

Collective Blindness has been a reality, because vast areas of our daily reality have been unknowable in the past, to the extent that we have just accepted it as a condition of reality.

Consider how Collective Blindness has limited our business horizons.

We couldn’t tell when a key piece of machinery was going to fail because of metal fatigue.

We couldn’t tell how efficiently an entire assembly line was operating, or how to fully optimize its performance.

We couldn’t tell whether a delivery truck would be stuck in traffic.

We couldn’t tell exactly when we’d need a parts shipment from a supplier, nor would the supplier know exactly when to do a new production run to be read.

We couldn’t tell how customers actually used our products.

That’s all changing now. Collective Blindness is ending, …. and will be eradified by the Internet of Things.

What do you think? Useful analogy?

Another compelling reason for “precision manufacturing”: saving planet

In the space of an hour today I heard a horrifying show on On Point about how the planet is going to hell in a handbasket, then had a very inspiring lunch with Michael Woody of American Dragon, which shows businesses how to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US through a formula of Fewer, Faster, Finer. My takeaway was that the vision I’ve expressed before of creating an “era of precision manufacturing” through the Internet of Things could be the vehicle to both bring back manufacturing jobs to the US (and localities elsewhere across the globe) and to save the planet, making it even more compelling. As I’ve written before, IoT-enabled manufacturing has a wide variety of benefits for manufacturers:

  • unprecedented integration of the factory and both supply chain and distribution network.
  • optimizing production through real-time monitoring and adjustment of assembly line.
  • the potential to speed product introduction and revision through rapid feedback from the field about how the products are actually used.
  • improving decision-making through shared real-time data.

add to those a number of other energy and environmental benefits and you’ve got a really compelling case for “precision manufacturing”:

  • reduced energy consumption through smart grid technologies that allow the plant to have two-way communication with the energy supplier, so energy is supplied in the precise amount needed and precisely when and where it is needed.
  • vastly reduced transportation costs: instead of a supplier in China, you are supplied exactly when you need additional supplies by a local company that shares real-time data on your production output. Similarly, you distribution network knows exactly when and where to distribute the product.
  • lower waste and smaller material needs: a key component of “precision manufacturing” is additive production via 3-D printing, which builds up a product precisely, rather than traditional reductive manufacturing, which trims away excess material from a blank.

“Precision manufacturing” through the IoT: not just better for your bottom line, but also a great way to reduce our growing environmental hazards!

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Wearables: love these new shoes that tell you where to go!

Wow! What if you were blind, and instead of a white cane, your shoes gave you directions? Or, even for people with no disabilities, you were navigating a strange city, and instead of having to constantly check Google Maps, your shoes showed the way? Pretty neat!

Lechal sensor shoe

Check out the snazzy new Lechal shoe from India’s Ducere Technologies.

The shoe, also available as an insert that can go in your own plain-vanilla shoes, was invented by two young US-educated Indian entrepreneurs, Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, who had a vision (ooops!) of using technology to help the visually impaired.

It’s billed as the “world’s first interactive haptic footware” (bet your mom would be shocked if she knew you were wearing haptic footware, eh?).  When synched to the Lechal smartphone app, it vibrates to tell you which way to go.

And the water-resistant, breathable and anti-bacterial shoes have other features: “For those with 20/20 vision or near they are still useful – they can also calculate routes, steps taken, distance covered and calories burn to monitor workouts.”

I can see these as a critical tool for seniors as part of my “smart aging” paradigm as well, especially for those with dementia or Alzheimers.

As with other Quantified Self devices, you can share your walking and other data with friends via the device.

Here’s a cool feature: it claims to have the “world’s first interactive charger”: it gives audio feedback if you snap your fingers, and beeps to tell you the progress of charging, and the charger can be used as a fast charger for most phones, cutting down on the number of chargers you have to ride herd on.

Oh, BTW, Ducere gets extra points in my book because they don’t take themselves too seriously. To wit, “The technology that powers the shoe is embedded in its sole (pun intended).”

Why the Internet of Things Will Bring Fundamental Change “What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before?”

The great Eric Bonabeau has chiseled it into my consciousness that the test of whether a new technology really brings about fundamental change is to always ask “What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?

Tesla Roadster

That’s certainly the case for the Tesla alternative last winter to a costly, time-consuming, and reputation-staining recall  (dunno: I must have been hiding under a rock at the time to have not heard about it).

In reporting the company’s action, Wired‘s story’s subtitle was “best example yet of the Internet of Things?”

I’d have to agree it was.

Coming at the same time as the godawful Chevy recall that’s still playing out and still dragging down the company, Tesla promptly and decisively response solved another potentially dangerous situation:

 

“‘Not to worry,’ said Tesla, and completed the fix for its 29,222 vehicle owners via software update. What’s more, this wasn’t the first time Tesla has used such updates to enhance the performance of its cars. Last year it changed the suspension settings to give the car more clearance at high speeds, due to issues that had surfaced in certain collisions.”

Think of it: because Tesla has basically converted cars into computers with four wheels, modifying key parts by building in sensors and two-way communications, it has also fundamentally changed its relationship with customers: it can remain in constant contact with them, rather than losing contact between the time the customer drives off the lot and when the customer remembers (hopefully..) to schedule a service appointment, and many modifications that used to require costly and hard-to-install replacement parts now are done with a few lines of code!

Not only can Tesla streamline recalls, but it can even enhance the customer experience after the car is bought: I remember reading somewhere that car companies may start offering customer choice on engine performance: it could offer various software configurations to maximize performance or to maximize fuel savings — and continue to tweak those settings in the future, just as computers get updated operating systems. That’s much like the transformation of many other IoT-enhanced products into services, where the customer may willingly pay more over a long term for a not just a hunk of metal, but also a continuing data stream that will help optimize efficiency and reduce operating costs.

Wired went on to talk about how the engineering/management paradigm shift represented a real change:

  • “In nearly all instances, the main job of the IoT — the reason it ever came to be — is to facilitate removal of non-value add activity from the course of daily life, whether at work or in private. In the case of Tesla, this role is clear. Rather than having the tiresome task of an unplanned trip to the dealer put upon them, Tesla owners can go about their day while the car ‘fixes itself.’
  • Sustainable value – The real challenge for the ‘consumer-facing’ Internet of Things is that applications will always be fighting for a tightly squeezed share of disposable consumer income. The value proposition must provide tangible worth over time. For Tesla, the prospect of getting one’s vehicle fixed without ‘taking it to the shop’ is instantly meaningful for the would-be buyer – and the differentiator only becomes stronger over time as proud new Tesla owners laugh while their friends must continue heading to the dealer to iron out typical bug fixes for a new car. In other words, there is immediate monetary value and technology expands brand differentiation. As for Tesla dealers, they must be delighted to avoid having to make such needling repairs to irritated customers – they can merely enjoy the positive PR halo effect that a paradigm changing event like this creates for the brand – and therefore their businesses.
  • Setting new precedents – Two factors really helped push Tesla’s capability into the news cycle: involvement by NHTSA and the word ‘recall.’ At its issuance, CEO Elon Musk argued that the fix should not technically be a ‘recall’ because the necessary changes did not require customers find time to have the work performed. And, despite Musk’s feather-ruffling remarks over word choice, the stage appears to have been set for bifurcation in the future by the governing bodies. Former NHTSA administrator David Strickland admitted that Musk was ‘partially right’ and that the event could be ‘precedent-setting’ for regulators.”

That’s why I’m convinced that Internet of Things technologies such as sensors and tiny radios may be the easy part of the revolution: the hard part is going to be fundamental management changes that require new thinking and new questions.

What can you do now that you couldn’t do before??

BTW: Musk’s argument that its software upgrade shouldn’t be considered a traditional “recall” meshes nicely with my call for IoT-based “real-time regulation.”  As I wrote, it’s a win-win, because the same data that could be used for enforcement can also be used to enhance the product and its performance:

  • by installing the sensors and monitoring them all the time (typically, only the exceptions to the norm would be reported, to reduce data processing and required attention to the data) the company would be able to optimize production and distribution all the time (see my piece on ‘precision manufacturing’).
  • repair costs would be lower: “predictive maintenance” based on real-time information on equipment’s status is cheaper than emergency repairs. the public interest would be protected, because many situations that have resulted in disasters in the past would instead be avoided, or at least minimized.
  • the cost of regulation would be reduced while its effectiveness would be increased: at present, we must rely on insufficient numbers of inspectors who make infrequent visits: catching a violation is largely a matter of luck. Instead, the inspectors could monitor the real-time data and intervene instantly– hopefully in time to avoid an incident. “

Sentri: example of how IoT is re-inventing tired home devices

I’ll admit it: I’ve been a design junkie since the first museum show on Shaker furniture that I saw while I was in grad school at Syracuse (come to think of it, that epiphany was really when I visited Denmark with my parents, and saw Shaker-inspired Scandinavian design by Georg Jensen et. al.). I just love things that are sleek and functional.

Sentri home security system

Now, following in the Nest’s footsteps, there’s a neat Kickstarter project, the Sentri home security system, that repeats the Nest’s double-whammy of reinventing a tired product to add IoT functionality, and make it beautiful to boot.

Sorry, ADT, but the only reason anyone would display your monitor prominently would be to scare the Bad Guys: they’re just pug-ugly. As
this picture shows, the Sentri is another work of art — and it is more versatile to boot. A built-in HD camera and sensors not only detect movement, but also temperature (a sudden spike could mean a fire), humidity and air quality.  Like the Nest, it will learn from your behavior.

I like their design principles — would that more products were based on them:

 

  • Simple elegance: The best technologies are the easiest to use. Sentri is ready to use right out of the box – simply plug it in, power on, and download the Sentri smartphone app. No assembly or installation required. Hang up your Sentri on the wall, or set it right on your shelf and let Sentri take care of the rest.
  • Intelligence within reach: Minimize the rate of false alerts and create a security system adapted specifically to you with Sentri’s built-in notification system that not only keeps you in the know, but also learns — and acts on — the alerts that matter most to you.One of the biggest challenges traditional home security systems face is that most alerts delivered are false alarms, leading to many households opting out of security systems, or simply not turning their systems on.  With Sentri, maximize your home’s security with timely and accurate alerts.
  • Empowering you: While safety at home is essential for everyone, we know that your home and what security means is as unique as you are. Take control of how your Sentri looks, feels, and behaves by customizing when and where you want to see certain information and alerts. From choosing the background for your Sentri to showing which sensors are displayed and which smart devices are connected, always stay in control of your home.

Sentri as smart home hub

OK, it doesn’t have wired-in-place switches on each window that could detect a break-in (score one for the incumbents), but on the other hand, you just plug the Sentri in and it’s ready to go. Perhaps most important, there are no monthly monitoring fees: who needs them when you get an instant alert on your smart phone if there’s a problem.  Also, there’s another bonus: it’s designed to be a smart home hub: the illustration shows it also controlling your HUE lights, WeMo sockets, and a Nest.

Before I get too rhapsodic, I’m reminded of the recent headline about a crowdfunding project that wasted millions and didn’t produce a usable project. However, overall, it seems to me that, out of the soup of crowdfunding dollars, IoT reinventions of conventional products, inspired design, and plunging sensor prices, we’re seeing a real revolution in product design and manufacturing that can pay multiple benefits to all concerned! Bravo!