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!

 

 

Apple iWatch: could they really make wearables acceptable to mass market?

The WSJ had a piece this week speculating on the rumored Apple iWatch (Disclaimer: I work part-time in an Apple Store. In that capacity I don’t know anything you don’t know — including whether the iWatch will actually ever happen! My sources for this blog are limited to publicly-available ones.).

The Journal notes that none of the smart watches released so far have had major penetration, and, as a further cautionary note, I’d point out that most people who start using a Jawb0ne UP, Nike FuelBand, etc. stop using them in several months (HELP: I recently read the data on that claim, but I can’t find the citation. Can you help me find it???).

HOWEVER, as I speculated recently in my posts on Apple’s soon-to-be-released HealthKit and HomeKit, the company has shown time-and-time-again over the past 15 years that it knows how to create disruptive devices (even though Clayton Christensen was skeptical, LOL!) and create huge new markets that make tech devices mainstream.

Given my new-found pre-occupation with “Smart Aging” through a combination of Quantified Self and smart home devices, I really like the idea of a smart watch for seniors. I haven’t worn a watch since I got my first Palm Pilot (wow: remember when they were cutting edge??), but seniors do, and I suspect that if they could get immediate feedback on their vital signs from something that was not only functional but fashionable and didn’t require any technical savvy, they wouldn’t feel stigmatized by wearing the watch, a critical factor in its widespread acceptance.

Let’s see what happens!

 

My speech on how the Internet of Things will aid Predictive Analytics

I spoke yesterday at the Predictive Analytics Manufacturing conference in Chicago, about a theme I first raised in the O’Reilly SOLID blog, about how the Internet of Things could bring about an “era of precision manufacturing.”

I argued that, as powerful as Predictive Analytics tools have been in analyzing manufacturing data and improving forecasting, their effectiveness has been artificially restricted because, for example, we can’t “see” inside production machinery to detect early signs of metal fatigue in time to avoid a costly breakdown, nor can we tell whether EVERY product on an assembly line will function when customers use them.

By contrast, I argued that the IoT will give us all this information, and, most important, allow everyone (from your supply chain and distribution network to EVERYONE in your company) to share this data on a real-time basis.  I warned that it will be management issues (those pesky IoT Essential Truths again!), such as whether to allow this sharing to take place, and whether to end departmental silos, that will be the biggest potential barrier to full IoT implementation.

Believe me, it will be an incredible transformation.  You can read the full text here.

Apple’s HomeKit: will it hasten widespread smart home adoption?

Been too busy to comment until now on Apple’s HomeKit platform, announced last week at its WWDC event.

(PROMINENT DISCLAIMER! Having to send huge amounts of money to Loyola of Maryland for the next three years [I feel like I’m in the Weimar Republic and must carry tons of money to Baltimore in a wheelbarrow, LOL] to secure my youngest’s sheepskin has led to a part-time sales job at the Apple Store — which doesn’t give me any inside insights into their strategy. Rest assured that nothing that will ever appear in this blog about Apple will be gathered from anything other than public sources. I know only what you know, and the opinions expressed here are solely my own).

As the announcement aimed at developers said,

“HomeKit is a new framework for communicating with and controlling connected devices in a user’s home. Apps can enable users to discover devices in their home and configure them, or you can create actions to control those devices. Users can group actions together and trigger them using Siri.”

As I wrote when Google bought Nest last winter, the most immediate impact will probably be to boost public visibility and understanding of the IoT and smart homes.

Beyond that, the ability to leverage Siri’s growing versatility will probably be a major factor in promoting IoT ease-of-use (given my pre-occupation with use of smart-home technology to encourage “aging in place” among seniors, it will be very important in getting the tech-averse and those who have trouble typing on a smart phone to use HomeKit-compliant devices. And then there’s the companion Health Kit, also announced at WWDC, which I’ll review in my next post.).

As you might expect given Apple’s overall zeal for close hardware and software integration, the developer’s kit emphasizes protocols and standards compliance — which should in turn enhance overall security and privacy protections, benefiting all players:

“Home Kit provides seamless integration between accessories that support Apple’s Home Automation Protocol and iOS devices, allowing for new advances in home automation. By promoting a common protocol for home automation devices and making a public API available for configuring and communicating with those devices, Home Kit makes possible a marketplace where the app a user controls their home with doesn’t have to be created by the vendor who made their home automation accessories, and where home automation accessories from multiple vendors can all be integrated into a single coherent whole without those vendors having to coordinate directly with each other.

Home Kit allows third-party apps to perform three major functions:

  1. Discover accessories and add them to a persistent, cross-device home configuration database.
  2. Display, edit, and act upon the data in the home configuration database.
  3. Communicate with configured accessories and services to get them to perform actions, such as turning on the lights in the living room.

The home configuration database is not only available to third-party apps, it’s also available to Siri. This allows users to give commands like, ‘Siri, turn on the lights in the living room.’ If a user creates a home configuration with logical groupings of accessories, services, and commands, Siri can make it very easy to accomplish sophisticated operations with voice control.”

Most important, individual IoT apps and devices can come together into “scenes,” in which a variety of actions (such as starting appliances, turning up the heat, etc., when you wake). IMHO, this emphasis on inter-operability is critically important to public acceptance of the IoT.  As I’ve written before about my IoT “Essential Truths,” two critical things we need to do is to ask “who else could use this data?,” and to democratize innovation. As I understand the above description, it will be like the iPhone ecosystem, where Apple will review all apps and decide whether they can be sold on whatever “store” the company creates for the IoT, but developers will be encouraged to run wild with their imaginations to create both new hardware and to come up with innovative mashups of data from all the various devices that will help integrate them into a comprehensive ecosystem in which, for example, an action by one device may trigger a follow-on action by another device.

The framework, logically, uses a home metaphor to organize all the components into a hierarchy:

  • Homes (HMHome) are the top level container, and represent a structure that a user would generally consider to be a single home. Users might have multiple homes that are far apart, such as a primary home and a vacation home. Or they might have two homes that are close together, but that they consider different homes—for example, a main home and a guest cottage on the same property.
  • Rooms (HMRoom) are optional parts of homes, and represent individual rooms in the home. Rooms don’t have any physical characteristics—size, location, etc. They’re simply names that are meaningful to the user, such as ‘living room’ or ‘kitchen’. Meaningful room names enable commands like, ‘Siri, turn on the kitchen lights.’
  • Accessories (HMAccessory) are installed into homes and assigned to rooms. These are the actual physical home automation devices, such as a garage door opener. If the user doesn’t configure any rooms, Home Kit assigns accessories to a special default room for the home.
  • Services (HMService) are the actual services provided by an accessory. Accessories have both user-controllable services, like a light, and services that are for their own use, like a firmware update service. Home Kit is most concerned with user-controllable services.A single accessory may have more than one user-controllable service. For example, most garage door openers have a service for opening and closing the door, and another service for the light on the garage door opener.
  • Zones (HMZone) are optional groupings of rooms in a home. ‘Upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ would be represented by zones. Zones are completely optional—rooms don’t need to be in a zone. By adding rooms to a zone, the user is able to give commands to Siri such as, ‘Siri, turn on all of the lights downstairs.'”

As Fast Company observed, the HomeKit’s greatest contribution to the smart home may be streamlining interaction between various apps and devices through Siri:

“By opening up Siri to control third-party peripherals, the smart home experience will become infinitely more seamless. Up until now, controlling a smart device has meant unlocking a mobile device, launching an app, and then making adjustments–a bit too much friction for lowering the volume of the TV or dimming the lights.”

Apple has already lined up a great assortment of partners: iDevices, iHome, Cree, Honeywell, Haier, Philips, Kwikset, Netatmo, and Withings. Hmm: no Nest?

Still to come, of course, is to find out what Apple itself will develop in terms of smart home hardware, such as the long-rumored iWatch (again, I know nothing about this beyond what we’ve all read in blogs, etc.).

No matter what shape the company’s IoT strategy takes, the fact that the world’s second-most profitable company, and leading retailer,  has made such a public commitment to the IoT and smart homes should dramatically speed public adoption, and, perhaps equally important, create public awareness. After all, remember how quickly and dramatically the iPhone transformed the cell phone paradigm — and our lives.

NEXT: Apple’s Health Kit.

 

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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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Google makes IoT mainstream

Posted on 21st January 2014 in design, home automation, Internet of Things, M2M, management, strategy

We won’t know for a while the direct impact that Google’s stunning, multi-billion dollar acquisition of Nest will have, but one thing is for sure: it’s given the IoT an unprecedented level of recognition, and my bet is that history will judge that as a critical step in the IoT’s commercialization. After all, Nest only has two products, and their price premium compared to competing thermostats and smoke detectors meant they were definitely niche players.  Now, the “Google Effect” will mean that they’ll get a disproportionate amount of media attention, just as the driverless car has.

That’s no small thing, especially for the IoT in general, which got more attention in 2013, but, IMHO, still remains unheard of among the general public.  I suspect that the phrase “Internet of Things” got more exposure last week because of the Nest deal than it ever had in the past.

Nest 2.0 thermostat

Nest 2.0 thermostat

Of course, there are some big imponderables in the deal. Google’s past in consumer acquisitions (i.e., Motorola) isn’t exactly stunningly successful, and it’s hard to tell now how much they’ll want to grow the Nest line, or whether they’ll decide to make radical cuts in the devices’ prices to gain market share. I do suspect that one part of Nest’s strategy, adoption of the Apple closed-standards approach, will go bye-bye: not only is it incompatible with the whole Android philosophy, but it also makes no sense from an IoT standpoint, since the only way the IoT will ever succeed will be by standardizing on a small number of open systems (I’m a FIERCE Mac zealot, but still think that history will judge their devotion to a closed system to be a quirk: I always look to nature for inspiration, and nature doesn’t do things that way!).

The other big question about the deal is whether there will be a Chinese wall between data from Nest devices and Google’s omniverous data maw.  Nest CEO Tony Fadell says that the data will remain with Nest, but that seems highly-unlikely over time. We shall see…

At any rate, it seems to me that this is, on whole, a critical watershed in the IoT’s commercialization, and we’re likely to see new interest among the general business community and the public as a result!

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TellSpec: IoT device that can be a life-saver — and the killer app!

Posted on 10th December 2013 in design, environmental, health, Internet of Things, M2M

Whenever someone tries to dismiss the Internet of Things as a nice future vision, I love to rebut them with an example — such as the bassinettes in the Toronto Hospital for  Sick Children that allow doctors to diagnose a life-threatening infection a day before there are visible symptoms — that shows the IoT’s not only a reality, but is also saving lives!   That usually stops them in their tracks.   .

Now there’s a great new example on the horizon: the TellSpec food inspector.

In fact, because of the service’s three components, I’d say it’s a near-perfect example if you want to introduce the IoT to someone! Once in widespread use, it might well be the “killer app” that finally makes the IoT a household phrase — extremely useful (and easy to use), affordable, and allowing you to do something that couldn’t be done before.

For a variety of reasons, the rate of food allergies is increasing alarmingly, and adults with gluten allergies or parents whose kids are allergic to peanuts can’t always depend on package labels or appearances to warn them of when a given food may trigger a deadly attack of anaphylaxis. Then there’s the rest of us, who are increasingly dubious about whether our foods include pesticides, transfats or other unwanted substances. Or, we may just want to track our calorie consumption. TaDa! The TellSpec!

The crowd-sourced (yea! The people know best) system is a a classic IoT service, because it combines:

  • a device: the TellSpec scanner, which is small enough to go on a key chain — and would have been impossible without the revolution in sensors and nanotechnology (specifically, nanophotonics): its guts are a low-power laser and a spectrometer on a chip that measures the reflected light, analyzing any food’s chemical composition in less than 20 seconds. This kind of analysis used to require a bulky, stationary spectrometer.
  • analysis in the cloud: the data is transmitted to the cloud, where an algorithm analyzes the spectrum information. As you can imagine, doing this kind of analysis on a large scale and in real time was impossible until the cloud.
  • the app: within seconds, you get an easy-to-understand message that details the food’s components, such as transfats, caloric content, allergens, etc.

How cool is that?

The system is in prototype right now. They’re taking pre-orders now, for delivery in August. The scanner plus a year of the analysis support will be $320, and after that, it will cost $7.99 per month or $69.99 yearly. My normally acceptable range of cost for an app is $.00 or less, LOL, but even a cheapskate like me realizes that this is well worth the price.

What a marvelous invention, and what a proof of concept!

As always, I’m indebted to Postscapes for the tip on this one.

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