Surprising Benefits of Combining IoT and Blockchain (they go beyond economic ones!)

One final effort to work this blockchain obsession out of my system so I can get on to some exciting other IoT news!

I couldn’t resist summarizing for you the key points in”Blockchain: the solution for transparency in product supply chains,” a white paper from Project Provenance Ltd., a London-based collective  (“Our common goal is to deliver meaningful change to commerce through open and accessible information about products and supply chains.”).

If you’ve followed any of the controversies over products such as “blood diamonds” or fish caught by Asian slaves & sold by US supermarkets, you know supply chains are not only an economic issue but also sometimes a vital social (and sometimes environmental) one. As the white paper warns:

“The choices we make in the marketplace determine which business practices thrive. From a diamond in a mine to a tree in a forest, it is the deepest darkest ends of supply chains that damage so much of the planet and its livelihood.”

Yikes!

Now blockchain can make doing the right thing easier and more profitable:

“Provenance enables every physical product to come with a digital ‘passport’ that proves authenticity (Is this product what it claims to be?) and origin (Where does this product come from?), creating an auditable record of the journey behind all physical products. The potential benefits for businesses, as well as for society and the environment, are hard to overstate: preventing the selling of fake goods, as well as the problem of ‘double spending’ of certifications present in current systems. The Decentralized Application (Dapp) proposed in this paper is still in development and we welcome businesses and standards organizations to join our consortium and collaborate on this new approach to understanding our material world.”

I also love Provenance’s work with blockchain because it demonstrates one of my IoT “Essential Truths,” namely, that we must share data rather than hoard it.  The exact same real-time data that can help streamline the supply chain to get fish to our stores quicker and with less waste can also mean that the people catching it are treated fairly. How cool is that?  Or, as Benjamin Herzberg, Program Lead, Private Sector Engagement for Good Governance at the World Bank Institute puts it in the quote that begins the paper, Now, in the hyper-connected and ever-evolving world, transparency is the new power.

While I won’t summarize the entire paper, I do recommend that you so, especially if blockchain is still new to you, because it gives a very detailed explanation of each blockchain component.

Instead, let’s jump in with the economic benefits of a blockchain and IoT-enabled supply chain, since most companies won’t consider it, no matter what the social benefits, if it doesn’t help the bottom line. The list is long, and impressive:

  • “Interoperable: A modular, interoperable platform that eliminates the possibility of double spending
  • Auditable: An auditable record that can be inspected and used by companies, standards organizations, regulators, and customers alike
  • Cost-efficient:  A solution to drastically reduce costs by eliminating the need for ‘handling companies’ to be audited
  • Real-time and agile:  A fast and highly accessible sign-up means quick deployment
  • Public: The openness of the platform enables innovation and could achieve bottom-up transparency in supply chains instead of burdensome top-down audits
  • Guaranteed continuity:  The elimination of any central operator ensures inclusiveness and longevity” (my emphasis)

Applying it to a specific need, such as documenting that a food that claims to be organic really is, blockchain is much more efficient and economical than cumbersome current systems, which usually rely on some third party monitoring and observing the process.  As I’ve mentioned before, the exquisite paradox of blockchain-based systems is that they are secure and trustworthy specifically because no one individual or program controls them: it’s done through a distributed system where all the players may, in fact, distrust each other:

“The blockchain removes the need for a trusted central organization that operates and maintains this system. Using blockchains as a shared and secure platform, we are able to see not only the final state (which mimics the real world in assigning the materials for a given product under the ownership of the final customer), but crucially, we are able to overcome the weaknesses of current systems by allowing one to securely audit all transactions that brought this state of being into effect; i.e., to inspect the uninterrupted chain of custody from the raw materials to the end sale.

“The blockchain also gives us an unprecedented level of certainty over the fidelity of the information. We can be sure that all transfers of ownership were explicitly authorized by their relevant controllers without having to trust the behavior or competence of an incumbent processor. Interested parties may also audit the production and manufacturing avatars and verify that their “on-chain” persona accurately reflects reality.”

The white paper concludes by also citing an additional benefit that I’ve mentioned before: facilitating the switch to an environmentally-sound “circular economy,” which requires not only tracking the creation of things, but also their usage, trying to keep them out of landfills. “The system proposed in this paper would not only allow the creation (including all materials, grades, processes etc) and lifecycle (use, maintenance etc) to be logged on the blockchain, but this would also make it easy to access this information when products are returned to be assessed and remanufactured into a new item.”

Please do read the whole report, and think how the economic benefits of applying blockchain-enabled IoT practices to your supply chain can also warm your heart.

 

Libelium: flexibility a key strategy for IoT startups

I’ve been fixated recently on venerable manufacturing firms such as 169-yr. old Siemens making the IoT switch.  Time to switch focus, and look at one of my fav pure-play IoT firms, Libelium.  I think Libelium proves that smart IoT firms must, above all, remain nimble and flexible,  by three interdependent strategies:

  • avoiding picking winners among communications protocols and other standards.
  • avoiding over-specialization.
  • partnering instead of going it alone.
Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

If you aren’t familiar with Libelium, it’s a Spanish company that recently turned 10 (my, how time flies!) in a category littered with failures that had interesting concepts but didn’t survive. Bright, young, CEO Alicia Asin, one of my favorite IoT thought leaders (and do-ers!) was recently named best manager of the year in the Aragón region in Spain.  I sat down with her for a wide-ranging discussion when she recently visited the Hub of the Universe.

I’ve loved the company since its inception, particularly because it is active in so many sectors of the IoT, including logistics, industrial control, smart meters, home automation and a couple of my most favorite, agriculture (I have a weak spot for anything that combines “IoT” AND “precision”!) and smart cities.  I asked Asin why the company hadn’t picked one of those verticals as its sole focus: “it was too risky to choose one market. That’s still the same: the IoT is still so fragmented in various verticals.”

The best illustration of the company’s strategy in action is its Waspmote sensor platform, which it calls the “most complete Internet of Things platform in the market with worldwide certifications.” It can monitor up to 120 sensors to cover hundreds of IoT applications in the wide range of markets Libelium serves with this diversified strategy, ranging from the environment to “smart” parking.  The new versions of their sensors include actuators, to not simply report data, but also allow M2M control of devices such as irrigation valves, thermostats, illumination systems, motors and PLC’s. Equally important, because of the potentially high cost of having to replace the sensors, the new ones use extremely little power, so they can last        .

Equally important as the company’s refusal to limit itself to a single vertical market is its commitment to open systems and multiple communications protocols, including LoRaWAN, SIGFOX, ZigBee and 4G — a total of 16 radio technologies. It also provides both open source SDK and APIs.

Why?  As Asin told me:

 

“There is not going to be a standard. This (competiting standards and technology) is the new normal.

“I talk to some cities that want to become involved in smart cities, and they say we want to start working on this but we want to use the protocol that will be the winner.

“No one knows what will be the winner.

“We use things that are resilient. We install all the agents — if you aren’t happy with one, you just open the interface and change it. You don’t have to uninstall anything. What if one of these companies increases their prices to heaven, or you are not happy with the coverage, or the company disappears? We allow you to have all your options open.

“The problem is that this (not picking a standard) is a new message, and people don’t like to listen.  This is how we interpret the future.”

Libelium makes 110 different plug and play sensors (or as they call them, “Plug and Sense,” to detect a wide range of data from sources including gases, events, parking, energy use, agriculture, and water.  They claim the lowest power consumption in the industry, leading to longer life and lower maintenance and operating costs.

Finally, the company doesn’t try to do everything itself: Libelium has a large and growing partner network (or ecosystem, as it calls it — music to the ears of someone who believes in looking to nature for profitable business inspiration). Carrying the collaboration theme even farther, they’ve created an “IoT Marketplace,” where pre-assembled device combinations from Libelium and partners can be purchased to meet the specific needs of niches such as e-health,  vineyards, water quality, smart factories, and smart parking.  As the company says, “the lack of integrated solutions from hardware to application level is a barrier for fast adoption,” and the kits take away that barrier.

I can’t stress it enough: for IoT startups that aren’t totally focused on a single niche (a high-stakes strategy), Libelium offers a great model because of its flexibility, agnostic view of standards, diversification among a variety of niches, and eagerness to collaborate with other vendors.


BTW: Asin is particularly proud of the company’s newest offering, My Signals,which debuted in October and has already won several awards.  She told me that they hope the device will allow delivering Tier 1 medical care to billions of underserved people worldwide who live in rural areas with little access to hospitals.  It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, oxygen in

It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. The data is encrypted and sent to the Libelium Cloud in real-time to be visualized on the user’s private account.

It fits in a small suitcase and costs less than 1/100th the amount of a traditional Emergency Observation Unit.

The kit was created to make it possible for m-health developers to create prototypes cheaply and quickly.

Circular Company: Will Internet of Things Spark Management Revolution?

Could the IoT’s most profound impact be on management and corporate organization, not just cool devices?

I’ve written before about my still-being-refined vision of the IoT — because it (for the first time!) allows everyone who needs instant access to real-time data to do their jobs and make better decisions to share that data instantly —  as the impetus for a management revolution.

My thoughts were provoked by Heppelmann & Porter’s observation that:

“For companies grappling with the transition (to the IoT), organizational issues are now center stage — and there is no playbook. We are just beginning the process of rewriting the organization chart that has been in place for decades.”

If I’m right, the IoT could let us switch from the linear and hierarchical forms that made sense in an era of serious limits to intelligence about things and how they were working at thaFor companies grappling with the transition, organizational issues are now center stage—and there is no playbook. We are just beginning the process of rewriting the organization chart that has been in place for decades.t moment, to circular forms that instead eliminate information “silos” and instead give are circular, with IoT data as the hub. 

This article expands on that vision. I’ve tried mightily to get management journals to publish it. Several of the most prestigious have given it a serious look but ultimately passed on it. That may be because it’s crazy, but I believe it is feasible today, and can lead to higher profits, lower operating costs, empowering our entire workforces, and, oh yeah, saving the planet.

Audacious, but, IMHO, valid.  Please feel free to share this, to comment on it, and, if you think it has merit, build on it.

Thanks,

W. David Stephenson


The IoT Allows a Radical, Profitable Transformation to Circular Company Structure

 

by

W. David Stephenson

Precision assembly lines and thermostats you can adjust while away from home are obvious benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), but it might also trigger a far more sweeping change: swapping outmoded hierarchical and linear organizational forms for new circular ones.

New org charts will be dramatically different because of an important aspect of the IoT overlooked in the understandable fascination with cool devices. The IoT’s most transformational aspect is that, for the first time,

everyone who needs real-time data to do their jobs better or
make better decisions can instantly 
share it.

That changes everything.

Linear and hierarchical organizational structures were coping mechanisms for the severe limits gathering and sharing data in the past. It made sense then for management, on a top-down basis, to determine which departments got which data, and when.

The Internet of Things changes all of that because of huge volumes of real-time data), plus modern communications tools so all who need the data can share it instantly. 

This will allow a radical change in corporate structure and functions from hierarchy: make it cyclical, with real-time IoT data as the hub around which the organization revolves and makes decisions.

Perhaps the closest existing model is W.L. Gore & Associates. The company has always been organized on a “lattice” model, with “no traditional organizational charts, no chains of command, nor predetermined channels of communication.”  Instead, they use cross-disciplinary teams including all functions, communicating directly with each other. Teams self-0rganize and most leaders emerge spontaneously.

As Deloitte’s Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson wrote, “Continuing to invest in the future using yesteryear’s industrial blueprint is futile. The lattice redefines workplace suppositions, providing a framework for organizing and advancing a company’s existing incremental efforts into a comprehensive, strategic response to the changing world of work.”  Add in the circular form’s real-time data hub, and the benefits are even greater, because everyone on these self-organizing teams works from the same data, at the same time.

You can begin to build such a cyclical company with several incremental IoT-based steps.

One of the most promising is making the product design process cyclical. Designers used to work in a vacuum: no one really knew how the products functioned in the field, so it was hard to target upgrades and improvements. Now, GE has found it can radically alter not only the upgrade process, but also the initial design as well:

“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. ‘We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ (Vice-President of Global Software William Ruh said). ‘It used to take three years.’”

New IoT and data-analytics tools are coming on the market that could facilitate such a shift. GE’s new tool, “Digital Twins,” creates a wire-frame replica of a product in the field (or, for that matter, a human body!) back at the company. Coupled with real-time data on its status, it lets everyone who might need to analyze a product’s real-time status (product designers, maintenance staff, and marketers, for example) to do so simultaneously.

The second step toward a cyclical organization is breaking down information silos.

Since almost every department has some role in creation and sales of every product, doesn’t it make sense to bring them together around a common set of data, to explore how that data could trigger coordinated actions by several departments? 

Collaborative big-data analysis tools such as GE’s Predix, SAP’s HANA, and Tableau facilitate the kind of joint scrutiny and “what-if” discussions of real-time data that can make circular teamwork based on IoT-data sharing really achieve its full potential.

The benefits are even greater when you choose to really think in circular terms, sharing instant access to that real-time data not only companywide, but also with external partners, such as your supply chain and distribution network – and even customers – not just giving them some access later on a linear basis.  For example, SAP has created an IoT-enabled vending machine. If a customer opts in, s/he is greeted by name, and may be offered “your regular combination” based on past purchases, and/or a real-time discount. That alone would be neat from a marketing standpoint, but SAP also opened the resulting data to others, resulting in important logistics improvements. Real-time machine-to-machine (M2M) data about sales at the new vending machines automatically reroute resupply trucks to those machines currently experiencing the highest sales. 

With the IoT, sharing data can make your own product or service more valuable. With the Apple HomeKit, you can say “Siri, it’s time for bed,” and the Hue lights dim, Schlage lock closes, and Ecobee thermostat turns down. By sharing real-time IoT data, each of these companies’ devices become more valuable in combinations than they are by themselves.

Hierarchical and linear management is outmoded in the era of real-time data from smart devices. It is time to begin to replace it with a dynamic, circular model with IoT data as its hub.

Smart Infrastructure Logical Top Priority for IoT

The only issue Clinton and Trump can agree on is the need for massive improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges. But, please, let’s make it more than concrete and steel.

Let’s make it smart, and let’s make it the top priority for the IoT because of the trickle-down effects it will have on everything else in our economy.

Global economist Jeffrey Sachs stated the case eloquently in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, “Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age,” in which he argued that the infrastructure (including not only highways and bridges but also water systems, waste treatment, and the electric grid) shaped by the automotive age has run its course, and must be replaced by one “in line with new needs, especially climate safety, and new opportunities, especially ubiquitous online information and smart machines.”

I’m currently reading Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel’s The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, and the Future of Urban Life, which makes the same argument: “The answer to urban expansion and diffusion — and the host of social consequences that they bring — may be to optimize, rather than increase, transportation infrastructure.”

The IoT is perfectly suited to the needs of a new information-based infrastructure, especially one which must balance promoting the economy and mobility with drastic reductions in greenhouse gasses (transportation produces approximately a third of the U.S.’s  emissions). It can both improve maintenance (especially for bridges) through built-in sensors that constantly monitor conditions and can give advance warning in time to do less-costly and less-disruptive predictive maintenance, and reduce congestion by providing real-time information on current congestion so that real-time alterations to signals, etc., can be made rather than depending on outmoded fixed-interval stoplights, etc.

Sachs points out that infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen since the Reagan years, and that it will require much more spending to bring it up to date.

A good place to look for a model is China.  The country already sports the largest concentration of M2M connections in the world: “74 million connections at the end of 2014, representing almost a third of the global base,” much of that in the form of smart bridges, smart rails, and smart grid, and critical because of the country’s rapid economic growth (Ratti cites a Beijing traffic jam that immobilized cars for an astounding 12 days!). Similarly, the government aims to have 95% of homes equipt with smart meters by next year.The country has used its investment in smart infrastructure to build its overall IoT industry’s ability to compete globally.

Sachs argues for a long-term smart infrastructure initiative:

“I propose that we envision the kind of built environment we want for the next 60 years. With a shared vision of America’s infrastructure goals, actually designing and building the new transport, energy, communications, and water systems will surely require at least a generation, just as the Interstate Highway System did a half-century ago.”

He says we need a plan based on three priorities to cope with our current national and global challenges:

“We should seek an infrastructure that abides by the triple bottom line of sustainable development. That is, the networks of roads, power, water, and communications should support economic prosperity, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. The triple bottom line will in turn push us to adopt three guiding principles.

First, the infrastructure should be “smart,” deploying state-of-the-art information and communications technologies and new nanotechnologies to achieve a high efficiency of resource use.

Second, the infrastructure should be shared and accessible to all, whether as shared vehicles, open-access broadband in public areas, or shared green spaces in cities.

Third, transport infrastructure should promote public health and environmental safety. The new transport systems should not only shift to electrical vehicles and other zero-emission vehicles, but should also promote much more walking, bicycling, and public transport use. Power generation should shift decisively to zero-carbon primary energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear power. The built environment should be resilient to rising ocean levels, higher temperatures, more intense heat waves, and more extreme storms.”

The IoT, particularly because of its ability to let us share real-time data that in turn can regulate the infrastructure, is ideally suited to this challenge. It’s time for Congress to not only spend on infrastructure but to do so wisely.

The result will be not only the infrastructure we need, but also a more robust IoT industry in general.

 

High-speed 3D Printer & IoT Could Really Revolutionize Design & Manufacturing

There’s a new high-speed 3D printer on the horizon which, coupled with the IoT, could really revolutionize product design and manufacturing.

I’ve raved in the past about 3D printing’s revolutionary potential, but I’ll admit I was still thinking primarily in terms of rapid prototyping and one-off repair parts.  Now, according to Bloomberg, HP is going to transfer its ink-jet printer expertise to the 3D printer field, with a $130,000 model set for release later this year that, for the first time, could make 3D printing practical and affordable for large-scale manufacturing, with “parts at half the expense and at least 10 times faster than rival printers — and likely [using] lower-cost materials.”

Combined with the IoT, that would go a long way toward making my “precision manufacturing” vision a reality, with benefits including less waste, streamlined products (a single part replacing multiple ones that previously had to be combined into the final configuration),  factories that are less reliant on outside parts and encouraging mass customization of products that would delight customers. 

Customers are already lining up, and see manufacturing-scale 3D printing as a game-changer:

Jabil Circuit Inc. [itself a digital supply-chain innovator] plans to be an early adopter of HP’s device, printing end plastic parts for aerospace, auto and industrial applications that it currently makes using processes such as injection molding, John Dulchinos, vice president of digital manufacturing at the electronics-manufacturing service provider, said in an interview.

“‘We have use cases in each of these segments,’ Dulchinos said. ‘Parts that are in hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of units — it’s cheaper to 3D print them than mold them.’”

Other HP partners in the venture include BMW, Nike, and and Johnson & Johnson. The article cites research by Wohlers Associates predicting that manufacturing using 3D printers could “eventually grab at least 5 percent of the worldwide manufacturing economy, and translate into $640 billion in annual sales.”

3D Systems is also making the transition to large-scale 3D printing.

As I’ve written before in regard to GE’s leadership in the field, toss in some nanotech on the side, and you’ve really got something.

 

Brexit and the IoT: Let’s Capitalize on the Opportunity, Not Wallow in Despair

Wow: as the old Dinah Washington ditty went, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Since last Thursday, I doubt even the most diehard IoT zealots have thought about anything but Brexit and its implications.  Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect and digest exactly how dire the possible problems are, I’d like to suggest we look at the bright side, and think the IoT could play a major role in improving everyone’s life in the future — not just the economic elites.

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

I used to be a corporate crisis manager, called in when major corporations had done amazingly stupid things and their reputations and sometimes even their survival was in question. For those occasions, I kept a battered greeting card in my briefcase with the calligraphy for wei ji, the Chinese ideogram for crisis. I’d point out that it c0mbined danger — that was obvious! — with the less-obvious one for opportunity. I still believe that, even in the global confusion and concern resulting from Brexit, and I think there’s a role for the IoT in the new world order.

Above all, this should be a wake-up call for the global economic and political elites that, going forth, change must benefit everyone, not just them.

When it comes to the IoT, that means that it can’t be yet another excuse for automating jobs out of existence, but must instead be a way of empowering workers and creating new opportunities:

  • One that occurred to me is near & dear to my heart, because I thought of a primitive version 25 years ago: creating 30″ high 4′ x 8′ garden “boxes” planted using Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” methods, that would allow people worldwide to grow their own veggies in very small spaces.  Add in IoT water sensors so that the beds could be watered precisely when and in the amount needed, and people everywhere could become self-sufficient (e-mail me if you’re interested in commercializing the approach)!  It would be the cheapie’s variation on the neat, but costly, Grove Labs home ag solution.
  • smart asthma inhaler

    smart asthma inhaler

    Increasingly, global populations will be centered in cities, so the whole smart cities approach will improve everyone’s quality of living by cutting down traffic, reducing municipal operating costs, and improving public health. Even fat cats get upset when their limos are stuck in traffic, so this is a win-win.
    One of my favorite examples of the smart city approach is the asthma inhaler cum GPS that automatically alerts public health authorities when a user — most frequently, sadly, a low-come minority person — uses the inhaler, allowing them to identify dirty air “hot spots” where cleanup efforts need to be focused.

  • I’ve always been impressed about the outside-the-box mobile device apps coming out of Africa that make their lack of conventional infrastructure into an advantage. One of the coolest examples of that when it comes to the IoT is the example INEX’s Chris Rezendes told me about: how Grundfos, the world’s leading pump company, releases the data from senors on its pumps for village water supplies in Africa and some smart guys have come up with an app that allows the village women to check in advance whether the village well is working before they trudge miles to get the watch (which, BTW, I hope they’re carrying back in these way-cool appropriate technology rolling water carriers, the “Hippo”).

  • Also, the IoT could empower assembly-line workers and others if smart managers realize that they too should be among those sharing real-time IoT data: yes, a lot of IoT data can be used on a M2M basis so one machine’s status will regulate another’s, but there’s also a potential role for workers, with their years of experience and horse-sense, using that data to fine-tune processes themselves to optimize efficiency. Artificial Intelligence is great, but I still think there’s a role for enlightened humans, even if they don’t have a lot of education and prestige within the corporation.

Those are just a few ideas on how the IoT might be used to improve everyone’s lot in the coming years and undermine the current status quo that benefits only a few.  Let me know if you have ideas on how to foster this revolution and make Brexit the catalyst for positive change.

 

 

The Internet of Things Enables Precision Logistics (& Could Save Planet!)

A degree of precision in every aspect of the economy impossible before the IoT is one of my fav memes, in part because it should encourage companies that have held back from IoT strategies to get involved now (because they can realize immediate benefits in lower operating costs, greater efficiency, etc.), and because it brings with it so many ancillary benefits, such as reduced environmental impacts (remember: waste creation = inefficiency!).

       Zero Marginal Cost Society

Zero Marginal Cost       Society

I’m reminded of that while reading Jeremy Rifkin’s fascinating Zero Marginal Cost Economy which I got months ago for research in writing my own book proposal and didn’t get around to until recently.  I’d always heard he was something of an eccentric, but, IMHO, this one’s brilliant.  Rifkin’s thesis is that:

“The coming together of the Communications Internet with the fledgling Energy Internet and Logistics Internet in a seamless twenty-first-century intelligent infrastructure, “the Internet of Things (IoT),” is giving rise to a Third Industrial Revolution. The Internet of Things is already boosting productivity to the point where the marginal cost of producing many goods and services is nearly zero, making them practically free.”

Tip: when the marginal cost of producing things is nearly zero, you’re gonna need a new business model, so get this book!

At any rate, one of the three revolutions he mentioned was the “Logistics Internet.”

I’m a nut about logistics, especially as it relates to supply chain and distribution networks, which I see as crucial to the radically new “circular enterprise” rotating around a real-time IoT data hub. Just think how efficient your company could be if your suppliers — miles away rather than on the other side of the world, knew instantly via M2M data sharing, what you needed and when, and delivered it at precisely the right time, or if the SAP prototype vending machine notified the dispatcher, again on a M2M basis, so that delivery trucks were automatically re-routed to machine that was most likely  to run out first!

I wasn’t quite sure what Rifkin meant about a Logistics Internet until I read his reference to the work of Benoit Montreuil, “Coca-Cola Material Handling & Distribution Chair and Professor” at Georgia Tech, who, as Rifkin puts it, closes the loop nicely in terms of imagery:

“.. just as the digital world took up the superhighway metaphor, now the logistics industry ought to take up the open-architecture metaphor of distributed Internet communication to remodel global logistics.”

Montreuil elaborates on the analogy (and, incidentally, places this in the context of global sustainability, saying that the current logistics paradigm is unsustainable), and paraphrases my fav Einstein saying:

“The global logistics sustainability grand challenge cannot be addressed through the same lenses that created the situation. The current logististics paradigm must be replaced by a new paradigm enabling outside-the-box paradigm enabling meta-systemic creative thinking.”

wooo: meta-systemic creative thinking! Count me in!

Montreuil’s answer is a “physical Internet” for logistics, which he says is a necessity not only because of the environmental impacts of the current, inefficient system (such as 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions in France), but also its ridiculous costs, accounting for 10% of the US GDP according to a 2009 Department of Transportation report!  That kind of waste brings out my inner Scotsman!

Rifkin cites a variety of examples of the current system’s inefficiency based on Montreuil’s research:

  • trucks in the US are, on average, only 60% full, and globally the efficiency is only 10%!
  • in the US, they were empty 20% of miles driven
  • US business inventories were $1.6 trillion as of March, 2013 — so much for “just-in-time.”
  • time-sensitive products such as food, clothes and medical supplies are unsold because they can’t be delivered on time.

Montreuil’s “physical Internet” has striking parallels to the electronic one:

  • cargo (like packets) must be packaged in standardized module containers
  • like the internet, the cargo must be structured independently of the equipment, so it can be processed seamlessly through a wide range of networks, with smart tags and sensors for identification and sorting (one of the first examples of the IoT I wrote about was FedEx’s great SenseAware containers for high-value cargo!)

With the Logistics Internet, we’d move from the old point-to-point and hub-and-spoke systems to ones that are “distributed, multi-segment, intermodal.” A single, exhausted, over-worked (and more accident-prone) driver would be replaced by several. It’s a  little counter-intuitive, but Montreuil says that while it would take a driver 240 hours to get from Quebec to LA under the current system, instead 17 drivers in a distributed one would each drive about 3 hours, and the cargo would get there in only 60 hours.

Under the new system, the current fractionated, isolated warehouse and distribution mess would be replaced by a fully-integrated one involving all of the 535,000 facilities nationwide, cutting time and dramatically reducing environmental impacts and fuel consumption.

Most important for companies, and looping back to my precision meme, “Montreuil points out that an open supply network allows firms to reduce their lead time to near zero if their stock is distributed among some of the hundreds of distribution centers that are located near their final buyer market.” And, was we have more 3-D printing, the product might actually be printed out near the destination. How cool is that?

Trucking is such an emblematic aspect of the 20th-century economy, yet, as with the neat things that Union Pacific and other lines are doing with the 19th-century’s emblematic railroads, they can be transformed into a key part of the 21-st century “precision economy” (but only if we couple IoT technology with “IoT thinking.”

Now let’s pick up our iPads & head to the loading dock!


 

PS: I’ll be addressing this subject in one of my two speeches at the SCM2016 Conference later this month. Hope to see you there! 

 

FedEx package…

Internet of Things Can Pay Off for Small & Medium Businesses Too

Think again, if you’re a small and medium-sized business (SMB) that is holding back on Internet of Things projects until the price of software and components such as sensors came down and the technology is more robust!

INEX Advisors’ IoT Impact LABS, an accelerator program in New Bedford, MA brings together IoT startups, top technology and industrial suppliers such as Analog Devices, Dell, and PTC/ ThingWORX, plus legal and policy experts to use the IoT help innovative, sustainable small and medium-sized businesses in the region in fields such as “smart cities,” food and agriculture, water and maritime, and energy and transportation.

One is particularly noteworthy because it is bringing fishing into the 21st century.

Island Creek Oysters of Duxbury MA, was plagued by the need to do a five-step, paper-based food safety inspection reporting on variables such as water temperature and pH, that had to be recorded precisely during the two-hour window after low tide when it had to harvest the oysters.  It’s difficult to do both.

The Mass. Department of Fisheries Management brought together INEX and Island Creek to develop a real-time digital program to both monitor the oysters and do the data collection. Chris Rezendes, partner at Inex Advisors, said the department contacted IoT Impact Labs to figure out a digital traceability program for shellfish farmers in Massachusetts, which includes Island Creek’s farm in Duxbury Mass., just a half-hour south of Boston.

IoT Impact Labs put together a solution to enable monitoring of conditions in real time, wirelessly.

“There are just dozens of instrumentation opportunities. That means dozens of opportunities for sensors, and firmware, and connectivity, and analytics vendors,” Rezendes told CRN.

The project included replacing time-consuming human monitoring of more than 60 water pumps with wireless sensors.

The LABS will release more information about the other projects in coming months, and will host one of our Boston/New England IoT Meetups on February 29 in New Bedford (6 PM, 1213 Purchase Street), with speakers including:

  • Dave Wiley, PhD. NOAA, Research Director, Stellwagon National Marine Sanctuary. He has led the development and deployment of sensor buoys and marine mammal tracking, including supporting a recreational marine application based on his team’s work.
  • Dave Duquette, Founder and CEO, Littoral Power Systems which recently closed its Seed Round, including a prestigious ARPA-E grant. Their kinetic energy harvesting systems are breaking ground in tidal energy capture.
  • Brian Coffey, environmental sensing and instrumentation lead at Analog Devices.

 

Why Am I Not Surprised? GE Does It Again As IoT Innovator

POST-SCRIPT : LATE-BREAKING NEWS: GE WILL ANNOUNCE TOMORROW THAT THEY’RE MOVING THEIR WORLD HEADQUARTERS TO BOSTON.  EVEN THOUGH THE HEART OF THE COMPANY’S INDUSTRIAL INTERNET STRATEGY WILL REMAIN ITS SOFTWARE CENTER IN SILICON VALLEY, THIS SHOULD INEVITABLY BOOST BOSTON’S STATURE IN THE IoT: WE’RE ALREADY RANKED 4TH IN THE WORLD.


PROMINENT DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ON THE GENERAL ELECTRIC PAYROLL, AS AMAZING AS THAT MAY SEEM CONSIDERING ALL THE NICE THINGS I SAY ABOUT THEM.

C by GE smart bulbs

Whether it’s their incredible Durathon battery plant or the 220-ton computer-on-wheels Evolution loco, I don’t think there’s any major company that gets it more about the IoT, or, as they brand it, the Industrial Internet. As I’ve said before, it’s not just IoT products, but also “IoT Thinking” (collaboration, closing the loop, etc.) on their part. So why am I not surprised that they’ve gone back to their roots and come up with the most practical smart bulb so far, the “C by GE” bulbs?

Surely the Wizard of Menlo Park is smiling down on them for this one!

This is not to take away from the pioneering Philips Hue bulbs (16 million colors? You kidding?), or the neat Playbulb ones that double as speakers, but it seems to me these are the ones so far (possible exception, the $15 Cree ones — although I’ve not been happy with short life-span of my earlier Cree LEDs….) but these seem to me to combine some kewl new features that weren’t available before smart bulbs with affordability: a kit of 4 will be priced at $50 if you order online.

So what’s the big deal? Unlike the HUEs and GE’s earlier Link LED, these won’t require linking to a hub to control them: they link to your phone directly, using Bluetooth.

The bulbs will come in two flavors, to start with: a plain-vanilla dimmable one for most rooms of the house, and the spiffy “C Sleeps” for the bedroom, which will allow you to choose three different color hues, including a bright white to energize yourself on waking, a middling one for most of the day, and a yellowish one that research has shown to be more sleep-inducing, for night time (for you wonks, here’s the science).

Equally important, according to C|NET, they’ll also be more affordable than other multi-hue bulbs:

“The C Sleep LEDs won’t be the first color-tunable smart LEDs on the market, but they’ll certainly be some of the most affordable. The Osram Lightify Starter Kit comes with just a single bulb and costs $60, while the Lifx White 800 LED costs $40. With two color-tunable bulbs plus two standard smart bulbs for $50, C by GE definitely looks like the better value. What’s more, GE is promising limited early-bird pricing that will bring the cost of a starter pack down to $40 for those willing to buy in at launch.”

Because it’s Bluetooth controlled you won’t be able to control it from outside the house, so I’m gonna have to stick with my WeMo sockets to make my wife happy, but supposedly it will work with the Apple HomeKit (“Siri, it’s time for bed”) or if you already have a Wink hub.

Once again, Thanks, Jeff Immelt!

PS: $1.92 a yr. in electric costs: they’ll help save the planet as well

 

3 Steps to Make Your City a World Leader in the IoT

I don’t know about you, but, in the face of grim news globally, I’m determined to make this an incredible year of change and growth.

Happy New Year!

I took a longer than normal time off, to pick up our youngest in Hong Kong after a semester abroad in Thailand, then vacation in Bali.

Hong Kong Internet of Things Association

I started the trip with a speech to the Hong Kong Internet of Things Association, in which I laid out my vision of radical change in corporate management and organization made possible by the IoT, away from the increasingly-obsolete hierarchical and linear forms that made perfect sense in an early 20th-century setting when data was hard to gather and share, but doesn’t when the IoT can allow instant sharing of real-time data by all who need it.

But the most interesting issue came up in the following q & a, when someone asked whether Hong Kong could become a global leader in the IoT.

I told them yes, and followed up with an op-ed in today’s South China Morning Post laying out the steps.

I believe the same steps can help your city become an IoT leader, and that this is a case of the-more-the-merrier: the more cities become IoT leaders the quicker widespread innovation and IoT adoption will become, and the more liveable and efficient our cities — the necessary focus of global growth in this century, especially to meet the challenge of global warming — will become.  So here goes!

  1. Create an IoT community.The one in Boston that I founded is now three years old, and numbers almost 2,000 members. My reason for doing it was that I’d run into many people working in the IoT here (Boston is listed as having the 4th largest concentration of IoT headquarters) but they were largely working in isolation, without a forum to bring them together.

    Forming an IoT network is a crucial step, because the IoT is inherently collaborative: as I’ve written many times before, “network effects” make each individual IoT device or service more valuable if they can be combined with others (for example, Apple’s HomeKit now allows someone to simply say “Siri, it’s time for bed,” and that voice command can trigger collaborative action by a variety of devices from different manufacturers, such as turning down the thermostat, locking the front door, and turning off the lights, which makes each of these IoT devices more valuable than they would be in isolation). Equally important, face-to-face contact may spark ideas that even the most talented IoT practitioner wouldn’t have thought of, huddled alone in his or her garret (or kewl cow0rking space…).

    An association that brings together all of your IoT practitioners will create synergistic benefits for all of them.

  2. Embrace the “smart city” vision. 

    This has the biggest potential payoff for your city, whether or not it becomes a big IoT commercial hub.Traditionally, cities have been laggards in technology adoption, but that’s no longer the case, starting in 2008, when I had the extreme privilege of being a consultant to DC CTO Vivek Kundra (who later became the first US CIO, specifically because of his achievements in DC) when he launched the DC Open Data initiative and the Apps [remember, this was 2008: what the heck are these “apps”???] for America contest to design apps to capitalize on this real-time data.  Hundreds of cities worldwide have embraced the concept, and because it stresses that the solutions be open source, cities that are late to the game can quickly benefit by adopting and adapting creative solutions that others have pioneered.

    When the IoT came along, many of these cities and their entrepreneurial residents were quick to realize their real-time data could lead to IoT apps and services that would deal with many of the prime concerns of cities: traffic control, mass transit, electricity, public health, environmental quality, and water and sewage (Credit where credit is due: IBM’s pioneering Smarter Planet service started working with many of the early adopters even before the smart city movement had a name).

    Cities that have launched comprehensive smart city programs, especially Barcelona’s, which includes projects ranging from free wi-fi to health monitoring for seniors to an app to find parking spaces, have realized tangible benefits while cutting operating costs and that will be the case for newcomers as well.

    Sometimes these initiatives tap the collaborative nature of the IoT to produce a public benefit that would be hideously expensive if they were carried out by municipal workers. For example, in Boston the “Street Bump” smartphone app uses the phone’s sensors to detect if the user’s car hits a pothole, then instantly reports the exact location to the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW). In essence, every driver becomes a de facto DPW employee!

  3. Finally,  join in the worldwide “Things Network” movement.As I’ve written before, this will create citywide, free networks for IoT data exchange, in essence turning an entire city into an IoT laboratory for experimentation and mutual benefit.

    This campaign, which was crowdsourced by only 10 technology enthusiasts in Amsterdam last August, successfully created a citywide data network there in less than a month, using 10 $1200 (USD) “LoRaWan gateways.”  LoRanWan is particularly suited to the IoT because it demands little power, has long range (up to 11 km) and low bandwidth. It wouldn’t require passwords, mobile subscription and zero setup costs.

    There are already 27 cities pursuing Things Networks, and the parent organization is making the concept even easier to deploy through a successful Kickstarter campaign last Fall to raise money to build a new LoRaWan gateway that would only cost $200.

    Unlike the full involvement of city government in initiatives such as opening city data bases, a Things Network is best done by volunteers, so that it will not be co-opted by official government agencies or powerful commercial interests: it is most powerful if it’s open to absolutely anyone who wants to try out a smart Internet of Things idea, while also potentially saving the city the cost of administering an expensive program that could instead be run by volunteers at little cost.

So there you have it: 3 practical steps to make your city a world leader in the Internet of Things that will improve urban life and make the city more efficient even if you don’t make the top 10.  Let’s get cracking!