Game-changer! AR Enables IoT merging of physical and digital

Several months ago I wrote about an analogy to the world of business prior to the Internet of Things,  in which a metaphorical illness called “Collective Blindness” affected every human for all time, so that we were unable to peer inside things. We just accepted that as an inevitable limitation, creating all sorts of work-arounds to try to be able to cope in the absence of real-time information about things of all sorts.

I then said that the Internet of Things would allow us to end Collective Blindness, getting — and sharing — the real-time data we’d need to make better decisions and work more precisely.

Now I’ve seen the tool that allows us to end that Collective Blindness: PTC’s Augmented Reality (AR), tool, Vuforia.

At last week’s PTC Liveworx conference, there was a mind-blowing demo of Vuforia by Terri Lewis, director of solutions and tech at Caterpillar, as it applied to the company’s XQ Gen Set, a portable power generator for job sites and special events.  As PTC CEO James Heppelmann reiterated several times, the software is creating

a single new reality that’s physical and digital at the same time….. and democratizing AR.”
(my emphasis)

Used as a sales tool, Vuforia Studio Enterprise lets the customer look inside the product, as contrasted with a static brochure.  That’s neat, but what’s really incredible is how it lets maintenance people peer inside the device, and do so in a way (as Heppelmann said, “humans prefer to use sight an sound simultaneously”) that is much more effective in terms of zeroing in not only on what’s wrong, but also these specifics (such as replacement part numbers, etc.) to quickly repair them.  Incidentally Heppelmann and Harvard Prof. and biz guru Michael Porter are collaborating on another article, this one on how to apply AR in a business setting (turns out that Porter is a member of the PTC board, and in the past few years he’s been using it as a lab to evaluate business use of the IoT).

Another example of Vuforia’s work in maintenance demonstrated at the conference was by Flowserve, the world’s largest flow control company. Vuforia helps them manage devices in real-time (the person at the pump can see what is actually happening), cutting the number of repair trips from three to one, because they are able to diagnose the problem at the beginning, and bring the replacement parts with them. Then they can do do real-time simulations to see if the problem has been solved. The company believes they saved $2 billion in excess repart costs in 2015 alone.

 Vuforia Studio AR lets users set up augmented reality simulations in minutes without writing code, and can also be used in product design review.

I had a chance to try the XQ Gen Set visualization with an AR headset myself, and it was as powerful as promised.

I must admit the first time I tried on an AR headset — and almost jumped on one of the other users because I was jumping back to avoid falling several hundred feet off a sharp cliff into the ocean — I was amazed by the realism, but didn’t really think much about its serious business uses.  PTC’s Vuforia Studio AR made me a believer: it’s helping us cure Collective Blindness, and AR will be yet another tool to bring about unprecedented precision and efficiency in every aspect of manufacturing and product maintenance!

Industry Week Survey: Most Manufacturers Don’t Get IoT

A new Industry Week survey shows that most manufacturers are, at best, just testing the IoT waters, and few have made the management changes necessary that show they understand the IoT’s revolutionary potential to change every aspect of their products, manufacturing, and even their management.

 The Internet of Things: Finding the Path to ValueThe survey, “The Internet of Things: Finding the Path to Value,” (underwritten by SAS) was conducted late last year.  478 companies completed it.  The survey’s major finding was that:

Despite the fact that they’re already collecting such (i.e., IoT) data, and two- thirds believe the Internet of Things technology will be critical to their future success, only one third of manufacturers report that they have a specific IoT technology strategy.” (my emphasis)

One finding was particularly damning, because it shows senior management really doesn’t get the full value of IoT data and how it must radically alter their decision making:

“… two out of three say they rely more on management experience [than the IoT] when addressing key business issues.”

On the other hand, 28% said they think they’re outpacing their competitors in use of the IoT. Pardon my skepticism..

Here’s the finding that clearly indicated to me that these executives don’t get it that the vast amounts of data yielded by the IoT requires new analytical tools (HANA and its ilk) and new skill sets (i.e., data scientists): ”

It should come as no surprise … that well over half (57%) of manufacturers report that they are using spreadsheets to analyze sensor data.” (my emphasis)

Really?? Those guys gotta download the Managing the Internet of Things Revolution e-guide I wrote for SAP, which explained that the way to ease your way into the IoT is to begin by acquiring data mining and visualization tools and beefing up your cloud storage, which will benefit you with your current operations, as well as building the data analysis skills such as predictive analytics — and attitudes — necessary to capitalize on the IoT.  If you’re analyzing sensor data with spreadsheets, your priorities are totally out of wack…

On the positive side, 45% are integrating and supplementing IoT data regarding product quality, and 43% integrating production data.

I see little indication from the findings that most companies (a few, such as GE and Siemens, excepted) are fully integrating the IoT into day-to-day operations, resulting in what I’ve called “precision manufacturing.”

Long way to go, folks, long way to go…

 

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.

 

Testing the IoT Waters: 1st Steps in Creating an IoT Corporate Strategy

What if you’re interested in the Internet of Things, but are a little scared of making a major commitment and making major expenditures until you build your familiarity level and start to enjoy some tangible results?

That concern is understandable, especially when prognosticators such as I emphasize what a transformational impact the IoT will have on every aspect of your operations and strategy.

So where to begin?

I’ll speak on this issue at SAP’s  IoT 2016 Conference, Feb. 16-19, in Las Vegas, and hope you can attend. But, if not, or if a teaser might convince you to make the plunge, here’s a summary of my major points, which I hope will motivate you to act sooner, rather than later!

Managing_the_Internet_of_Things_RevolutionThis is an issue that I first visited with my “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” e-guide to IoT strategy for C-level executives, which I wrote in 2014 for SAP, and which has been successful enough that they’ve translated it into eight languages.

I suggested that the best reason to begin now on creating and executing an IoT strategy was that a lot of the requisite tools for an IoT strategy were also critical to optimize your current operations:

  • invest now in analytical tools (such as SAP’s HANA!), so that you can make sense of the rapidly-expanding amount of data (especially unstructured data) that you are already collecting, with new benefits including predictive analytics that allow you to better predict the future.
  • even before capital equipment is redesigned to incorporate sensors that will yield 24/7 real-time data on their operations and status, consider add-on sensors where available, so you can take the guesswork out of operations.
  • where possible, process sensor data “at the edge,” so that only the relevant data will be conveyed to your processing hub, reducing storage and central processing demands.
  • develop or contract for cloud storage, to handle vastly increased data.
GE Brilliant Factory benefits

GE Brilliant Factory benefits

As I’ll explain my speech, even without launching any major IoT projects such as product redesign or converting products into services, initial IoT projects such as these will dramatically boost your profits and efficiency by allowing unprecedented precision in operations.  I’ll emphasize the example of GE, whose “Brilliant Factory” initiative is aimed at increasing both its own manufacturing efficiency and its customers’ as well. They make a modest, but astonishing claim:

“GE estimates that a 1% improvement in its productivity across its global manufacturing base translates to $500 million in annual savings. Worldwide, GE thinks a 1% improvement in industrial productivity could add $10 trillion to $15 trillion to worldwide GDP over the next 15 years.”

Remember: that’s not exploiting the full potential of the IoT, but simply using it to boost operating efficiency. I see this as bringing about an era of “Precision Manufacturing,” because everyone who needs real-time data about the assembly line and production machinery will be able to share it instantly — including not only all departments within your company but also your supply chain and your distribution network.

In many cases, resupply will be automatic, through M2M processes where data from the assembly line will automatically trigger supply re-orders (and may lead to reshoring of jobs, because the advantages of true “just-in-time” delivery of parts from a supplier located a few miles away will outweigh the benefits of using one on the other side of the world, where delivery times are measured in weeks).  Instead of the current linear progression from supply chain to factory floor to distribution network, we’ll have a continuous loop uniting all of those components, with real-time IoT data as the “hub.”

Again, without making a full-fledged commitment to the IoT, another benefit that I’ll detail is how you’ll be able to dramatically improve workplace safety, especially inherently chaotic and fast-changing worksites such as construction projects and harbors, whose common elements include unpredictable schedules, many companies and contractors, many workers, and many vehicles — a recipe for disaster given current conditions!  However, the combination of simply putting location sensors on the equipment, vehicle, and people can radically decrease the risk. For example,  in Dubai — home to 25% of all construction cranes in the world — SAP partnered with a worldwide leader in construction site safety, SK Solutions. Sensors are located on machinery throughout every site, reporting real-time details about every activity: machinery’s position, movement, weight, and inertia and critical data from other sources (as with the GE Durathon factory’s use of weather data), including wind speed and direction, temperature, and more. Managers can detect potential collisions, and an auto-pilot makes instant adjustments to eliminate operator errors. “The information is delivered on dashboards and mobile devices, visualized with live 3-D images with customizable views.”

As I’ll tell the conference attendees,

“Equally incredible is the change at the Port of Hamburg, Germany’s biggest port, which must juggle 9 million containers and 12,000 vessels a year, not to mention a huge number of trucks and trains. You can imagine the potential for snarls and accidents. Since installing HANA, all of these components, including the drivers and other operators, are linked in real time.  Average waiting time for each truckload has been cut 5 minutes,  and there are 5,000 fewer truck hours daily. The coordination has gotten so precise that, if a trucker will be held up by a bridge opening, the nearby coffee shop will send a discount coupon to his iPad.”

I’ll conclude by mentioning a couple of the long-term components of an IoT strategy, such as redesigning products so that they can be controlled by apps and/or feedback constant information on their status, and considering whether to market products instead as services, where the customer only pays for the products when they’re actually being used, and creating optional data services that customers may choose to buy because they’ll allow the customer to optimize operating efficiency.

But the latter are the long-term challenges and benefits.  For now, I’ll tell the audience that the important thing is to begin now investing in the analytical tools and sensors that will help them boost efficiency.

Hope you can be there!


Oh yeah. Why get started on your IoT strategy now, rather than wait a few more years? Last year, former Cisco Chairman John Chambers said that 40% of the companies attending a recent seminar wouldn’t survive in a “meaningful way” within 10 years if they don’t begin now to embrace the IoT. Sobering, huh?

Why Global Warming Must Be IoT Focus for Everyone

Thanksgiving 2015I want to offer you six great reasons — five of them are seated with my wife and me in this photo — why we all should make global warming a primary focus of IoT projects for the foreseeable future.

There simply is no way to sugar-coat the grim news coming out of the Paris climate talks: even with the most dramatic limits that might be negotiated there, scientists warn we will fall short of the limits in temperature rises needed to avoid global devastation for my grandchildren — and yours.

Fortunately, the Internet of Things can and must be the centerpiece of the drastic changes that we will have to make collectively and individually to cope with this challenge:

“Perhaps one of the most ambitious projects that employ big data to study the environment is Microsoft’s Madingley, which is being developed with the intention of creating a simulation of all life on Earth. The project already provides a working simulation of the global carbon cycle, and it is hoped that, eventually, everything from deforestation to animal migration, pollution, and overfishing will be modeled in a real-time “virtual biosphere.” Just a few years ago, the idea of a simulation of the entire planet’s ecosphere would have seemed like ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky thinking. But today it’s something into which one of the world’s biggest companies is pouring serious money.”

Let me leave you with a laundry list of potential IoT uses to reduce global warming compiled by Cisco’s Dr. Rick Huijbregts:

  • Urban mobility “apps” predict how we can move from A to B in a city in the most environmental friendly manner. Real time data is collected from all modes of city transportation.
  • Using solar energy to power IT networks that in turn power heating, cooling and lighting. Consequently, reduce AC/DC conversions and avoid 70% electricity loss.
  • IP­based, and POE (Power of Ethernet) LED lighting in buildings reduced energy by 50% because of LED and another 50% because of control and automation.
  • Sensors (Internet of Things) record environmental highs and lows, as well as energy consumption. Data analytics allow us to respond in real­time and curtail consumption.
  • Real time insight in energy behaviour and consumption can turn into actionable reduction. 10% of energy reduction can be achieved by behavioural change triggered by simple awareness and education.
  • Working from home while being connected as if one were in the office (TelePresence, Cisco Spark, WebEx, just to name a few networked collaboration tools) takes cars off the road.
  • Grid modernization by adding communication networks to the electrical grid to allow for capacity and demand management.
  • Planning, optimizing, and redirecting transportation logistics based on algorithms, real­time weather and traffic data, and streamlined and JIT shipment and delivery schedules.

These are all great challenges and offer the potential for highly profitable IoT solutions.  For the sake of my six grandchildren, let’s get going!

I’ll Speak Twice at Internet of Things Global Summit Next Week

I always love the Internet of Things Global Summit in DC because it’s the only IoT conference I know of that places equal emphasis on both IoT technology and public policy, especially on issues such as security and privacy.

At this year’s conference, on the  26th and 27th, I’ll speak twice, on “Smart Aging” and on the IoT in retailing.

2015_IoT_SummitIn the past, the event was used to launch major IoT regulatory initiatives by the FTC, the only branch of the federal government that seems to really take the IoT seriously, and understand the need to protect personal privacy and security. My other fav component of last year’s summit was Camgian’s introduction of its Egburt, which combines “fog computing,” to analyze IoT data at “the edge,” and low power consumption. Camgian’s Gary Butler will be on the retail panel with me and with Rob van Kranenburg, one of the IoT’s real thought leaders.

This year’s program again combines a heady mix of IoT innovations and regulatory concerns. Some of the topics are:

  • The Internet of Things in Financial Services and the Insurance sector (panel includes my buddy Chris Rezendes of INEX).
  • Monetizing the Internet of Things and a look at what the new business models will be
  • The Connected Car
  • Connected living – at home and in the city
  • IoT as an enabler for industrial growth and competition
  • Privacy in a Connected World – a continuing balancing act

The speakers are a great cross-section of technology and policy leaders.

There’s still time to register.  Hope to see you there!

 

 

AliveCor Mobile ECG: the IoT Can Save Your Life!

Got your attention? I find there’s nothing like the fear of death to focus one’s attention.

AiiveCor

AliveCor

Somehow I managed to forget blogging about one of the real highlights of last Spring’s RE-WORK Connect Summit here in Boston: the AliveCor Mobile ECG.*

Perhaps the most important thing about the Mobile ECG is that it is not just a helpful Quantified Self fitness device, but has past the rigors of the FDA licensing process, building both users’ and docs’ confidence in its reliability as a diagnostic tool, and also underscoring that  IoT devices can be significant parts of mobile health strategies. As Dr. Albert said to Forbes, ““No one cares whether their Fitbit is accurate or not …. A point of here or there. With ECGs, that’s different.”  In 2015 the FDA also approved an algorithm instantly letting you know if your reading was normal.

Because of the FDA approval, I put the Alive ECG in that special category of IoT devices and services that are important both in their own right and because of their symbolic role, especially when they meet my test of the IoT allowing “what can you do that you couldn’t do before,” in this case, a self-administered device that isn’t just generally informative about your fitness level, but also gives reliable medical documentation (especially since this allows that documentation to come as part of your activities of daily living, not requiring you to be in the artificial setting of a doctor’s office or hospital). 

I see it as a critical tool in my “Smart Aging” paradigm.

Atrial fibrillation (a common abnormal heart rhythm), the condition the ECG documents, is a huge, and growing, problem. The latest figures I could find, from four years ago, show that people who suffer from it are hospitalized twice as frequently as those who don’t have it, and the annual costs in the US alone are $26 billion.

I found the price on Froogle as low as $86 for one to fit a 5s. Sweeeet!

Here’s how it works.  The AliveCor is always available when you suspect you may have a heart problem, because it’s your smart-phone’s case! How brilliant is that?  You just rest the two metal pads on your fingers or chest to record an ECG in 30 seconds.

AliveCor ap reading

AliveCor ap reading

AliveCor has recently beefed up its app by adding the “Heart Journal.” After each reading, you just tap on a Symptom, Activity or Diet tag to add it to your recording, or, like a lot of Quantified Self apps, you can also add in notes between readings about possible indicators such as what you’re eating or your activities. The Beat Fluctuation feature lets you see how your heartbeat changes from beat to beat.

I couldn’t help but think how the AliveCor would have helped me last Winter, when Boston endured the 1-in-26,315-years-Winter-From-Hell (nope: no typo!) .  Like everyone else, I was perilously perched on my ladder, 20′ high, sticking my left hand through the ladder to pound away at an ice dam to my right with a REALLY heavy sledge hammer.  Unlike many others doing the same thing, I’m old enough (ahem..) that this counted as Risky Business.  After several hours, I started to feel chest pain.  Two days and many heart tests later, I emerged from the hospital with my own diagnosis confirmed: just a muscle strain caused by the weird position of my hammering. Couldn’t help thinking that if I’d had an AliveCor on my phone, I could have just whipped it out, taken a reading while on the ladder, and, as the web site sez,” AliveCor’s FDA-cleared Normal Detector will determine right away when your ECG is normal,” and gone back to chipping away!

Loved this quote about the AliveCor’s significance:

“Just as the introduction of thermometers and blood pressure cuffs in the past century helped patients to monitor their health, now the ability to record one’s own electrocardiogram – and get an interpretation instantly – empowers the 21st century patient to take charge of their heart health.” –Ronald Karlsberg, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute


 

*in my defense, I was mesmerized by AliveCor founder  Dr. David Albert’s colorful bowties….

 

The IoT Will Reinvent Replacement Parts Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The IoT Can Revolutionize Every Aspect of Small Farming

When the New York Times weighs in on an Internet of Things phenomenon, you know it’s about to achieve mainstream consciousness, and that’s now the case with what I like to call “precision agriculture,” enabled by a combination of IoT sensors in the fields and big data analysis tools.

The combination is potent and vital because an adequate supply of safe food is so central to our lives, and meeting that need worldwide depends increasingly on small farms, which face a variety of obstacles that big agribusinesses don’t encounter.

Chris Rezendes, a partner in INEX Advisors, who’s been particularly active with IoT-based ag startups, pointed out to me in a private communication that the problem is world-wide, and particularly matched to the IoT’s capabilities, because food security is such a ubiquitous problem and because (surprisingly to me) the agricultural industry is dominated more by small farms, not agri-biz:

“… most people do not have an understanding of the dimensions of food security beyond calories. Feeding the world demands more than just calories. It demands higher nutritional quotient, safety, affordability and accessibility.

“And all that translates in many models into a need for a more productive, profitable and sustainable small ag industry.

“Most folks do not realize that that there are nearly 700 million farmers on the planet. In the US alone, we have 2.3 million ag operations (and, BTW, the number of millennials entering the field is nearly doubling each year) — and that is not counting processing, packaging, distribution, or anything related to fisheries. Most of those farms are pretty small … less than 500 acres on average, and when you strip out the conglomerates and the hobbyist farmers, you are left with hundreds of thousands of small businesses averaging nearly $4 million per year in revenue.”

As reported by The Times‘ Steve Lohr, Lance Donny, founder of ag technology start-up, OnFarm Systems, said the IoT’s benefits can be even greater outside the US:

“.. the most intriguing use of the technology may well be outside the United States. By 2050, the global population is projected to reach nine billion, up from 7.3 billion today. Large numbers of people entering the middle class, especially in China and India, and adopting middle-class eating habits — like consuming more meat, which requires more grain — only adds to the burden.

“To close the food gap, worldwide farm productivity will have to increase from 1.5 tons of grain per acre to 2.5 tons by 2050, according to Mr. Donny. American farm productivity is already above that level, at 2.75 tons of grain per acre.

“’But you can’t take the U.S. model and transport it to the world,’ Mr. Donny said, noting that American farming is both highly capital-intensive and large scale. The average farm size in the United States is 450 acres. In Africa, the average is about two acres.

“’The rest of the world has to get the productivity gains with data,’ he said.”

The marketplace and entrepreneurs are responding to the challenge. The Times piece also reported that IoT-enabled ag is now big business, with a recent study by AgFunder (equity crowdfunding for ag tech!) reporting start-ups have snared $2.06 billion in 228 deals so far this year (compared to $2.36 billion in all of 2014, which was itself a record).  When you add in the big funding that companies such as Deere have done in IoT over the last few years (in case you didn’t know it, this 178-year old company has revolutionized its operations with the IoT, creating new revenue streams and services in the process) and the cool stuff that’s even being produced here in Boston, and you’ve got a definite revolution in the most ancient of industries.

Rezendes zeros in on the small farmers’ need for data in order to improve every aspect of their operations, not just yields, and their desire to control their data themselves, rather than having it owned by some large, remote conglomerates. Most of all, he says, they desperately needed to improve their profitability, which is difficult with smaller farms:

“Those 2.3 million farmers will deploy IoT in their operations when they know that the data is relevant, actionable, profitable, secure and theirs.

“They are not going to deploy third-party solutions that capture farmers’ operational intelligence, claim ownership of it, and leverage the farmers’ livelihood for the solution vendors’ strategic goals.

“For example, we went into a series of explorations with one ag co-op in the East this spring, after going into the exploration thinking that we might be able to source a number of productivity enhancement solutions for vegetable growers and small protein program managers. We were wrong.

“These farmers in this one part of a New England state had been enjoying years of strong, if uneven growth in their output. That was not their challenge: their challenge was with profitability.”

Think of small farms near you, which must be incredibly nimble to market their products (after toiling in the fields!) relying heavily on a mix of CSAs, local restaurants that feature locally-sourced foods, and on farmers’ markets. Rezendes says the small farmers face a variety of obstacles because of their need (given their higher costs) to attract customers who would pay prevailing or (hopefully) premium prices, while they face perceptual problems because small farmers must be jacks-of-all-trades:

“They have only one ‘route.’ They market, sell, and deliver in the same ‘call,’ so their stops are often longer than your typical wholesale food routes. They also have only one marketing, sales and delivery team – and that is often the same team that is tilling, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting and repairing, so they often show up on accounts wearing clothes, driving vehicles, and carrying their inventory in containers that aren’t in any manual for slick brand development manual!

“To complicate things, many of their potential customers could not accept the shipment for insurance purposes, because the farmers didn’t have labels that change with exposure to extreme temperature, sunlight or moisture, or digital temperature recorders.”

Who would think that the IoT might provide a work-around for the perceptual barriers and underscore local farms’ great advantage, the quality of the product?  The farmers suggested to the INEX team once they understood the basics of IoT technology that:

“if we could source a low-cost traceability solution that they could attach to their reusable transport items, they thought they could use that data for branding within the co-op and the regional market. This would reduce the time needed to market and sell, document and file.  The farmers also told us that if the solution was done right, it might serve their regulatory, permitting and licensing requirements, even across state lines.”

Bottom line: not only can sensors in the field improve yields and cut costs for fertilizing and water use through precision, but other sensors can also work after the food is harvested, providing intelligence that lets producers prove their safety, enhance their sales productivity, and drive profit that enables re-investment.

What a great example of the IoT at work, and how, when you start to think in terms of the IoT’s “Essential Truths,” it can revolutionize every aspect of your company, whether a 50-acre farm or a global manufacturer!  

The IoT Can Improve Safety and Profitability of Inherently Dangerous Job Sites

You may remember I wrote several months ago about a collaboration between SAP and SK Solutions in Dubai (interesting factoid: Dubai is home to almost 25% of the world’s cranes [assume most of the rest nest at Sand Hill, LOL], and they are increasingly huge, and that makes them difficult to choreograph.

I’m returning to the subject today, with a slightly broader emphasis on how the IoT might manage a range of dangerous job sites, such as mining and off-shore oil rigs, allowing us to do now that we couldn’t do before, one of my IoT Essential Truths.

I’m driven in part by home-town preoccupation with Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, and the inevitable questions that raises on the part of those still smarting from our totally-botched handling of the last big construction project in these parts, the infamous “Big Dig” tunnel and highway project.

I’m one of those incurable optimists who think that part of ensuring that the Olympics would have a positive “legacy” (another big pre-occupation in these parts) would be to transform the city and state into the leading example of large-scale Internet of Things implementation.

There are a couple of lessons from SAP and SK Solutions’ collaboration in Dubai that would be relevant here:

    • The system is real-time: the only way the Boston Olympic sites could be finished in time would be through maximizing efficiency every day. Think how hard that is with a major construction project: as with “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost,” the sensitive interdependence between every truck and subcontractor on the site — many of which might be too small to invest in automation themselves — is critical. If information about one sub being late isn’t shared, in real-time, with all the other players, the delays — and potential collisions — will only pile up. The system includes an auto-pilot that makes immediate adjustments to eliminate operator errors. By contrast, historical data that’s only analyzed after the fact won’t be helpful, because there’s no do-overs, no 2025 Olympics!
    • The data is shared: that’s another key IoT Essential Truth.  “Decision-makers using SK Solutions on a daily basis span the entire organization. Besides health and safety officers, people responsible for logistics, human resources, operations and maintenance are among the typical users.”  The more former information silos share the data, the more likely they are to find synergistic solutions.
    • The system is inclusive, both in terms of data collection and benefits: SK Solutions’ Founder and Inventor Séverin Kezeu, came up with his collision-avoidance software pre-IoT, but when the IoT became practical he partnered with SAP, Cisco, and Honeywell to integrate and slice and dice the data yielded by the sensors they installed on cranes and vehicles and other sources.  For example, the height of these cranes makes them vulnerable to sudden weather changes, so weather data such as wind speed and direction must be factored in, as well as the “machinery’s position, movement, weight, and inertia…. The information is delivered on dashboards and mobile devices, visualized with live 3-D images with customizable views. It’s also incredibly precise.”As a result, by using SAP’s HANA platform, a system developed to reduce construction accidents also makes predictive maintenance of the cranes and other equipment, and lets the construction companies monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as asset saturation, usage rates, and collisions avoided.  McKinsey reports that construction site efficiency could improve dramatically due to better coordination: “One study found that buffers built into construction project schedules allowed for unexpected delays resulting in 70 to 80 percent idle time at the worksite.Visibility alone can allow for shorter buffers to be built into the construction process.”

Several other great IoT solutions come to mind at the same time, both relating to dangerous industries. Off-shore oil rigs and mining were treated at length in the recent McKinsey omnibus IoT forecast, “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype:”

  • off-shore rigs: “Much of the data collected by these sensors [30,000 on some rigs] today is used to monitor discrete machines or systems. Individual equipment manufacturers collect performance data from their own machines and the data can be used to schedule maintenance. Interoperability would significantly improve performance by combining sensor data from different machines and systems to provide decision makers with an integrated view of performance across an entire factory or oil rig. Our research shows that more than half of the potential issues that can be identified by predictive analysis in such environments require data from multiple IoT systems. Oil and gas experts interviewed for this research estimate that interoperability could improve the effectiveness of equipment maintenance in their industry by 100 to 200 percent.” (my emphasis). 
  • mining: “In one mining case study, using automated equipment in an underground mine increased productivity by 25 percent. A breakdown of underground mining activity indicates that teleremote hauling can increase active production time in mines by as much as nine hours every day by eliminating the need for shift changes of car operators and reducing the downtime for the blasting process. Another source of operating efficiency is the use of real-time data to manage IoT systems across different worksites, an example of the need for interoperability. In the most advanced implementations, dashboards optimized for smartphones are used to present output from sophisticated algorithms that perform complex, real-time optimizations. In one case study from the Canadian tar sands, advanced analytics raised daily production by 5 to 8 percent, by allowing managers to schedule and allocate staff and equipment more effectively. In another example, when Rio Tinto’s (one mine) crews are preparing a new site for blasting, they are collecting information on the geological formation where they are working. Operations managers can provide blasting crews with detailed information to calibrate their use of explosives better, allowing them to adjust for the characteristics of the ore in different parts of the pit.”
 In all of these cases, the safety and productivity problems — and solutions are intertwined.  As McKinsey puts it:
“Downtime, whether from repairs, breakdowns, or maintenance, can keep machinery out of use 40 percent of the time or more. The unique requirements of each job make it difficult to streamline work with simple, repeatable steps, which is how processes are optimized in other industries. Finally, worksite operations involve complex supply chains, which in mining and oil and gas often extend to remote and harsh locations.”
Could it be that the IoT will finally tame these most extreme work situations, and bring order, safety, and increased profitability?  I’m betting on it.
http://www.stephensonstrategies.com/">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management