Sensors remain critical to spread of Internet of Things

What happens with sensor design, cost, and security remains front-and-center with the Internet of Things, no matter how much we focus on advanced analytical tools and the growing power of mobile devices.

That’s because, on one hand, truly realizing the IoT’s full potential will require that at least some sensors get to the low-power, tiny size and cheap costs needed to realize Kris Pister’s dream of “smart dust” sensors that can be strewn widely.

On the other hand, there’s the chance that low-end sensors that don’t include adequate security firmware can’t keep up with the changing nature of security risks and may give hackers access to the entire network, with potentially disastrous effects.

That’s why several reports on sensors caught my eye.

PWC released a report, Sensing the Future of the Internet of Things, zeroing in on sensor sales as a proxy for increased corporate investment in the IoT, and concluding that by that measure, “the IoT movement is underway.” Based on its 2014 survey of 1,500 business and technology leaders worldwide, there was one eye-popping finding: the US lags behind the entire rest of the world in planned spending on sensors this year: 26% of Asian and almost as many from South America (percentage not given)  followed closely by Africa, with 18%.  The surprising laggards? Europe with 8% and North America, dead last at only 7%.  Hello?????

Equally interesting was the company’s listing of the industry segments leading the deployment of sensors and examples of the sensors they’re using:

  • Energy & Mining: 33%. “Sensors continuously monitor and detect dangerous carbon monoxide levels in mines to improve workplace safety.”
  • Power and Utilities: 32%.  Instead of the old one-way metering, “Internet-connected smart meters measure power usage every 15 minutes and provide feedback to the power consumer, sometimes automatically adjusting the system’s parameters.”
  • Automotive: 31%.  “Sensors and beacons embedded in the road working together with car-based sensors are used for hands-free driving, traffic pattern optimization and accident avoidance.”
  • Industrial: 25%. “A manufacturing plant distributes plant monitoring and optimization tasks across several remote, interconnected control points. Specialists once needed to maintain, service and optimize distributed plant operations are no longer required to be physically present at the plant location, providing economies of scale.”
  • Hospitality: 22%. “Electronic doorbells silently scan hotel rooms with infrared sensors to detect body heat, so the staff can clean when guests have left the room.”
  • Health Care: 20%. “EKG sensors work together with patients’ smartphones to monitor and transmit patient physical environment and vital signs to a central cloud-based system.”
  • Retail: 20%. “Product and shelf sensors collect data throughout the entire supply chain—from dock to shelf. Predictive analytics applications process this data and optimize the supply chain.”
  • Entertainment: 18%. “In the gaming world, companies use tracking sensors to transfer the movements of users onto the screen and into the action.”
  • Technology: 17%. “Hardware manufacturers continue to innovate by embedding sensors to measure performance and predict maintenance needs before they happen.”
  • Financial Services: 13%. “Telematics allows devices installed in the car to transmit data to drivers and insurers. Applications like stolen vehicle recovery, automatic crash notification, and vehicle data recording can minimize both direct and indirect costs while providing effective risk management.”

The surprises there were that health care penetration was so low, especially because m-health can be so helpful in diagnosis and treatment, while the examples of telematics seemed off the mark in the financial services category. Why not examples such as ApplePay?

More compelling were the relatively high rates of sensor deployment in high-stakes fields such as energy, utilities, and automotive: those are such huge industries, and the benefits of real-time data are so compelling that they show the IoT is really maturing.

Finally, the percentage of companies investing in sensors grew slightly, from 17% to 20%, with 25%of what PWC labels “Top Performers” are investing in them compared to 18% the previous year. Surprisingly, most companies don’t get it about sensors’ importance: only “14% of respondents said sensors would be of the highest strategic importance to their organizations in the next 3–5 years, as compared to other emerging technologies.”

Most important, 54% of those “Top Performers” said they’d invest in sensors this year.


 

Sensors’ promise as the size decreases — radically — and functionality increases was highlighted by The Guardian.  It focused on PragmaticIC Printing, a British firm that prints tiny, hairlike sensors on plastics. CEO Scott White’s hope is that:

” the ultra-thin microcircuits will soon feature on wine bottles to tell when a Chablis is at the perfect temperature and on medication blister packs to alert a doctor if an elderly patient has not taken their pills.

“With something which is slimmer than a human hair and very flexible, you can embed that in objects in a way that is not apparent to the user until it is called upon to do something. But also the cost is dramatically lower than with conventional silicon so it allows it to be put in products and packaging that would never justify the cost of a piece of normal electronics,” said White.

 

These uses certainly meet my test of real innovation: what can you do that you couldn’t do before. Or, as White puts it, “It is the combination of those factors [price and size] which allows us to start thinking about doing things with this which wouldn’t even be conceivable with conventional silicon based electronics.”

Another article that really caught my eye regarded a new category of “hearable” — and perhaps even, more radically, “disappearables” –sensors which the headline boldly predicted “As Sensors Shrink, Wearables Will Dis-appear.” But they were barely here in the first place, LOL!  The article mentioned significant breakthroughs in reducing sensors’ size and energy requirements, as well as harvesting ambient energy produced by sources such as bodily movement:

“Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research calculates that, for example, the heat in a human eyeball could power a 5 milliwatt transmitter – more than enough, he says, to power a connection from a smart contact lens to a smartphone or other controlling device.”

 The same article mentioned some cutting-edge research such as a Google/Novartis collaboration to measure glucose levels in tears via a contact lense, and an edible embedded microchip — the size of a grain of sand — and powered by stomach juices, which would transmit data by Bluetooth.
Elsewhere, a sampling of sensor design breakthroughs in recent months show the potential for radical reductions in costs and energy needs as well as increased sensitivity and data yield:

HOWEVER, as I said above, here’s what worries me. Are developers paying enough attention to security and privacy? That could be a real downfall for the IoT, since many sensors tend to be in place for years, and the nature of security challenges can change dramatically during that time.  Reducing price can’t be at the expense of security.

Let me know what steps you’re taking to boost sensor security, and I’ll mention them in a future post!

The #IoT Can Kill You! Got Your Attention? Car Security a Must

The Internet of Things can kill you.

Got your attention? OK, maybe this is the wake-up call the IoT world needs to make certain that privacy and security are baked in, not just afterthoughts.

Markey_IoT_car_reportI’ve blogged before about how privacy and security must be Job 1, but now it’s in the headlines because of a new report by our Mass. Senator, Ed Markey (Political aside: thanks, Ed, for more than 30 years of leadership — frequently as a voice crying in the wilderness — on the policy implications of telecomm!), “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk,” about the dangers of not taking the issues seriously when it comes to smart cars.

I first became concerned about this issue when reading “Look Out, He’s Got an Phone,!” (my personal nominee for all-time most wry IoT headline…), a litany of all sorts of horrific things, such as spoofing the low air-pressure light on your car so you’ll pull over and the Bad Guys can get it would stop dead at 70 mph,  that are proven risks of un-encrypted automotive data.  All too typical was the reaction of Schrader Electronics, which makes the tire sensors:

“Schrader Electronics, the biggest T.P.M.S. manufacturer, publicly scoffed at the Rutgers–South Carolina report. Tracking cars by tire, it said, is ‘not only impractical but nearly impossible.’ T.P.M.S. systems, it maintained, are reliable and safe.

“This is the kind of statement that security analysts regard as an invitation. A year after Schrader’s sneering response, researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California–San Diego were able to ‘spoof’ (fake) the signals from a tire-pressure E.C.U. by hacking an adjacent but entirely different system—the OnStar-type network that monitors the T.P.M.S. for roadside assistance. In a scenario from a techno-thriller, the researchers called the cell phone built into the car network with a message supposedly sent from the tires. ‘It told the car that the tires had 10 p.s.i. when they in fact had 30 p.s.i.,’ team co-leader Tadayoshi Kohno told me—a message equivalent to ‘Stop the car immediately.’ He added, ‘In theory, you could reprogram the car while it is parked, then initiate the program with a transmitter by the freeway. The car drives by, you call the transmitter with your smartphone, it sends the initiation code—bang! The car locks up at 70 miles per hour. You’ve crashed their car without touching it.’”

Hubris: it’ll get you every time….

So now Senator Markey lays out the full scope of this issue, and it should scare the daylights out of you — and, hopefully, Detroit! The report is compiled on responses by 16 car companies (BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen (with Audi), and Volvo — hmm: one that didn’t respond was Tesla, which I suspect [just a hunch] really has paid attention to this issue because of its techno leadership) to letters Markey sent in late 2013. Here are the damning highlights from his report:

“1. Nearly 100% of cars on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.

2. Most automobile manufacturers were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.

3. Security measures to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics are inconsistent and haphazard across all automobile manufacturers, and many manufacturers did not seem to understand the questions posed by Senator Markey.

4. Only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real-time, and most say they rely on technologies that cannot be used for this purpose at all. (my emphasis)

5. Automobile manufacturers collect large amounts of data on driving history and vehicle performance.

6. A majority of automakers offer technologies that collect and wirelessly transmit driving history data to data centers, including third-party data centers, and most do not describe effective means to secure the data.

7. Manufacturers use personal vehicle data in various ways, often vaguely to “improve the customer experience” and usually involving third parties, and retention policies – how long they store information about drivers – vary considerably among manufacturers.

8. Customers are often not explicitly made aware of data collection and, when they are, they often cannot opt out without disabling valuable features, such as navigation.”

In short, the auto industry collects a lot of information about us, and doesn’t have a clue how to manage or protect it.

I’ve repeatedly warned before that one of the issues technologists don’t really understand and/or scoff at, is public fears about privacy and security. Based on my prior work in crisis management, that can be costly — or fatal.

This report should serve as a bit of electroshock therapy to get them (and here I’m referring not just to auto makers but all IoT technologists: it’s called guilt by association, and most people tend to confabulate fears, not discriminate between them. Unless everyone in IoT takes privacy and security seriously, everyone may suffer the result [see below]) to realize that it’s not OK, as one of the speakers at the Wearables + Things conference said, that “we’ll get to privacy and security later.” It’s got to be a priority from the get-go (more about this in a forthcoming post, where I’ll discuss the recent FTC report on the issue).

I’ve got enough to worry about behind the wheel, since the North American Deer Alliance is out to get me. Don’t make me worry about false tire pressure readings.


PS: there’s another important issue here that may be obscured: the very connectedness that is such an important aspect of the IoT. Remember that the researchers spoofed the T.P.M.S. system not through a frontal assault, but by attacking the roadside assistance system? It’s like the way Target’s computers were hacked via a small company doing HVAC maintenance. Moral of the story? No IoT system is safe unless all the ones linking to it are safe.  For want of a nail … the kingdom was lost!

Another Personal IoT Story: my next car will have auto braking

Posted on 16th January 2015 in automotive, Essential Truths, transportation

Sorry to burden you with another personal Internet of Things story, especially since this one’s nowhere near as nice as how car_crashsmart sockets made peace in my house!

For the second time in less than a month, I was hit by a deer at night on Rt. 27 in Medfield, MA. If you know our area, its in the outer suburbs, and plagued by deer, who are mating at this time of year, and are absolutely nuts. Two hours later, I’m still shaking, and extremely lucky to have escaped a serious injury.

I don’t know if  it would have avoided a collision, because they were running sooo fast, but you can be sure that my next car with be a smart one, with sensors and an automatic braking system like the ones on TMercedes, BMWs and high-end Hyundai‘s.  Here’s something where the smart version wouldn’t just simplify something, but would observe one of my “Essential Truths” of the IoT, “what can you do now that you couldn’t do before.”

No driver who was focused on the road ahead could have possibly seen these deer rushing out of the pitch-black woods on the other side of the road (or, if he did, he would have crashed into something else because of taking his eyes off the road), but a motion-sensor coupled to the brakes would have detected motion in time to apply the brakes and maybe avoid the crash.

Tonight was one of the most traumatic events of my life, between the accident and the first time I’ve ever heard a gunshot up close, as the police put the doe out of her misery. If I can invest in IoT technology to avoid it happening again, I’ll be at the head of the line!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Consider how Collective Blindness has limited our business horizons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Useful analogy?

Another compelling reason for “precision manufacturing”: saving planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla Roadster

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

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

I’d have to agree it was.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet of Things critical to attack global warming

I haven’t understood for a long time why there isn’t universal support for serious — and creative — measures to reduce global warming.

I first did a speech on the subject in 1996, and suspect it’s because — wrongly — people confuse energy efficiency with sacrifice, when in fact it’s just using creativity and technology to reduce waste and inefficiency. Who, especially those who style themselves as “conservatives,” could be opposed to that (although recent polls show those Tea Party types just won’t look at the facts..)?

At any rate, as far as I’m concerned, debate on this issue and toleration of “deniers” is no longer an option — we must act, and act NOW — because of the reports by two esteemed scientific panels this week that even if we DO act, catastrophic melting of part of the Antarctic may already be irreversible, ultimately raising ocean levels by 10′ — or more:

“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.”

(Aside to Senator Rubio: perhaps scuba expeditions around the former Miami may be a big tourist draw after the apocalypse …).

The Internet of Things can and must play a critical role in such a strategy.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s smart grid initiative, especially its demonstration program in Austin, TX, shows the promise for integrated, large scale programs to turn the electricity system into a truly integrated one where customers will be full partners in demand-side management AND in generation, through small-scale, distributed production from sources such as solar and wind.

Smart AC modlet

But each of us can and must act individually to reduce our carbon footprints, which brings me to a neat device from Thinkeco, the SmartA/C “modlet.” It plugs into the wall socket where you plug in your window-mounted A/C unit, then the A/C plugs into the modelet.

You create a schedule to automatically turn your A/C on and off to save energy. The thermostat also senses the room temp and turns your A/C on and off to maintain a temperature around your set point.  And, rather than keep the A/C on all day when you’re at work just so the apartment will be cool when you get home, you can regulate the temperature from the smartphone app, turning it down before you leave the office.

Several utilities, including Con Ed in NYC, now provide the units to their customers, and they can really make a difference: in New York City alone, there are 6.5 million room air conditioners, which account for up to 2,500 megawatts of demand, or 20 percent of peak demand in the city.  What could be better: an apartment that’s cool when you need it, lower utility bills, and a reduction in greenhouse gases?

Or, there’s Automatic, which plugs into your car’s diagnostic port, and, through Bluetooth, sends you “subtle audio clues” (evidently “SLOW DOWN, IDIOT” doesn’t modify behavior) when it senses you’re accelerating or braking too rapidly or speeding. It also compiles a weekly overall score for your driving — the higher the score, the more economically you’re driving. Hopefully, you’ll modify your driving behavior, save gas money, and reduce emissions (Automatic also has some nice additional features, such as automatically notifying emergency officials if you crash).

I’m a grandfather, and I’m sick about the world that we’re leaving our grandchildren. Let’s all resolve, whether through IoT technology or personal habit change, to tread lightly on the earth and reduce our carbon footprint. It’s no longer a choice.

It’s Time for IoT-enabled “Real-Time” Regulation

Pardon me, but I still take the increasingly-unfashionable view that we need strong, activist government, to protect the weak and foster the public interest.

That’s why I’m really passionate about the concept (for what it’s worth, I believe I’m the first to propose this approach)  that we need Internet of Things enabled “real-time regulation” that wouldn’t rely on scaring companies into good behavior through the indirect means of threatening big fines for violations, but could actually minimize, or even avoid, incidents from ever happening, while simultaneously improving companies’ operating efficiency and reducing costly repairs. I wrote about the concept in today’s O’Reilly SOLID blog — and I’m going to crusade to make the concept a reality!

I first wrote about “real-time” regulation before I was really involved in the IoT: right after the BP Gulf blow-out, when I suggested that:

The .. approach would allow officials to monitor in real time every part of an oil rig’s safety system. Such surveillance could have revealed the faulty battery in the BP rig’s blowout preventer and other problems that contributed to the rig’s failure. A procedure could have been in place to allow regulators to automatically shut down the rig when it failed the pressure test rather than leaving that decision to BP.”

Since then I’ve modified my position about regulators’ necessarily having first-hand access to the real-time data, realizing that any company with half a brain would realize as soon as they saw data that there might be a problem developing (as opposed to having happened, which is what was too often the case in the past..) would take the initiative to shut down the operation ASAP to make a repair, saving itself the higher cost of dealing with a catastrophic failure.

As far as I’m concerned, “real-time regulation” is a win-win:

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

Even though the IoT is not fully realized (Cisco says only 4% of “things” are linked at present), that’s not the case with the kind of high-stakes operation we’re most concerned with.  GE now builds about 60 sensors into every jet, realizing new revenues by proving the real-time data to customers, while being able to improve design and maintenance by knowing exactly what’s happening right now to the engines.  Union Pacific has cut dangerous and costly derailments due to bearing failures by 75% by placing sensors along the trackbed.

As I said in the SOLID post, it’s time that government begin exploring the “real-time regulation” alternative.  I’m contacting the tech-savvy Mass. delegation, esp. Senators Markey and Warren, and will report back on my progress toward making it a reality!

My piece in Harvard Biz Review blaming #370 crash on lack of “Internet of Things” thinking!

Hey, everyone else has weighed in with an explanation on why Flight 370 crashed, so I did, today, with a piece in the Harvard Business Review blog in which I blamed it on lack of “Internet of Things thinking.”

May sound crazy, but I think it’s true, because of two of my “Essential Truths” about the IoT — two things that we can do now but never could before, which open up a huge range of possibilities for change:

  • limitless numbers of devices and people can share the same data on a real-time basis
  • for the first time, we can get real-time data on how devices are actually operating, even conditions deep within the device

In this case, if Malaysia Air had only been willing to pay $10 more per flight, it could have had a wide-ranging flow of real-time data from the plane’s engines. Under regular conditions this data could have allowed the company to tweak the engines’ performance, while also allowing them to do “predictive maintenance,” catching minute problems as they first emerged, in time to make safe, economical repairs rather than waiting until a catastrophic failure.

AND, it also would have allowed them during the crisis two weeks ago to have immediately switched to monitoring the engine data when voice transmissions ended, so they would have known immediately that the plane was still flying, in time to have launched planes to intercept the plane and land it safely.

HOWEVER, what was missing was this “Internet of Things thinking,” so they didn’t think expansively about the value of sharing the data.  They saved $10 per flight, but lost 290 people. Somehow the math doesn’t add up…

#IoT ESSENTIAL TRUTHS: IF REAL-TIME DATA WAS SHARED MH370 MIGHT HAVE BEEN SAVED!

Pardon me for “shouting” in this headline, but I just had a stark realization that if one of my Internet of Things Essential Truths had been practiced by Rolls-Royce and Malaysia Air, Flight 370 might have been saved:

We have to start asking, where are there situations where real-time data from a variety of sources could help coordinate inter-related activities to improve safety & efficiency and reduce costs?

What I realized was that if Malaysia Air and Rolls-Royce and the air traffic controllers had simultaneous access to the real-time data from the engines’ sensors (rather than Rolls-Royce alone having it, simply to measure engine performance), the airline would have realized that the plane was still in flight, and planes could have been scrambled immediately to search for it, rather than waiting days before the data came to light.

That’s a bone-chilling reminder that with the IoT, we must always ask the question:

who else could benefit from having simultaneous access to real-time data?

Wow!

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