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…


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?


Can Internet of Things help solve the Malaysia 370 mystery?

Posted on 13th March 2014 in Internet of Things, M2M, transportation

It appears from a Wall St. Journal article  that Malaysia Air 370’s Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines may have had built-in sensors

Rolls-Royce Trent 800 jet engine

that allowed the engines to send real-time operating data to Rolls-Royce for analysis. According to the WSJ, the data may indicate that the plane flew for an additional four hours after its last radio transmissions.

Whether or not this proves to be true, it does give a preview of what life will be like when the IoT is fully functional: real-time data will become a critical tool in transportation management and safety. In this case the data might help locate the wreckage. In others, the fact that it will allow traffic controllers, whether on the ground or in the air, to react to danger in real time, will save lives. 

Follow-up: Winners in Postscapes’ annual best-of-the-IoT contest

Following up on my recent post on my favorite nominees for the 2013 Postscapes best-of-the-IoT contest, here are the actual winners.  What do you think??

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