“Enchanted Objects” — adding delight to the IoT formula

Posted on 21st January 2015 in design, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, marketing, smart home

For good reason, most discussions of opportunities with the Internet of Things focus on the potential to improve businesses’ operating efficiency or creating new revenue streams.

But what if the IoT could also bring out the hidden 6-yr. old in each of us? What if it could allow us to invent — enchanted objects?

That’s the premise of IoT polymath David Rose’s Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things

Rose is both a stalwart of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneering, serial IoT entrepreneur. Oh, and he’s got an impish grin that shows you he is still as delighted at tinkering with things as he was as a little boy in his grandfather’s workshop:

“Grandfather’s tools were constructed and used with a respect for human capabilities and preferences. They fit human bodies and minds. They were a pleasure to work with and to display. They made us feel powerful, more skilled and capable than we were without them. They hung or nestled quietly, each in its place, and never made us feel stupid or overwhelmed. They were, in a word, enchanting.”

Rose fears that’s not the path we’re heading down with most current techno-products, dismissing them as “cold, black slabs … [resulting in a ] colder, more isolated, less humane world. Perhaps it is more efficient, but we are less happy.”  Yea!

By contrast, enchanted objects resonate with our deepest desires:

“The experiences that do enchant us reach into our hearts and souls. They come from the exotic place of  ‘once upon a time.’ They help us realize fundamental human desires. The fantastic technologies we have invented over the centuries , the ones of ancient tales and science fiction, enable us to do things that human beings earnestly want to do but cannot do without a little (or a lot) of help from technology. They make it possible to fly, communicate without words, be invisible, live forever, withstand powerful forces, protect ourselves from any harm, see farther and travel faster than the greatest athletes. They are tools that make us incredible, supercapable versions of ourselves. These are the visions and stories of our most beloved authors of fiction and fantasy — Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling and the Grimms — and the realities of fantastic characters such as Cinderella, Dick Tracy, James Bond, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The designers creating enchanted objects must, therefore, think of themselves as something more than manipulators of materials and masters of form. They must think beyond pixels, connectivity, miniaturization , and the cloud. Our training may be as engineers and scientists, but we must also see ourselves as wizards and artists, enchanters and storytellers, psychologists and behaviorists.”(my emphasis).

Rose discusses a number of the products he’s designed, such as the Ambient Orb, which can be hacked to unobtrusively (the physiological phenomenon that makes them work is called “pre-attentive processing” in case you’re looking for a term to throw around at a cocktail party…) display all sorts of information, from stock market trends to energy consumption and the Ambient Umbrella, whose handle glows if rain is predicted (that one hasn’t been a big success, which I predicted — it’s as easy to lose an expensive, “smart” umbrella as a $10 one. I prefer the IFTTT recipe that has your HUE lights blink blue if rain is predicted, reminding you to take your utterly conventional, cheap umbrella…), as well as one of my favorites, the Vitality Glow Cap, which can reduce the billions in wasted medical spending attributable to people not taking their prescriptions.

Skype Cabinet

And then there’s one that every child or grandparent will love, the Skype Cabinet, a square that sits in your living room, and, when the door is opened, shazaam, there is your grandchild or grandparent, instantly connected with you via Skype. Enchantment indeed!

However, the real meat of the book is his methodology for those of us to whom enchantment doesn’t come as naturally. First, Rose lists seven basic human drives that designers should try to satisfy: omniscience, telepathy (human-to-human communication), safekeeping, immortality, teleportation (that’s high on my personal list after my recent up-close-and-personal encounters with rogue deer.), and expression.

Then Rose explains how technology, especially sensors, will allow meeting these desires through products that sense their surroundings and can interact with us.  In terms of my IoT “Essential Truths,” I’d classify enchanted objects as exemplifying “What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before,” because we really couldn’t interact with products in the past.  Other examples in this category that I’ve cited before range from the WeMo switches that helped me make peace with my wife and the life-saving Tell-Spec that lets you find food allergies.

Other thought-provoking sections of the book include “Seven Abilities of Enchantment,  “Five Steps on the Ladder of Enchantment,” and “Six Future Fantasies,” the latter of which is must reading for product designers and would-be entrepreneurs who want to come up with fundamentally new products that will exploit the IoT’s full potential for transformation.

The other day I finally met with Mahira Kalim, the SAP IoT marketing director who whipped my thinking into shape for the “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” i-guide.  She asked me for examples of the kind of radical transformation through the IoT that are already in existence.  I suspect that some of Rose’s inventions fall into that category, but, more important, Enchanted Objects provides the roadmap and checklist for those who want to create the next ones!  Get it, devour it, and profit from it!

Is GE the future of manufacturing? IoT + nanotech + 3D-printing

The specific impetus for this post was an article in The Boston Globe about heart stents that fit perfectly because they’re 3-D printed individuallly for each patient.

GE jet engine 3-D-printed fuel nozzle

That prompted me to think of how manufacturing may change when three of my favorite technologies — nanotech, 3-D printing and the Internet of Things — are fully mature and synergies begin (as I’m sure they will) to emerge between the three.

I’m convinced we’ll see an unprecedented combination of:

  • waste elimination: 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.
  • as with the stents, 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.

Guess what?  The same company is in on the cutting edge of all three: General Electric (no, I’m not on their payroll, despite all my fawning attention to them!):

  • Their Industrial Internet IoT initiative is resulting in dramatic changes to their products, with built-in sensors that relay data constantly to GE and the customer about the product’s current status, allowing predictive maintenance practices that cuts repair costs, optimizing the device’s performance for more economical operations, and even allowing GE to switch from selling products to leasing them, with the lease price determined dynamically using factors such as how many hours the products are actually used.  Not only that, but they practice what they preach, with 10,000 sensors on the assembly line at their Durathon battery plant in Schenectady, plus sensors in the batteries themselves, allowing managers to roam the plant with an iPad to get instant readings on the assembly line’s real-time operation, to fine-tune the processes, and to be able to spot defective batteries while they are still in production, so that 100% of the batteries shipped will work.
    They’re also able to push products out the door more rapidly and updating them quicker based on the huge volumes of data they gather from sensors built into the products: “… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies. “’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he [William Ruh] said. ‘It used to take three years.’”
  • They’ve made a major commitment to 3-D printing, with 100,000 3-D printed parts scheduled to be built into their precision LEAP jet engines — a big deal, since there’s not a great deal of fault tolerance in something that may plunge to the earth if it malfunctions! As Bloomberg reported, “The finished product is stronger and lighter than those made on the assembly line and can withstand the extreme temperatures (up to 2,400F) inside an engine.”  They’re making major investments to boost the 3-D printers’ capacity and speed.  Oh, and did I mention their precedent-setting contest to crowd-source the invention of a 3-D printed engine mount?
  • They’re also partnering with New York State on perhaps the most visionary technology of all, nanotech, which manipulates materials on the molecular level. GE will focus on cheap silicon carbide wafers, which beat silicon chips in terms of efficiency and power, leading to smaller and lighter devices.

GE is the only member of the original Dow-Jones Index (in 1884) that still exists. As I’ve said before, I’m astounded that they not only get it about IoT technology, but also the new management practices such as sharing data that will be required to fully capitalize on it.

Thomas A. Edison is alive and well!

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

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

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

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

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

Best quick intro to the IoT that I’ve seen!

Following up on my last post, I’ve found what I think is the best quick intro to the Internet of Things!

Internet of Things,” released today by the Center for Data Innovation (hadn’t heard of them! BTW, they also get points in my book for covering XBRL, the magic potion for data…) is a quick read: it has short intros to most of the major consumer-oriented areas affected by the IoT, from healthcare to home automation, combined with two examples for each of those topics. I hadn’t heard of some of the examples (thanks, authors Daniel Castro and Jordan Misra!), although most are frequently cited ones ranging from the Nest thermostat to the Vitality GlowCap.  All in all, they’ll show almost any skeptic that the IoT is already a reality and that it will change their life!

The report concludes with brief policy recommendations for government and business alike:

  • (for government agencies) lead by example, i.e., include funding for sensors in bridge projects, etc. Yea (you listening, Obama Administration?).
  • reduce barriers to data sharing (this harkens back to my Data Dynamite book: data gains value by being shared!).
  • give consumers access to their data (again, something I wrote about in Data Dynamite).
  • avoid inundating consumers with notices (a fine line, since they need to be informed, in plain English, about how their data will be used).
  • regulate the use of data, not the collection (in line with Mercatus Center’s advice)

All in all, a nice intro to the IoT!

BTW: Thanx to ol’ friend Pete O’Dell for turning me on to this report!

General Electric Keeps on Practicing What They Preach!

I’m beginning to sound like a schill (no, not a typo, just a bad joke: short for [Curt] Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher — sorry, I can’t get those guys out of my head today…) for GE, but it’s hard to argue with their impressive record of walking their talk about the “Industrial Internet,” their marketing term for the subset of the Internet of Things dealing with the industrial sector.

The latest evidence? A report today in the NYTimes‘ “Bits” blog that GE has just announced “14 more products that combine industrial equipment, Internet-linked sensors and software to monitor performance and analyze big streams of data. G.E. had previously announced 10 similar industrial products.”

Equally impressive, the Industrial Age behemoth turned nimble IoT leader said that by next year, almost all industrial products it makes will have built-in sensors and Big Data software to analyze the huge data streams those sensors will create.

Right now I’m writing an e-book on IoT strategy for C-level executives (not sure if I can disclose the customer — it’s a big one!) and GE VP of Global Software William Ruh, used the news to fire a shot across the bow at companies that are slow to realize a fundamental paradigm shift in manufacturing, product design and maintenance is well underway:

““Everyone wants prediction about performance, and better asset management… The ideas of speed, of information velocity, is what will differentiate the winners from the losers.”

You in the corner office: got your attention?

Equally important, given my insistence that the IoT is all about collaboration, GE simultaneously announced partnerships with Cisco, AT&T and Intel. It had already inked deals with Accenture and Amazon’s cloud subsidiary and has also invested in  Pivotal, an Industrial Internet app creator.

Smart companies will follow GE’s lead in radically reforming the product design process to capitalize on the rapid feedback on performance that the Industrial Internet products’ built-in sensors yield. According to Ruh, they’re switching to an iterative design process, with rapid changes based on data from the field:

“… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies.

“’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he said. ‘It used to take three years.’” (my emphasis)

That change is definitely going to make it into my e-book! Brilliant example of how the IoT, by allowing companies to think in terms of systems dynamics, especially feedback loops, will have profound impacts on the design and manufacturing processes, integrating them as never before (oh, and don’t forget, the data from the built-in sensors will also allow companies to start marketing services — such as leasing jet turbines, with the lease cost based on the actual amount of thrust the engines create)!

Combined, that’s definitely a paradigm shift!

Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s a brief rundown of the products themselves and the industries served. They are clustered under the Predictivity name, and are powered by Predix, a new IoT platform:

  • The Drilling iBox System (oil and gas)
  • Reliability Max (oil and gas
  • Field 360 (oil and gas)
  • System 1 Evolution (oil and gas)
  • Non-destructive Testing Remote collaboration (oil and gas)
  • LifeMax Advantage (power and water)
  • Rail Connect 360 Monitoring and Diagnostics (transportation)
  • ShipperConnect (transportation)
  • Flight Efficiency Services (aviation)
  • Hot SimSuite (healthcare)
  • Cloud Imaging (healthcare)
  • Grid IQ Insight (energy management)
  • Proficy MaxxMine (energy management)

Given the diversity of industries the Predictivity products serve and GE’s global clout, I predict this level of commitment will radically accelerate the IoT’s adoption by big business, as well as accelerating the payback in terms of lower operating, energy and maintenance costs, and reduced environmental impacts.

Will GE’s competitors in these sectors get on board, or will they be left in the dust?

 

Essential Truth: the IoT Democratizes Innovation

Posted on 23rd September 2013 in Essential Truths, Internet of Things

I’ve got Internet of Things innovation on the brain right now: I’m writing a speech specifically to deliver to college audiences to motivate them about careers in the field, so I keep seeing more cool stuff that young people are doing in the field. You know, when you’re a hammer, all you see are nails…

This one was in the current Popular Science, about a young programmer named Nathan Broadbent, who had a hunch, based on two of his preoccupations:

“Web developer Nathan Broadbent loved automating everyday tasks. He also loved frozen dinners and wanted to program his microwave to prepare them. He suspected an oven could harness Universal Product Codes — the bar codes found on almost all food packaging — to download and execute cooking instructions all by itself.”

It was pretty obvious to him, but why wasn’t anyone doing it? “‘We’re at this point with technology that we have everything we need to make this possible, but no one’s doing it.'”

Nathan Broadbent

So, voila, Broadbent hacks his microwave, integrating a Raspberry Pi board and a custom circuit board. He added on a wi-fi adapter, microphone, speaker and barcode scanner for good measure.

Now, when the scanner identifies a frozen food, the Pi downloads the cooking instructions from a online database he created, programming the microwave to cook the food! He can even issue voice commands. And, shades of the Tweeting Toaster, it can even tweet when the cooking is done.

Reading about Broadbent and another young IoT innovator, smart “onsie” creator Dulcie Madden (whose background is in public health, not electronics) leads me to posit another of my Iot Essential Truths, closely related to the earlier one of empowering individuals:

“The Internet of Things democratizes innovation, by giving them tools that make it easier for people who have particular interests, pains, or other motivations, to invent solutions that will make their lives simpler and/or richer, and to find solutions to problems that large companies haven’t even thought of.”

To me, that’s pretty cool (heck, I’m even designing an IoT app myself — because of a chance occurrence that triggered an “aha moment” — if you’re a hungry young app designer, I’m looking for a partner, so contact me!). I wasn’t able to make it to the Maker Faire in NYC this last weekend, but I suspect that a ton of great ideas will emerge from the cross-fertilization that came out of that event!

PS: here’s the Raspberry Pi microwave!