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

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

       Zero Marginal Cost Society

Zero Marginal Cost       Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


FedEx package…

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



C by GE smart bulbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, Thanks, Jeff Immelt!

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


Energy to Power the #IoT: it’s really just a matter of child’s play

Posted on 12th June 2015 in energy, environmental, Internet of Things, M2M, mobile, sensors, wearables

Saving the Earth from global warming is going to require reducing our use of fossil fuels, yet we keep coming up with new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, that will require even more energy. So how do we reconcile the two needs?

In part, through harvesting ambient energy, and, most cleverly, kinetic energy generated in the process of doing something else, from moving liquids through pipelines, wheels as vehicles move, or even as we humans move about in our daily lives.

As you’ll see from the examples below, there’s enough projects in the field that I’m confident a growing number of sensor networks will be powered through ambient energy in the future. Equally important, in the not-too-distant future we’ll laugh that we once plugged in our smartphone and watches to charge them, rather than harvesting the energy we generate every day simply by moving around.

I saw an incredible example at the recent Re-Work IoT Summit in Boston, courtesy of Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Play. By my calculations, Matthews’ own energy output would allow shutting down 2.3 nukes: before her session began, I saw this striking woman on the stage — Matthews –skipping rope.

In high heels!

Then the fun began. Or should I say, the energy production.

Matthews, an MIT grad, works largely in Africa, creating very clever playthings that — ta da! — harvest energy, such as the very cool Soccket ball shown in the video above (you can see here how it’s made).  It has a battery built in that’s charged by the large amount of kinetic energy created by kids on the playground who are just having fun.  At night, they take the ball home and, voila, plug a socket into the side of the ball and they have precious light to read by. How incredibly cool is that?

The Pulse jump rope powers two lights

Matthews’ jump rope (“The Pulse”)? The kinetic energy from that  powers TWO lights!

But there’s a lot of other neat stuff going on in terms of capturing kinetic energy that could also power IoT devices:

  • Texas Instruments has harvested energy to run sensors from changes in temperature, vibrations, wind and light.  I knew about harvesting the energy from pipeline vibrations, but hadn’t thought about getting it from the temperature differential between the interior of pipes carrying hot water and the outside air. TI says that yields a paltry 300-400 millivolts, but they’ve figured out how a DC-to-DC switching converter can increase it to 3-5 volts — enough to charge a battery.
  • TI is also researching how kinetic energy could charge your phone:”To power wearables, the company has demonstrated drawing energy from the human body by using harvesters the size of wristwatch straps.. It has worked with vibration collectors, for instance, about the same size as a key.”It’s possible that a smartwatch could use two harvested power sources, light and heat, from the body. These sources may not gather enough power to keep a smartwatch continuously operating without action by the user to charge it, but it may give the user’s device a lot more battery life.”
  • Perhaps most dramatically of all, as I reported before, there’s some incredible research on ambient energy underway at the University of Washington, where they use “ambient backscatter,” which: ‘…leverag[es] existing TV and cellular transmissions, rather than generating their own radio waves. This novel technique enables ubiquitous communication where devices can communicate among themselves at unprecedented scales and in locations that were previously inaccessible.’”

    PoWiFi, harvesting ambient energy

    Now, a member of that team,Vamsi Talla, has harvested energy from ambient wi-fi,  “PoWiFi,” as it’s called, to power a temperature sensor and to let a surveillance camera take a picture every 35 minutes (given how pervasive surveillance cameras are today, that could really be a godsend — or a nightmare, depending on your perspective). “For the experiment, hot-spots and routers were modified to broadcast noise when not being used for data transmission. This is because Wi-Fi signals are broadcast in bursts across different frequencies which makes the energy too intermittent to be useful.”  (TY 2 Jackie Bassett of  SealedSpeed for this one).

Bottom line: forget those charging pads that are starting to crop up. In the future, you’ll be powering your phone, and the very devices that sensors are monitoring will be powering them. A win for the IoT — and the environment!

PS: jury’s still out on whether we’ll all have to register with FERC as utilities….

Global Warming: The IoT Can Help Fill Some of the Gap Due to Government Inaction

I won’t dwell on politics here, but  97% of scientists agree that global warming is real, and, according to the latest United National report this month, it is worse than ever (according to the NYTimes,

“The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.”). (my emphasis)

Thus, it should be noted that the chances of significant government action to curb global warming during the next two years have vanished now that Senator James Inhofe will chair the the Senate Environmental Committee (I won’t repeat any of the clap-trap he has said to deny global warming: look it up…).

While probably not enough to combat such a serious challenge, the Internet of Things will help fill the gap, by helping bring about an era of unprecedented precision in use of energy and materials.

Most important, the IoT is a critical component in “smart grid” electrical strategies, which are critical to reducing CO2 emissions.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Because a smart grid can adjust demand to match intermittent wind and solar supplies, it will enable the United States to rely far more heavily on clean, renewable, home-grown energy: cutting foreign oil imports, mitigating the environmental damage done by domestic oil drilling and coal mining, and reducing harmful air pollution. A smart grid will also facilitate the switch to clean electric vehicles, making it possible to “smart charge” them at night when wind power is abundant and cheap, cutting another huge source of damaging air pollution.”

And then there’s generating electricity from conventional resources: GE, as part of its “industrial internet” IoT strategy, says that it will be able to increase its gas turbines’ operating efficiency (which it says generate 25% of the world’s electricity) by at least 1%.

Equally important, as I’ve written before, “precision manufacturing” through the IoT will also reduce not only use of materials, but also energy consumption in manufacturing.

In other important areas, the IoT can also help reduce global warming:

  • Agriculture: conventional farming is also a major contributor to global warming. “Climate-smart” agriculture, by contrast, reduces the inputs, including energy, needed while maximizing yield (Freight Farms, which converts old intermodal shipping containers into self-contained “Leafy Green Machine” urban farming systems, is a great example!).
  • IoT-based schemes to cut traffic congestion.  As The Motley Fool (BTW, they’re big IoT fans of the IoT as a smart investment opportunity) documents, “1.9 billion gallons of fuel is consumed every year from drivers sitting in traffic. That’s 186 million tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions each year just in the U.S. “

The Motley Fool concludes that, combined, a wide range of IoT initiatives can reduce carbon emissions significantly while increasing the economy’s efficiency:

“A recent report by the Carbon War Room estimates that the incorporation of machine-to-machine communication in the energy, transportation, built environment (its fancy term for buildings), and agriculture sectors could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent annually. That’s 18.2 trillion pounds, or equivalent to eliminating all of the United States’ and India’s total greenhouse gas emissions combined, and more than triple the reductions we can expect with an extremely ambitious alternative energy conversion program.

“Increased communication between everything — engines, appliances, generators, automobiles — allows for instant feedback for more efficient travel routes, optimized fertilizer and water consumption to reduce deforestation, real-time monitoring of electricity consumption and instant feedback to generators, and fully integrated heating, cooling, and lighting systems that can adjust for human occupancy.”

It always amuses me that self-styled political conservatives are frequently the ones who are least concerned with conserving resources. Perhaps the IoT, by making businesses more efficient, and therefore more profitable, may be able to bring political conservatives into the energy efficiency fold!

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.

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!

IoT will streamline supply chain, reduce environmental impact

There’s a new Deloitte white paper that echoes a theme I’ve been repeating since 1990: smart businesses eliminate inefficiency by eliminating environmental waste.

I predict that the Internet of Things will speed that trend by allowing real-time data sharing throughout the supply chain, further increasing its efficiency.

The white paper, “The Evolving Supply Chain: Lean and Green,” says that:

“Leading companies are now finding that a green supply chain doesn’t just improve the public’s perception of their company and brand; it can save money by using resources more efficiently and reducing waste. It can also help to manage risk by insulating a company from shortages and price shocks, and by reducing the chances that a supplier will do something that gets them in hot water.”

It continues by identifying five key factors to reduce:

“Leading companies create value by modifying their supply chains to manage five key inputs and outputs: energy, carbon, water, materials and waste. These five resources are ubiquitous throughout the supply chain and thus offer vast potential for improved efficiency and cost reduction. Energy is expensive to use; carbon, in the form of emissions, represents dollars gone up in smoke; scarcity and commodity inflation are driving up the price of water and materials; and waste is a potential profit thrown away.”

In my speeches on the “Zero-Waste Economy,” I used to suggest that executives that were contemptuous of tree-hugging environmentalists and could care less about generating wastes should just substitute the work inefficiencies for waste. What hard-nosed company could justify inefficiency?

It’s great to see that the message is finally getting mainstream acceptance, and I really do think that the IoT will boost supply chain efficiency and thereby reduce environmental impacts by allowing everyone in the supply chain who needs operating data to share it simultaneously and in real time.

So there’s really no excuse any more for not practicing smart environmentalism, is there?

PS: To get the specifics about how to translate smart environmentalism into profits, check out Gil Friend’s Natural Logic. He’s got the operating manual.

Sol Chip: progress in harvesting energy for Internet of Things

Posted on 22nd April 2013 in energy, environmental, Internet of Things

Reducing sensors’ energy needs and meeting them efficiently and without the need for battery replacements is one of the Internet of Things’ important technological obstacles.

That’s why it’s noteworthy that Sol Chip Ltd., an Israeli firm, has won the Technical Development Award  at the 2013 IDTechEx Energy Harvesting & Storage and Wireless Sensor Networks Event.

Its new, patented solar battery technology, the Sol-Chip Energy Harvesterintegrates solar energy sources and low-power electronic devices, eliminating the need for a solar panel while providing long-lasting power for wireless sensors and mobile devices.

The PV cell produces six selectable voltage levels: 0.7 volt, 1.4 volt, 2.1 volt, 2.8 volt, 4.2 volt, 8.4 volt.

Applications include active RFID, security and military, agriculture, livestock sensors, and medical technology.