GE Eggminder: could this simple product build IoT awareness?

Posted on 17th July 2013 in home automation, Internet of Things

As someone who spends much of his time introducing the Internet of Things to people who’ve never heard of it, much less thought about how it might improve their lives, I think there might be something to the logic of this Fast Company article about the GE Eggminder.

The article points out that the IoT still provokes blank stares from most people, a fact that those of us who are immersed in it every day may tend to forget. As the subhead said, “EGG MINDER MIGHT BE DUMB PRODUCT DESIGN, BUT AS A PIECE OF MASS COMMUNICATION ABOUT WEB-CONNECTED PRODUCTS, IT JUST MIGHT BE GENIUS.”

GE Eggminder

The Eggminder doesn’t do much — tells you, via the app, how many eggs you have left in your fridge, but it’s the kind of simple-to-understand example of the kinds of connectivity possible through the IoT that is likely to make a lot of people say “Now I get it!”

It’s not life-changing, as the article points out, and maybe even dumb: “(How dumb? To quote Quirky’s own product evaluation video, ‘it’s a pain in the ass,’ ‘superfluous,’ ‘really silly,’ and ‘the height of laziness.’).  BTW: am I right in guessing that this might have been one of the award winners in the contest that GE, Quirky and Electric Imp held to find fast-to-market IoT products. which I praised as an example of the kind of collaboration it will take to capitalize on the IoT?

My personal favorites in terms of IoT products that are easy to understand are the SmartSlippers that can alert a caregiver when a frail senior is likely to fall, or the onesie that alerts parents that their baby has stopped breathing — in time to avoid SIDS. But you get the point: until people see something that could simplify their life — or save it, they may not understand exactly how revolutionary the IoT is.

So let’s have more Eggminders — simple products that will result in more “aha moments” — and speed public adoption of the IoT!

GE Eggminder

Automated factories: that’s not the IoT’s potential!

It’s easy to see why some people make the assumption that one of the results of the Internet of Things will be fully-automated factories.

After all, if automatic, real-time machine-2-machine data sharing would allow self-starting and self-regulating machinery, wouldn’t that allow us a utopian vision of completely autonomous manufacturing?

Instead, I think Bosch’s Volkmar Denner nailed it with this blog entry. He says that rather than complete automation:

“Instead, it’s about finding ways to increase agility. Putting that into figures, optimizing resource allocation within a more flexible production process can result in a jump in productivity of as much as 30 percent. Our goal is to be able to customize even the smallest unit volumes while retaining optimum productivity, and ultimately leading to achieve optimized multi-variant series production.”

I agree totally that what’s going to happen is an end to centralized management and top-down control of information (see my last post, on “Buckyball Management”!, with decentralized, self-management emerging that could threaten old industry leaders who don’t get it (see my posts about how GE does get it!) :

“… And I’m convinced that this shift will provide opportunities for established companies to offer new business models. But they too need to watch out: the IoTS is shaking up what until now has been very much a closed market, opening it up for entirely new players such as IT companies. Here, the IoTS is not just about connecting objects, machines, and systems. On the contrary, it’s also about how to use the data that this connectivity generates. And instead of using this information only within the plant itself, now everyone along the manufacturing chain can be given access to the data over the internet. Once again, the knowledge gained from these data can be applied to generate new business models.”

Denner says that one of the #IoT services that Bosch — the leading supplier of automotive sensors and one of the leaders in industrial sensors — is developing is predictive maintenance, which innovators such as GE (with its jet turbines) and the railroads (I’ve never traced my ancestry on my father’s side, but I harbor the possibility that I’m descended from the Stephensons, pere et fils, who invented the locomotive, so I have a warm spot in my heart for that industry…) are already doing.  As Denner says, “Having such a solution in place allows organizations to offer their customers new and improved levels of service, including a guarantee of reduced downtimes.”

So don’t count out the human element in manufacturing once the IoT is commonplace: in fact, it will be more important, and more valuable, than ever!

MQTT: important Internet of Things facilitator?

Posted on 9th May 2013 in automotive, Internet of Things, M2M, manufacturing

As I mentioned at the time, part of the news when IBM announced its new heavy-duty MessageSight appliance to handle the vast quantity of real-time data sharing between sensors on the Internet of Things was that MessageSight would use the MQTT protocol to communicate the data.

MQTT, or Message Queue Telemetry Transport (whew!), is an existing protocol for sharing telemetry-style data which OASIS recently proposed as a standard for M2M data sharing. According to IBM, its primary virtues are “low power consumption, high performance and reliability (which) allow real time updates that can be acted upon immediately,” — important because of the need to reduce sensors’ drain on their batteries. Other types of pervasive devices that might use the protocol include “mobile phones, embedded systems on vehicles, or laptops and full scale computers.”

According to GigaOm, “’s already in use for satellite transmissions and in medical and industrial settings where low-bandwidth communications are essential. ” In addition to IBM, it’s already supported by Kaazing, Red Hat, TIBCO, and Cisco.

According to The New York Times, MQTT advocates say it could be the M2M equivalent of the Web’s HTTP protocol.  Co-inventor Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM is one of my fav IoT experimenters (you’ve got to see his TedX talk about how he’s automated his home on the Isle of Wight — and didn’t stop there, making the whole island a laboratory for the IoT!). He and co-inventor Arlen Nipper wrote the first version of MQTT in 1998 for oil platform sensors.

As in several of my recent posts, the automotive industry was singled out by the NYT as one field where MQTT might be applied:

“Vijay Sankaran, director of application development for Ford, said improved message-handling technology will be vital to the company’s plans for automated diagnostics and new consumer services.

“Mr. Sankaran pointed to two examples. In the Focus Electric car, he said, Ford wants to get continual, detailed sensor data on the state and performance of the vehicle’s electric battery, then feed that information into product development.

“And drivers, Mr. Sankaran said, seek to do more things while in their cars. A stock trader, for example, might want to continue trading from the road. If the trader sent in an order to sell 30,000 shares of Apple, he said, that transaction must be reliably and securely communicated.

“’You need an advanced messaging engine for these kinds of services,’ Mr. Sankaran said.”

The Times article points out that for MQTT to achieve its full potential it must be adopted not only by IT companies such as IBM and Cisco, but also by “…industrial technology heavyweights including General Electric, Honeywell, Siemens and United Technologies.

These companies make many of the sensor-equipped big things in the so-called Internet of Things — like jet engines, power turbines and oil field equipment.”

MQTT looks like it will play a major role in allowing harvesting of data from sensor networks, but we’ll have to see how much of an IoT lingua franca it really becomes!

O’Reilly free e-book gives overview of “industrial internet”

Posted on 18th April 2013 in energy, Internet of Things, manufacturing, transportation

O’Reilly has published a free e-book,  “Industrial Internet,” (underwritten by GE, which, not so coincidentally, uses the industrial internet as the advertising slogan for its own involvement in the field…) about the “coming together to software and big machines.” It’s a great introduction to this crucial portion of the Internet of Things.

The message of the book? “With a network connection and an open interface that masks its underlying complexity, a machine becomes a Web service, ready to be coupled to software intelligence that can ingest broad context and optimize entire systems of machines.

“The industrial internet is this union of software and big machines… It promises to bring the key characteristics of the Web — modularity, abstraction, software above the level of a single device — to demanding physical settings, letting innovators break down big problems, solve them in small pieces, and then stitch together their solutions.”

Author Jon Bruner emphasizes that industrial internet devices don’t necessarily have to be connected to the public Internet: “…rather, it refers to machines becoming nodes on pervasive networks that use open protocols.”

Machines are reconceptualized as services, “…accessible to any authorized application that’s on the network. Those applications make it possible to simplify optimization of the physical devices without requiring as much knowledge. Most importantly, “…the industrial internet makes the physical world accessible to anyone who can recast its problems in terms that software can handle: learning, analysis, system-wide optimization. (my emphasis)”

Bruner points out that the bigger the network (think the entire US air traffic control system) the more optimized it can become. As Big Data takes over software intelligence “will become smarter and more granular.”

Hallmarks of the industrial internet will include:

  • fewer, smarter machines
  • less labor required to operate them
  • “Any machine that registers state data can become a valuable sensor when it’s connected to a network.”

One point that really struck me was that physical products will be able to be improved on the fly, rather than just when a new model is introduced — think of what that means, in particular, for cars, which can often last up to 15 years: it will become possible to change engine settings simply by a software upgrade transmitter via a smartphone app!

“A software update might include a better algorithm for setting fuel-air mixtures that would improve fuel economy. Initiatives like OpenXC8, a Ford program that gives Android developers access to drivetrain data, portend the coming of ‘plug and play intelligence,’ in which a driver not only stocks his car with music and maps through his phone, but also provides his own software and computational power for the car’s drivetrain, updated as often as his phone. One driver might run software that adjusts the car’s driving characteristics for better fuel economy, another for sportier performance. That sort of customization might bring about a wide consumer market in machine controls.

“This could lead to the separation of markets in machines and in controls: buy a car from General Motors and buy the intelligent software to optimize it from Google. Manufacturers and software developers will need to think in terms of broad platforms to maximize the value of both their offerings.”


The e-book includes a chapter on the crucial issue of security, arguing that, paradoxically, it may be easier to provide security on an Internet-based network — on the premise that the Internet is constantly challenged by hackers and constantly adapts — than on a more limited network. It mentions Shodan (I’ve been seeing a lot about that one recently!) and Basecamp2 as magnets that attract those who might want to hack the Internet of Things.

There’s also a chapter full of helpful case studies from pioneering industrial internet companies in fields including utilities, HVAC/building controls, automotive (I found that one particularly interesting), aviation, railroads (paradoxically, one of our oldest industries is among the most advanced in its use of sensors and other industrial internet technology, as I’ve reported previously), health care, and manufacturing. Any smart manager should get ideas for his or her company by reading them!

“Industrial Internet” is a must read! Download it today.





GE gets it about #IoT: collaboration will be critical attitude

Posted on 17th April 2013 in Internet of Things, management

I had a fascinating phone interview this week with Christina, “CK” Kerley, a brilliant marketing consultant who’s increasingly moving into the Internet of Things arena. I strongly suggest that you check out her videos.

She was most interested in my comments about the management implications of the IoT. I told her that a lot of companies that still practice traditional hierarchical, top-down management won’t be able to fully capitalize on the IoT because a critical element of it that isn’t fully understood is that for the first time, everyone in a company will be able to simultaneously share near-real-time information.

That’s going to bring about fundamental change to those companies that are willing to share information:

  • people will be able to carry out their responsibilities more efficiently because they will have real-time information
  • it will be possible to break down “silos” between departments, as personnel in various departments will have simultaneous information to the the same information, increasing collaboration
  • it will also be possible to share information simultaneously with your supply chain and customers, reducing inefficiency and increasing collaboration.

I’ll guarantee you: when that happens, unprecedented innovation will result, because individuals will be empowered as never before.

One company that clearly gets it is GE, which is really practicing what it preaches about the “industrial internet” (if you have access to the print edition of Time, check out their recent story about making it in America again — it features GE’s Schenectady factory manufacturing the new Durathon batteries — one of the ways it is able to compete with the Chinese is that the assembly line is laden with sensors to relay real-time information…).

I was fascinated by this story about GE’s collaboration with Quirky and Electric Imp to hold a contest to develop several IoT products in time for the holiday 2013 season.  The disparity in size between the goliath GE and Quirky and Electric Imp couldn’t be more pronounced, but GE opted to partner with them:

“GE will open thousands of its most promising patents and new technologies to the Quirky community for the development of new consumer products; and a co-branded product development initiative to build a full line of app-enabled connected devices for the home in areas such as health, security, water or air that will be developed using advanced manufacturing tools and technologies. This new line of products will be co-branded Wink: Instantly Connected.”

Yep, with the Internet of Things collaboration will be critical, and I suspect GE will head the pack!">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management