Why Global Warming Must Be IoT Focus for Everyone

Thanksgiving 2015I want to offer you six great reasons — five of them are seated with my wife and me in this photo — why we all should make global warming a primary focus of IoT projects for the foreseeable future.

There simply is no way to sugar-coat the grim news coming out of the Paris climate talks: even with the most dramatic limits that might be negotiated there, scientists warn we will fall short of the limits in temperature rises needed to avoid global devastation for my grandchildren — and yours.

Fortunately, the Internet of Things can and must be the centerpiece of the drastic changes that we will have to make collectively and individually to cope with this challenge:

“Perhaps one of the most ambitious projects that employ big data to study the environment is Microsoft’s Madingley, which is being developed with the intention of creating a simulation of all life on Earth. The project already provides a working simulation of the global carbon cycle, and it is hoped that, eventually, everything from deforestation to animal migration, pollution, and overfishing will be modeled in a real-time “virtual biosphere.” Just a few years ago, the idea of a simulation of the entire planet’s ecosphere would have seemed like ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky thinking. But today it’s something into which one of the world’s biggest companies is pouring serious money.”

Let me leave you with a laundry list of potential IoT uses to reduce global warming compiled by Cisco’s Dr. Rick Huijbregts:

  • Urban mobility “apps” predict how we can move from A to B in a city in the most environmental friendly manner. Real time data is collected from all modes of city transportation.
  • Using solar energy to power IT networks that in turn power heating, cooling and lighting. Consequently, reduce AC/DC conversions and avoid 70% electricity loss.
  • IP­based, and POE (Power of Ethernet) LED lighting in buildings reduced energy by 50% because of LED and another 50% because of control and automation.
  • Sensors (Internet of Things) record environmental highs and lows, as well as energy consumption. Data analytics allow us to respond in real­time and curtail consumption.
  • Real time insight in energy behaviour and consumption can turn into actionable reduction. 10% of energy reduction can be achieved by behavioural change triggered by simple awareness and education.
  • Working from home while being connected as if one were in the office (TelePresence, Cisco Spark, WebEx, just to name a few networked collaboration tools) takes cars off the road.
  • Grid modernization by adding communication networks to the electrical grid to allow for capacity and demand management.
  • Planning, optimizing, and redirecting transportation logistics based on algorithms, real­time weather and traffic data, and streamlined and JIT shipment and delivery schedules.

These are all great challenges and offer the potential for highly profitable IoT solutions.  For the sake of my six grandchildren, let’s get going!

Data Is the Hub: How the IoT and Circular Economy Build Profits

Fasten your seatbelts! I think I’ve finally zeroed in on the Internet of Things’ (IoT’s) most important potential economic benefit and how it could simultaneously help us escape the growing global environmental crisis:

make real-time IoT data* the hub of a circular economy and management mentality. It’s both good for the bottom line and the planet.

I started writing about circular business models back in the 90’s, when I consulted on profitable environmental strategies, i.e., those that were good both for the corporate bottom line and the planet.  It galled me that executives who railed about eliminating inefficiency thought reducing waste was for tree-huggers. Semantics and lifestyle prejudices got in the way of good strategy.

Ford’s River Rouge Plant (1952 view)

I could see that it was vital that we get away from old, linear models that began with extracting resources and ended with abandoned products in landfills. Ford’s massive 1 x 1.6 mile River Rouge Plant, the world’s largest integrated factory, was the paradigm of this thinking: ore was deposited at one end, made into steel, and cars came out the other (Hank’s penchant for vertical integration even led him to buy rubber plantations! If you have any illusions about the ultimate impossibility of top-down control, watch the PBS documentary on Ford — he simply couldn’t share power, even with his own son — and it almost ruined the company). The linear model worked for a long time, and, truth to tell, it was probably the only one that was feasible in the era of paper-and-pencil information flow:  it was so hard to gather and transmit information that senior management controlled who got what information, and basically threw it over the transom to the next office.

As for any kind of real-time information about what was actually happening on the factory floor: fugetaboutit: all that was possible was for low-level functionaries to shuffle along the assembly line, taking scheduled readings from a few gauges and writing them on a clipboard. Who knew if anyone ever actually read the forms, let alone made adjustments to equipment based on the readings?

Fast forward to 2015, and everything’s changed!

The image of the circular corporation popped back into my head last week while I was searching for an image of how the IoT really can change every aspect of corporate operations, from product design to supply chain management.  I was happily surprised that when I Googled “circular economy” I found a large number of pieces, including ones from consulting gurus Accenture and McKinsey (the most comprehensive report on the concept is probably this one from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation), about the bottom-line and environmental benefits of switching from a linear (‘take-make-dispose’) pattern.

But how to make the circular economy really function? That’s where the IoT comes in, and, in my estimation, is THE crucial element.

Visualize everything a company does as a circle, with IoT-gathered real-time data as its hub. That’s crucial, because everything in a profitable circular company revolves around this data, shared in real time by all who need it.

When that happens, a number of crucial changes that were impossible in the era of linear operations and thinking and limited data became possible for the first time:

  • you can optimize assembly line efficiency because all components of the factory are monitored by sensors in real time, and one process can activate and regulate another, and/or managers and assembly-line workers can fine-tune processes (think of the 10,000 sensors on the GE Durathon battery assembly line).
  • you can integrate the assembly line with the supply chain and distribution and sales network as never before (provided that you share the real-time data with them), so materials are delivered on a just-in-time basis) and production is dictated by real-time data on sales (the SAP smart vending machine, integrated with logistics, is a great example).
  • you can optimize product redesign and upgrades and speed the process, because sensor data from the products as they are actually used in the field is immediately fed back to the designers, so they have objective evidence of what does, and doesn’t work properly (think of how GE has improved its product upgrade process). No more ignorance of how your products are actually used!
  • from an environmental standpoint, having sensors on key components can make it possible for you to recover and profitably remanufacture them (closing the loop) rather than having them landfilled (I was excited to learn that Caterpillar has been doing this for 40 years (!) through its Reman Program, which “reduces costs, waste, greenhouse gas emissions and need for raw inputs.”).
  • you can create new revenue streams, by substituting services for actual sales of products.  I’ve written before about how GE and RollsRoyce do this with jet engines, helping clients be more efficient by providing them with real-time data from jet turbines in return for new fees, and Deere does it with data feeds from its tractors. Now I learn that Phillips does this, with industrial lighting, retaining ownership of the lighting: the customers only pay for the actual use of the lights. Phillips also closes the loop by taking the lights back at the end of their life and/or upgrading them.

As I’ve written before, creating the real-time data is perhaps the easier part: what’s harder is the paradigm shift the circular economy requires, of managers learning to share real-time data with everyone inside the enterprise (and, preferably, with the supply chain, distribution network, retailers, and, yes, even customers). When that happens, we will have unprecedented corporate efficiency, new revenue streams, satisfied customers, and, equally important reduce our use of finite resources, cut pollution, and tread lightly on the earth.  There you have it: the secret to 21st-century profitability is:

real-time IoT data, at the hub of the circular enterprise.


*Oh yeah, please don’t drop a dime on me with the grammar police about the title: in fact, I’m a retired colonel in the Massachusetts Grammar Police, but I’ve given up the fight on “data.” From my Latin training, I know that data are the plural form of datum, but datum is used so infrequently now and data with a singular verb has become so common that I’ve given up the fight and use it as a singular noun.  You can see the issue debated ad nauseum here

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.