With the hype around IoT settling somewhat, it is time for a reality check as to how both businesses and consumers across key industry segments can get up to speed implementing this technology and reaping real benefits from it
– Adeesh Sharma
We have been repeatedly informed by top market research organisations and vendors that the IoT market is expected to grow from 13 billion Internet-connected devices in 2013 to 50 billion in 2020. But for this to happen there are certain industry segments that have to commence work now to actually make it happen and for them to work there has to be a business case for them to eventually benefit through this work. This article dwells on some of the key industry verticals that are aggressively pushing towards IoT and the reasons why they are so bullish.
One of the key verticals where IoT can play a big role in saving people’s lives through timely and planned monitoring of their vital parameters. Most companies have their standalone devices out in the market that do the job of connecting patients to doctors or even health insurance companies through the internet. But a better system can be built around the growing ecosystem of medical apps that can leverage the billion mobile phones around the globe that can pick data through sensors placed on the body and relay the same to health centers.
The recently unveiled Research Kit is a macro IoT information gathering application that works with Apple’s HealthKit mobile app which turns the iPhone into a portable mHeatlh hub. It is already integrated with a number of wearables; connected scales, sleep monitoring devices and even a stationary bike. The ResearchKit aims to take the micro focus of single patient monitoring and expand it exponentially by allowing the 700+ million iPhones out there to act as mobile medical research devices.
Another iPad app, LaunchPad, is used by Novartis representatives all around the world. It allows them to immediately access data the doctor they are speaking to finds most relevant to his patients, whether it is efficacy in women, safety in the elderly or potential interactions with other drugs that they regularly prescribe. It includes interactive graphs and patient case studies, and is easy to navigate.
Likewise we’ve seen a few mobile devices that can be connected to the body to relay heart monitoring information to healthcenters through the use of mobile apps installed on the patient’s Android phones. One key issue here is about finding subjects for clinical trials for a number of reasons; time, geography, etc. By having people opt-in with their existing connected devices, medical research centers can get a cross section of users across different, social & environmental subsections. Also, there are privacy issues involved with people being reluctant to share private information via mobile apps for the fear of pilferage of information.
The adoption of wearable devices is expected to increase, providing key information on a person’s activities, health and fitness. Sensors or chips will increasingly provide patients’ vital signs in real-time to medical providers to enhance the quality of care. This technology is also expected to help monitor and safeguard children on the move in public places and those suffering from cognitive conditions, including Alzheimer’s.
However, such medical apps and devices have the potential to seriously disrupt the medical research industry in a way we’ve never before seen.
Oil and gas industry
The global oil and gas industry’s hunt for hydrocarbons in increasingly remote, extreme environments is driving the need for Internet of Things solutions within the industry. The number of devices with cellular or satellite connectivity deployed in oil and gas applications around the world was 423,000 at the end of 2013 which is estimated to rise by 21.4 percent to 1.12 million by 2018.
The tightening of regulations in the oil and gas industry, coupled with accidents and cyberattacks is driving the shift towards Internet of Things solutions. Another major driver is operational efficiency, such as maintaining uptime in production systems and optimizing operations to cope with pricing pressures. So, instead of flying an expert out to a remote oil and gas site to troubleshoot a problem, video technology can allow remote experts and onsite workers to share data and collaborate on solving an issue. They can easily collate the well and sensor data to manage a number of onshore or offshore wells.
The falling costs of sensors and introduction of simple, easy-to-use next generation sensors are allowing companies to more easily deploy sensors. The increase in sensors in onshore and offshore oil and gas operations can generate one to two terabytes of data per day per well. These sensors can be used in a number of settings, from wells to pipelines.
IoT can also bring along benefits in unconventional oil and gas plays, where companies are adopting a manufacturing approach to drilling and contending with low gas prices. They can have more visibility in operations in challenging environments such as ultra-deepwater drilling.
Semiconductors are required more and more to play a key role in the growing interconnectedness of things due to the advent of cloud, as very large amounts of data has to be transmitted to and received on wired or wireless devices. The increasing demand for cloud services shall push demand for servers and data centers. Also, the continued reduction in the cost of manufacturing semiconductors makes it feasible to install them on a range of everyday devices that were previously unconnected. In its Internet of Things (IoT) 2013 to 2020 Market Analysis report, IDC estimates that spending on IoT technology and services will touch $8.9 trillion by 2020, or a 7.9% CAGR. IDC’s estimates continue to rise, given the growing enthusiasm for IoT, which should generate demand for billions of semiconductors.
PC market growth will be moderate at best in the next few years but this shall be more than made up by the growth in mobile devices. A lot of the growth in the next few years will come from price-sensitive emerging markets, which will continue to pressure margins of component suppliers. The mobile devices shall continue to evolve through better functionality and experience as processors within them shall operate at higher speeds and consume lesser power. Emerging product categories like 3D printers, health and fitness devices, smart watches, Ultra HD television displays and smart thermostats will see the strongest growth alongwith smartphones and tablets.
The wireless infrastructure in the communications market shall continue to grow as transition to 3G and 4G infrastructure continues. Spending on smart grids and intelligent metering applications is expected to see particularly strong growth. The automotive industry shall continue to fuel growth in semiconductor tech because the consumption of electronic components for safety, infotainment, navigation and fuel efficiency continues to increase.
Amazon is already using flying drones and employing droves of autonomous robots in some of its huge warehouses. These robots are the size of a lawn mower, with hidden wheels that can drive them in all directions and crisscross the smooth floor of the warehouse, lifting and shuttling shelves with different kinds of merchandise. Cameras located underside scan coded directions painted on the floor while the central computer wirelessly gives orders to the cars to deliver the goods to human packers. When a robot receives the order for certain merchandise it identifies the shelf containing the ware, lifts it just a few inches off the floor and carries it to a worker, who only has to place the item into a box on a conveyer belt to the shipping department. Such warehouse robots could save Amazon as much as 40 percent of the cost of fulfilling orders.
In-store sensors such as Bluetooth beacons can track smartphones throughout the store and record path-to-purchase data that can later be used to optimize store layouts. They can also be used to target shoppers as they traverse the aisles, providing contextual information and offers as they go. And this extends to checkout, where shoppers can use their NFC-equipped contactless cards to pay for goods. At the retailers’ end, through the use of smart wearables such as Google Glass, store managers could get reports on the go as they scan the store, comparing each department’s plan versus actual sales. They could also scan bar codes to get extended product information as well as inventory positions.
At home you could imagine pressing a button on the wall of the laundry room whenever you run out of detergent so a new bag is automatically ordered at your favorite online store for home delivery. Such smart switches could be configured for different products and placed around the home for automating other mundane tasks. Connecting home automation to e-commerce sites could be the next wave of retailing.
Factories and plants that are connected to the Internet are more efficient, productive and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. The increase of sensors and readers across the manufacturing and distribution chain can streamline and maximize practices, greatly enhancing productivity. IoT can provide end-to-end visibility across manufacturing operations. Automotive companies are already using IoT-enabled technology to predict faults, quickly respond to maintenance conditions and take proactive action. Also, by integrating factory-floor operations with core business processes can optimize production and real-time updates from machine data can be used to gain predictive analytics to automate parts and consumable ordering to maximize revenue.
For instance, imagine a truck with some 50-100 sensors, but they aren’t coordinated. If connected and with geolocation, you can see traffic jams in advance and do rerouting. If you see a problem with a truck you can proactively schedule maintenance. Connected logistic capability enables managers to manage large depots and hubs. All this improves customer service. With new visibility into manufacturing, companies are capturing data and using it to reduce downtime, for predictive maintenance, building analytics and enabling business solutions. Likewise, by installing sensors and actuators at different points in an assembly line, managers can instantly find out the status of production. They are able to share that information and data with coworkers in other departments.