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Perspective Internet of Things

IoT: The quiet revolution

Jul 11, 2016

Welcome to the connected world, welcome to the Internet of Things
Billions of smart objects have already found their way into everyday life and this spread of connectivity is set to continue.
The connected world is becoming a reality. One glance at the automotive industry will allay any lingering doubts of that. Car manufacturers in particular are discovering what the Internet of Things has to offer. Customers are already ordering cars with lane assist systems that stop the car from drifting out of the lane. Or with traffic jam assistance that automatically keeps the car a safe distance from the vehicle in front. This is all possible thanks to the IoT. There is no end in sight to the automotive industry's creativity. Manufacturers work intensely on making everyday driving experiences even more enjoyable for their customers. This includes, for instance, garage doors that open automatically and cars that drive out of the garage on their own.

IoT worth billions in revenues

Cars, containers, combine harvesters, and toothbrushes – everything that can be connected to the net is connected to the net. Increasing numbers of devices that communicate with one another are quietly finding their way into everyday life. According to market research analysts Gartner, more than 6.4 billion things are already connected to the global data network. This number is expected to virtually quadruple by 2020. And the financial prospects are bright, too. Global revenues generated with IoT products and services are currently around the 892 billion U.S. dollar mark, and the market analysts at Machina Research predict that this will climb to four trillion by 2025. Why? For industry, IoT providers are promising masses of potential for improvement. Companies are collecting more accurate data faster, which means decisions made using these data are quicker, better and more targeted, processes can be automated, and new products and services developed. To top it off, they are shaking up markets pioneering new business models.

Disparate devices, data, and systems

At the same time, this degree of connectivity brings with it new challenges for businesses. In particular, the diversity as well as the sheer number of involved devices, data, and systems often put companies off. For users, maintaining secure, reliable operations means configuring devices uniformly and keeping them upgraded to the latest firmware. But that's not all. In order to analyze and automate internal business processes, data from various different devices must be harmonized, linked up, and fed into other IT systems.

The energy industry's first IoT solutions

In order to do so, companies are turning to technologies that have since become sophisticated and affordable. The phrase "Internet of Things" might only have been around since the end of the 1990s, but the concept has been a familiar one since the late 1970s. It was an American company that presented a system capable of taking electricity meter readings via the telephone network. But back then it received a lukewarm reception. The idea was considered too expensive and under-developed, and generated very little interest. What followed was a long period of quiet on this front, until British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton coined the name "Internet of Things" two decades later.

Zero fault tolerance for real-time applications

What is more, the IoT still has to deal with its share of setbacks. Skeptics use every opportunity to criticize new technologies. For example, zero fault tolerance is a major challenge inherent in many applications. Errors in co-controlled assembly lines that work entirely autonomously without human interaction are unfortunate and should not occur. But when lives depend on IoT solutions exchanging data in real time, then the fault tolerance must be zero.

IoT pioneer: the self-driving car

The most prominent example in this field also comes from the automotive industry: the self-driving car. The tragic accident involving a Tesla driver in Florida on May 7, 2016 is a reminder of what can happen when car drivers put their trust wholly in the hands of technology. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the incident. One thing is certain: The autopilot system was switched on and failed because the technology did not work correctly despite its redundant sensing systems. The Tesla's integrated cameras use radar and ultrasonic sensors that exchange information and incorporate data from other vehicles when making decisions.

Reducing IoT risks

Tesla regrets the accident and is doing its utmost to help the U.S. safety agency find the cause, yet at the same time is advertising the reliability of its vehicles in a blog post. The company says that the crash was the first fatal incident in more than 130 million miles driven using the autopilot system. By comparison, the global figure for vehicles involved in fatal accidents is around 60 million miles. The accident will not obstruct the quiet revolution of the IoT. What it does show, however, is that despite tapping major opportunities, every technological advancement harbors some risks. According to a 2016 report by the VDE Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies on the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, 59 percent of companies believe that the IoT improves the competitiveness of a location. Those surveyed also ranked new business models, products, and systems as the main potential of the IoT. Efficiency gains and the close intermeshing of processes within companies and with customers were also seen as important benefits of the IoT.