Who are you calling the “Internet of Things”? It’s time to define what we are actually talking about and why it’s important
IoT is a buzzword we’ve all known for years. Some like to dismiss it offhand as a “lazy millennial gimmick” that doesn’t really solve problems. Why would I need to be able to voice activate my toaster or remote access my fridge? Well, it seems that those people have failed to understand the true magnitude of what connected devices can do, and I think the problem there lies with the name. IoT, or Internet of Things, is just way too broad. It can literally be anything on the planet. So if we want to take a more business-focused look at this now huge market, I suggest a change in our terminology, IoT will now mean Internet of Tools – how connectedness can help industry tools and devices work better and more efficiently.
The first tool we’ll discuss is one almost all of us use every day – the automobile. Now yes, we’ve all heard about self-driving cars changing the driving and transportation game, and the recent X-Men movie, Logan, dabbled with how our freight management will look once trucks can drive themselves. I’m talking about something different altogether. We all know many businesses rely solely on cars and trucks for their business – these could be freight haulers, delivery companies, and of course, the bustling business of clown cars.
Think about how a truly connected automobile can change these businesses. First, maintenance problems will not just be easy to diagnose, they will be predicted, so that a new timing belt can be ordered for a car in the fleet before it breaks, according to the probability of it breaking. The belt can then be replaced before it even breaks, making sure to avoid an accident. Data from streetlights, inclines and average journey time will optimize not only travel times but fuel consumption as well. And the ability to track exactly where your car is in the world and where it’s going, down to the direction the steering wheel is turned right now, will be invaluable to avoiding navigational errors that can cost hours, and which of course equals money.
If the Internet of Tools could be summed up in one word, it can be simply be called “data”. What we’re talking about basically is the ability to collect all the data possible about your operations and creating actionable, sometimes even automatic insights, and acting on them. Nowhere is this more clear than in manufacturing. When every machine and every worker on the factory floor is accounted for, compared, and measured at every moment, you can fix small issues in manufacturing efficiency that can spell out major changes to the bottom line. You can rotate staff making sure they all work at peak efficiency, on the stations that suit them most, avoiding degeneration of quality. You can repair any machines that aren’t working well, you can even make sure lights are on only in currently active areas of the factory and save on electricity costs.
By creating a fully connected factory, managers can meet quotas, order supplies, and increase efficiency with the click of a button. You can even test if playing background music or changing the lunch hour of employees alters the efficiency of the factory. What’s exciting about Internet of Tools in the factory setting, is that manufacturing is all about efficiency, and data is the key to optimizing it.
Speaking of efficiency, there’s one field where optimization is even more important than manufacturing: agriculture.
Arguably the most important industry on the planet, agriculture is already making strides in IoT and will continue to make more, with a whole new field dubbed “Precision” Agriculture. At the end of the day, more than any other business, agriculture is a science. It’s all botany, biology, chemistry, meteorology, and so on. When you add that to the incredible amounts of data we can collect from soil, plant samples, combines, machinery, weather balloons, and many other connected devices, you can get an autonomous field that can optimize to the millisecond when a cob of corn needs to be picked, down to the milliliter how much water it needs at any moment of the day, and in the future, maybe even using underground rails to move whole fields from one place to another, according to what the weather is going to be like. With margins on food in general and produce specifically getting smaller and smaller, precision agriculture is the way of the market, and thus, the future.
So yeah, you might not feel like you need a minute to minute update from your thermostat or a Bluetooth-enabled toilet, but the tools of the future will be connected, which will create more efficiency, reducing waste, pollution, and cost of almost everything you buy and consume. In the future, the connected industry will seem like digital marketing of today – you can’t live without it, and trying to avoid it will only make you a dinosaur that will eventually go extinct.