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Defining the first ‘I’ in ‘IIoT’

Rick Nelson, Executive Editor

The Internet of Things in 2015 reached the peak of Gartner’s “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies,” from which it will descend into the “trough of disillusionment,” climb the “slope of enlightenment,” and, in five to 10 years, according to the research firm, reach the “plateau of productivity.” One related topic, wearables, already was headed toward the trough of disillusionment while another, the connected home, was still in the “innovation trigger” phase of the cycle. Both also should reach the plateau in five to 10 years.

Indeed, the hype has been extensive, and one respondent to a recent reader survey said he or she didn’t want to hear about it anymore. But the IoT is a topic to ignore at your peril. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) alone could add $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2030, according to Joseph J. Salvo, director of computational sciences and architectures at GE and a founder of the Industrial Internet Consortium. Speaking at NIDays Nov. 17 in Boston, he said he sees a world of a trillion devices. And, he said, “IPv6 provides unlimited addresses to label this stuff.”

Salvo cited Metcalfe’s Law, which says that as the number of networked devices increases, the network value increases exponentially. In addition, Salvo said, markets will become broad and shallow, requiring mass customization enabled by the pervasive networking of machines and objects, offering opportunity to those who are creative and have access to the tools of innovation.

A side effect is that we have come to the end of the information age, Salvo said. Previously, it could take 30 years and thousands of dollars to amass a 400-album music collection. Now, children have access to thousands of songs through a mobile device. In a world of abundance, he said, the question becomes, “How many hours per day do I want to listen to music?” We have moved from the information age to the systems age.

Salvo noted that GE has been in business for well over a century, and a company doesn’t last that long by doing the same thing over and over. But networking, he said, has always been part of the picture—with toasters, stoves, and motors connected to Edison’s electric network. GE has participated in networks ranging from transportation to entertainment and now, Salvo said, is preparing to invest billions in the IIoT in preparation for another 100 years of growth.

GE isn’t the only company pursuing the IIoT. The Industrial Internet Consortium has attracted more than 200 companies, including IBM, AT&T, CISCO, and Intel as well as GE, mimicking the full stack of the Internet: silicon chips, backhaul infrastructure, databases, and heavy equipment.

In addition, the MEMS and Sensors Industry Group also is counting to a trillion and in December presented the outline of its TSensors (Trillion Sensors) Roadmap. The organization expects the roadmap to be completed during 2016. The goal is to facilitate key engagements between developers of emerging sensor technologies and interested commercialization entities.

The MEMS and sensors group is embracing applications beyond the industrial Internet, including healthcare and indeed “all things.” The group cites forecasts that we will be acquiring brontobytes (1027 bytes) of sensor-derived data in the 2020s.

imec is another organization pursuing an IIoT, but in imec’s case, the first “I” stands for “intuitive.” A recent example of this type of IIoT, or I2oT, is a device developed in cooperation with UEST, a Belgian start-up company. Called Zembro, the device is a smart bracelet designed to enable the elderly to connect with their relatives immediately, anytime and anywhere. As Luc Van den hove, president and CEO of imec, put it at SEMICON West last July, the I2oT will include wearables that are essentially invisible, fading into the background, employing personalized algorithms to deal with context, intention, and your emotional state.

Despite the hype, the opportunities are endless for, as Salvo put it, those who are creative and have access to the tools of innovation. Perhaps the first “I” in IIoT should stand for “Inspirational.”

Rick Nelson, Executive Editor.

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