Historians recognize four different industrial revolutions along history, or at least four different stages in a larger process identified as “the” Industrial Revolution.
The first three are related to the massive use of coal along with steam power, gas and fossil fuels and electronics and nuclear power.
A fourth Industrial Revolution seems to be happening at this very moment empowered by what has been called IoT (Internet of Things). Let’s work out this concept in further detail.
You can learn more about the concept of the fourth industrial revolution from this article in the World Economics Forum website.
The Internet of Things is about the entire constellation of devices that can connect to The Internet. And every day we figure out ways in which being connected the Internet can optimize the functionality of devices that were traditionally non-internet related, such as a washing machine, a refrigerator, a car or medical care devices.
By being able to connect to The Internet, these devices have the possibility to enhance their capabilities as they can share and receive information from similar devices and control centers from virtually anywhere in the planet.
CCII — Consumer, Commercial, Industrial, Infrastructure.
These are the categories in which the IoT devices are normally classified in.
The range of these products is endless and grows by the minute, but some remarkable examples are home assistants such as Google Nest or Amazon Alexa. These devices are able to interpret voice commands in order to interact (through IoT of course) with a variety of other systems such as a music playlist from a music streaming service or the IoT connected light bulbs in your home if you want to dim your lights.
Another rather recent addition to IoT are cars. In Latin America, the newest line of Brazilian-produced Chevrolet cars include the On-Star system which monitors in real time the current condition of the car including fluid levels, tire conditions and engine temperature. It also allows the user to request emergency assistant in the event of an accident and can schedule service and repair instances as well as order spare parts for the shop to receive them in advance of the scheduled service date.
Some other worth mentioning examples are wearable devices such as the Apple watch or the much more economic Xiaomi Band that can monitor body functions such as your heart rate, blood pressure and even the quality of your sleep. Nowadays we even have “smart” washing machines, which can download washing programs for specific types of clothing based on the world-wide experience of every user in the World. They can also be programmed from anywhere in the planet by accessing a smart phone app or a web-site. You could start your washing machine in one specific program when you are on vacations in the other side of the World.
Public services benefit from IoT by automatizing tasks that were traditionally performed by human operators or analogic systems that were unable to recognize a change in the conditions in which the service needs to be performed.
Think on an automatized toll collection system. The booth can recognize the specific car that comes in, either by reading the license plate or a special tag label on the car windshield and connects to a pre-set payment system to collect the fee and then raises the barrier. This optimizes the traffic flow making it way more agile than if the fee was collected by a human operator through cash payment.
Going back to consumer wearable IoT products such as smart watches that monitor the user’s health, there is the notion of applying the data collected from these devices to feed commercial-oriented medical databases. This application, called the internet of Medical Things, has the potential to revolutionize health care by integrating IoT devices into medical practices. While the information collected by the wearable devices is limited in its applicability, if the same information could be transferred over to a the user medical records accessible by the health care provider, then the scope of the potential uses for the same information expands exponentially.
While consumer IoT devices aim to improve our everyday life, the commercial IoT is becoming increasingly important for public welfare.
The objective of Industrial IoT is to improve the productivity, efficiency and reliability of the industrial process, resulting in economic benefits. By connecting the operational technology, such as the robots that manufacture cars in a factory assembly line, with machine learning and data analytics through IoT, all the industrial supply chain can be optimized as well as the manufacturing process itself, resulting in an improved cost-effective equation. Using industrial IoT platforms, companies connect, monitor, analyze, and act on data in new ways.
One example of successful industrial IoT application is the experience of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. The company installed smart monitor sensors on some of their oil extraction fields located in West Africa. These fields were on particular hard-to-access locations with very limited local infrastructure. By being able to perform remote monitor, the company was able to dramatically cut the investment in site visits for maintenance.
An investment on the IoT technology of $87.000 produced an estimated return of over 1 million dollars.
The industrial applications of IoT is what has inspired the historians to define the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it is often referred to. The term Industrie 4.0 is also used as the term originated in Germany. The potential for increased productivity and correlational revenue is appalling, being estimated in several trillion dollars of increased benefits within the next decade alone.
To learn more about Industry 4.0 you might want to check this article from the specialized European media site i-scoop.
Considering how IoT can be applied to optimize contained scale projects, if you consider it, there is no reason why it cannot be applied in a larger scale to optimize the administration of an entire city or a country power grid.
This is achieved by using environmental monitoring systems to monitor the quality of air and water, integrating traffic control systems that optimizes traffic flow adapting to the different times of the day and level sensors that monitor the sewage system heights and open and close valves accordingly, in an “smart” optimized way to better adapt to the system capabilities.
IoT or the act of connecting to The Internet through devices that did not originate as internet-enabled requires three different technologies:
- Wireless data protocols.
- IoT platforms.
Wireless Data Protocols:
Most internet-enabled devices connect to the internet through wireless transmission of data, mainly, but not limited to, through WIFI or Bluetooth.
It is the part of the devices that allow the interaction, either with a user or the internet itself. The hardware may consist of sensors, microphones or network connection unit.
IoT platforms manage the data thet IoT devices share with each other. IoT platforms are software solutions that organize the flow of information within specific networks of IoT devices. Some of the most popular IoT platforms today are Microsoft Azure IoT, Google Cloud IoT solutions or Amazon’s AWS IoT.
Considering the appalling amount of interconnected devices available today, the amount of data being shared is beyond huge. This fact is actually the fundamental issue of Big Data, or the limitations of technology to manage incredibly large and complex databases. The response to the challenge of Big Data has been the implementation of cloud computing, or the delivery of computing services over the internet.
Ethical concerns about IoT:
While IoT is making our lives more comfortable, easy and fun and our businesses more efficient and profitable there are valid concerns that must be considered, particularly those referred to privacy and security.
The number of IoT devices is increasing exponentially raging from mobile phones to light bulbs and they all collect and share data which ultimately refers to how each of us live our personal lives. From what web pages you visit and how much time do you spend on each one, all the way to what kind of food you keep on your refrigerator or what kind of workout you enjoy the most. Even your general health condition or well or bad you are sleeping the last few nights. All of this is being shared through your IoT devices.
This is no minor issue. Companies that gather large amount of personal information must make a responsible and ethical use of it, while also making sure that the information they gather is safe and not available for third parties to use it for different reasons than those accepted when it was collected.
A shocking example of lack of security was seen in the 2016 US Elections when the British company Cambridge Analytics was able to harvest data from millions of Facebook users. This data was then used by Donald Trump’s campaign to identify, target and influence potential voters.
When you think about the amount of sensitive personal information that we share through our IoT devices it becomes clear that this kind of misuse of users’ data are simply not acceptable to happen.
While these are valid and very much real concerns, it must also been considered that IoT has been around only for the last decade, so there is a lot yet to do in terms of regulation and control. Ultimately, the unstoppable success of IoT lies in the fact of how it has delivered the intended objectives of this technology. IoT is making our lives more comfortable, easy and fun and we have more than justifiable reasons to believe that the growing rate of IoT will only continue. There are good reasons to be optimistic about the responsible future use of this technology.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means and how to respond
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