We are used to hearing about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect the future, promising to solve the biggest global crises, including food shortages, health epidemics and human safety. But what many people do not acknowledge is that, in a growing number of areas, IoT solutions are already in place and making a tangible difference. At this moment, an estimated 4.9 billion sensors are connected to the Internet, busy improving numerable areas of industry and human experience.
Forget for a minute smartwatches, remotely controllable kettles, and connected garden appliances. Arguably, the most significant implementations of IoT-based systems are within industrial agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare, unadorned by media fanfare but quietly changing the world.
Big data and IoT already are having a significant impact on the way food producers are going about the business of planting, growing, and harvesting the world’s food.
Experts are predicting fully automated farms in the next five years, but already monster machines, such as the New Holland T8.435 tractor, are becoming commonplace not only on very big farms, but also on mid-sized ones. The tractor’s steering is assisted by satellite. It downloads crop and soil data straight to agronomists and farm managers, works 24/7, can link with ground sensors and drones using infrared thermal cameras to tell, within a square meter, the size of a field and where the most fertile or waterlogged places are. Big data, machinery, climatology, and agronomy are all combining to increase productivity and reduce labor costs.
Livestock farming has not gone unnoticed by big data and IoT developers, either. Wearable technology is no longer just for humans. Any animal, from elephants to cows to cats and dogs, can wear or be injected with devices that capture health and behavioral data. iNOVOTEC Animal Care, for example, has created wearable and ingestible devices that provide information about an animal’s condition that is not easily observable. This enables farmers to catch illnesses much earlier, leading to healthier stock and cost savings.
While IoT technology already is relatively well established in many Western practices, large-scale adoption in developing nations is a compelling prospect going forward.
The IoT was born and raised in the industrial space. It’s certainly not new, but the vernacular surrounding the term has evolved.
Engineered very differently than consumer-centric IoT devices, connected big machines are expected to last significantly longer than the typical 18-month lifespan of your Fitbit. Jet engines, wind turbines, and medical devices are now built with the ability to capture data constantly and alert operators the moment faults occur, or let them know when faults are likely to occur in the future.
According to Accenture, the Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to add more than $14 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Small sensors placed on complex machinery emit performance data that can be used to adjust scheduled maintenance. With this functionality, industries such as energy and oil extraction are now able to predict and mitigate equipment failures, significantly reducing downtime, increasing site safety, and cutting costs.
Looking closer to home, connected cars can now improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, plan routes, and, most importantly, improve the safety of drivers. Connected cars can call emergency lines in the event of an accident, as well as warn drivers of any faults or dangerous driving conditions.
Self-driving cars are also no longer a futuristic idea. Cars with self-driving features are already on the road. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla already have released, or are soon to release, features that give their cars some ability to drive themselves.
With the world’s population increasing and human beings living longer, there has never been more pressure to sustain and improve global healthcare.
Goldman Sachs recently estimated that IoT technology has the potential to save billions of dollars for asthma care alone. In fact, the IoT already is saving healthcare organizations millions through improved research, drug management, and enabling asthma treatment to be carried out at the patient’s home.
Remote monitoring products such as the BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System create the option to move patients to their homes while their status continues to be monitored by doctors and nurses. WuXi PharmaTech and TruTag Technologies are also just two companies developing edible “smart” pills that can help monitor both medication regimens and health issues. This, in turn, helps drug companies and healthcare providers alike mitigate risks and losses.
Medical wearables present colossal opportunities, as pools of smart data are being used to refine and improve treatments and predict clinical endpoints. As an example, a smart wristband developed by Empatica is able to accurately measure the onset of seizures and determine if and when an ambulance should be sent to someone’s home.
So while innumerable new and groundbreaking IoT use cases are being developed by innovators across the globe, the impacts of the IoT are no longer just over the horizon. In fact, the IoT not only has already become a part of the watch you wear, but it also likely played a part in the food you just ate, the medicine you took, the car you drive, and the fuel that powers it.
Serial entrepreneur and CEO of Calgary-based Ambyint Inc., Nav Dhunay is a leading figure in oil and gas technology innovation. His company, Ambyint (Ambient Intelligence) is one of the first organizations in the world bringing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and big data analytics to the oil patch.
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