September 10, 2021 By Jerry Cuomo 9 min read

A conversation between Jerry Cuomo and Lisa Seacat DeLuca, Distinguished Engineer, author and the most prolific inventor in the history of IBM (with over 800 patents) on automation and the weather.

Covered in this chapter

  • Technology in our environment
  • No energy wasted
  • The weather’s impact on business 
  • The five-year forecast

The Art of Automation: Table of Contents

What’s the forecast?

This chapter of the Art of Automation is a reduced transcript of a conversation between Jerry Cuomo and Lisa Seacat DeLuca, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Director of Emerging Solutions for Weather & Agile Accelerator. In this discussion on one of the most unique applications of AI-powered Automation, Lisa and Jerry discuss how businesses can use automation to understand the environment and use that data to tackle challenges related to climate change, sustainability and everyday business operations. They also make predictions for how automation will play an even bigger role in public health as the world transitions to the next normal, with technologies coming together to help us be safer as a society.

Jerry and Lisa

CUOMO: Welcome to the Art of Automation, a podcast that explores the application of automation in the enterprise. Well, this is a big day for the Art of Automation, because I’m delighted and privileged to discuss automation in the context of weather and the environment with Lisa Seacat DeLuca.  Lisa is an IBM Distinguished Engineer of Emerging Solutions within the AI Applications business unit of IBM, and she’s currently focused on modernizing our weather business solutions and the aviation portfolio.

Lisa is a rockstar. She’s a TED speaker and a self-published author of two children’s books titled, “A Robot Story” and “The Internet of Mysterious Things.” Lisa’s the most prolific inventor in IBM’s history. Her invention portfolio includes over 800 patents filed, of which 550 have been granted to date. What an honor this is. Welcome, Lisa, to the Art of Automation.

DELUCA: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

CUOMO: So, let’s jump right in — I’ve got a lot to talk to you about today.

Lisa, your current work is focused on innovation and, specifically, applying technology to understand and improve the environment. Tell us why you’re so excited about that.

DELUCA: The environment is exciting because it really affects all of us and every single business.  Everybody’s affected by weather, and some say that the climate and how the future is going to look around the environment. And of course, hot topics in the news right now — sustainability and climate change. It’s just an exciting place to work in.

Technology in our environment

CUOMO: Let’s talk about the technology. This is the Art of Automation, so I’m going to start asking you questions about how automation plays a role; how artificial intelligence (AI) plays a role. So, let’s talk a little bit about the technology behind the scenes here, Lisa.

DELUCA: Yes, yes. So, to me, when I think of automation, I think about incremental simplification, right? You think of like a drive-through, and that’s just automating or making it easy for you to get food for hungry customers. And then you can further automate it by other solutions like Uber Eats or Doordash and Postmates. Basically, you’re just making it more convenient. How do you get food to a hungry person?

As an inventor, when I think about automation, it’s really just this innovation — that incremental improvement to processes. When we think about environment and what we’re doing with weather, it’s just so data rich, right? We have data coming from all over the place — historical weather data, future weather data — and it’s trying to take all that information and overlay it with other factors that might be outside of weather to try to come up with business impacts from it.

CUOMO: So, Lisa, I just have to ask you: Where does the weather data come from?

DELUCA: The answer is from all over the place, right? Some people have personal weather sensors, there’s external data, there’s data coming in from the government, satellites — everywhere. There’s so many different sources all coming together.

CUOMO: And your team is aggregating this data in some shape or form?

DELUCA: You got it, yes. It’s a lot. We’ve got terabytes of data on our geospatial analytics product, right, so we can layer things like COVID data, flu outbreaks, mosquito data. All of that could be overlaid on top of other geospatial analytics.

CUOMO: All in the cloud, I would assume?

DELUCA: All in the cloud, yes. Our solutions are all SaaS-based, so it’s really fun to see how quickly you can compute and make business decisions from them.

CUOMO: And Lisa, this is The Weather Company behind this?

DELUCA: You got it. The Weather Company. So, internal in IBM, we’re split to the consumer and business sides, and I run our business side. And we’ve got industry solutions, so oil and gas, energy and utilities, think of railways and tunnels. It’s so cool how it does really impact every business.

No energy wasted

CUOMO: So, automation starts with data and we have sensors all around the world feeding the weather cloud. And then what? How do we apply technology, AI, etc. to make a difference?

DELUCA: Sure, I’ll give you an example. One of our solutions is around vegetation management, which is kind of fun, because you know, growing up you see trees everywhere, you see the power lines and you never expect so much technology to go into it. But we use satellite imagery to understand how tall trees are. So, we can predict the height of trees and then you can help prioritize where you need to trim trees — so, open up work orders for people to go out and trim the trees.

CUOMO: So you know their trip out there is going to be for a purpose.

DELUCA: Exactly. And for some weather data, it’s like ah, don’t go right now, there’s a storm happening. Let’s do it next week.

CUOMO: Yes. Automation is reducing the repetitive, mundane work so us humans can focus on things that matter and have a better outcome for the business, right? And I think that was a pretty cool example of that. You’re using data. You know how tall the tree is and voilà, no energy wasted — no pun intended.

DELUCA: Exactly.

CUOMO: What about artificial intelligence? What role does it play in the environment and weather?

DELUCA: So, for us it’s really the machine learning side of it and just the sheer amount of data. All the prediction that you’re doing with weather, right? Is it going to be 50 degrees tomorrow? Is it going to rain? All of that is all AI and machine learning based on all the historical information we know about what happened in the past. And throw in climate change, and it’s really hard to predict, so you need even more data, even more factors to be accurate.

The weather’s impact on business 

CUOMO: So, you mentioned predicting the weather. And I think every morning we all sit through some level of that, so thank you for helping with that. But what else could we do? What other things may be in business? So, can you kind of jump the tracks from weather for the sake of weather and weather for the sake of business and automation and AI.

DELUCA: We’re starting to look into things like carbon accounting, which is super important when you think of the supply chain use cases. So, using that carbon footprint, understanding the kind of products that you’re putting on either a truck or a plane or a train and how that’s going to affect your business.

And also climate risks, so we’re pulling in things like wildfire risks, as well as flood risk. Again, that helps you decide what to do with your business, whether or not to prioritize maintenance on one stretch of highway or another stretch of highway all based on those other factors.

CUOMO: And how would this work if you were an insurance company? So, you would subscribe to a stream of data and analytics? How would someone participate in that?

DELUCA: Exactly. You know, some really cool new technology that I’ve just been playing with is LIDAR data. So, rather than just the satellite imagery, the LIDAR data kind of breaks it up and almost creates a 3D effect. So, imagine the insurance use-case like you brought up, you can see it down to the roof what the damage was before a storm came in and then afterwards, so that you can accurately pay out claims and understand what the damage was of that event. All of that from the technology. I just think it’s so cool how something that seems so unrelated to different industries can make such a big difference.

CUOMO: So, Lisa, I also know you’ve done work with real estate planning, and I’m just thinking about back to work and environmental COVID and coming back to our next normal. What are your thoughts on applying technology, automation, AI — what are the challenges and what are the opportunities?

DELUCA: Yes, there are so many opportunities and challenges. You’ve seen how people are trying to do like the vaccine pass to show who has already got the vaccine, so I think we’re going to a lot of that, right? Show proof that it’s safe for you to go into the office. I’ve gone into buildings where they’re doing a screen on my temperature and making sure you’re all right in that regard. There’s contact tracing.

It’s really exciting to see how all the different technologies are coming together to help us be safer as a society and know that it’s okay for you to come in. I think we’re going to see a lot of people going in the office and a lot of people are enjoying the simpler life of being at home, as well. So, it will be interesting to see how offices are repurposed and how people come together for conferences and how the technology is used to help make you feel safe.

The five-year forecast

CUOMO: Great. So, where do you see the world going in two, three, five years? You set the timeline, but how does technology, insights, AI impact our future? Paint a picture for us.

DELUCA: You know, I think AI is here already; it’s here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. People are going to probably stop talking about it because it’s just going to be normal; it’s just going to be you’re used to AI being applied to all of your business decisions, so it’s like what’s the next thing after AI?

And automation is here to stay, right? That simplification, the incremental improvements in innovation.  Back to your input about automation, it’s just giving us more time — more time to do other things than work, more time to spend time with our families. I think that’s what the future is going to be.

CUOMO: Lisa, you once shared an example with me that I’d like you to share with the audience about flight arrangements and automating flight arrangements using telemetry from weather, etc. Can you share that?

DELUCA: Yes. You know, today a lot of airlines use paper…

CUOMO: Wait, what year is this?

DELUCA: I know, I know. Can you believe it? And I remember being at the airport and hearing the printers going, and it was even the old printer machines that had the holes on the side.

But they get that piece of paper and they give it to the pilot, and then the pilot has to sign off on everything about the aircraft, right? Is it safe to operate? And so we’re working on a solution around a digital flight release, which is really exciting because you can imagine you can take sensors from the airplane itself and understand fuel levels and understand how much it’s operated, what that flight path is going to look like, who’s on board, like how much are all the people going to weigh? What are our carbon emissions? So many different factors you can pull in instantly for that pilot to do their digital flight release.

CUOMO: And is there a time savings here?

DELUCA: Definitely. Every minute saved for airlines is like thousands of dollars. So definitely it’s amazing how automation and that time saving really does translate to money.

CUOMO: Lisa, if I can, you said the environment is a hot topic these days — no pun intended — where are we going from here? Can you share your personal views on technology and what we can do — the art of the possible for the environment?

DELUCA: I know, sometimes thinking about the environment you feel like, you know, you’re just one little person; how can I actually contribute or help save the planet? But I think the first step is making companies accountable for how they’re contributing and how they’re impacting the environment. There are now reports that go out and companies are proud to show that they are getting towards net zero or their carbon emissions are low. So, you’re going to see more of that, more pressure that the companies and other companies are putting on themselves that will lead to better output for the world.

CUOMO: Well, thank you so much, Lisa. That was both inspiring and insightful. Thank you for joining us here at the Art of Automation.

DELUCA: Thanks, Jerry. Thanks for having me.

Learn more

Make sure you check out The Art of Automation podcast, especially Episode 14, from which this chapter came.

The Art of Automation: Landing Page

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