February 21, 2017 | Written by: Dr Lucy Rogers
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In December 2015 the potential of the Internet of Things had to be sold – nobody was really asking for it.
Just over a year later, IBM have a shiny new IoT headquarters in Munich. I was invited to the Genius of Things Summit as a Futurist by Watson IoT and WIRED Insider.
Familiar brands such as BMW, Bosch, Visa, Whirlpool and SNCF have announced partnerships and collaborations with IBM’s Watson IoT. And manufacturing companies such as Schaefler and the crowd-sourcing company Indiegogo are also on board.
So what has happened in the last 14 months? Why has the Internet of Things gone from being a ‘What?’ to a ‘Definitely!’
The interconnected-stuff has been there a while. Makers – those who tinker with making things for fun – have been turning lights on and off via twitter for a few years. (Here’s my blog aimed at Makers on how to make a colour changing orb that can be controlled by a tweet).
But other than the novelty and mild convenience, many people couldn’t see the point. You may have seen the ‘internet connected fridge’ jokes and memes?
The real impact of IoT
So for a while it seemed connecting ‘things’ was no more than a different method of remote control. However, companies have started thinking about what information the things could provide back. Is that motor running hot? Is that valve sticking? How many people are in the Theme Park queue and should I head to another ride now?
Send that data securely to the cloud, and process it with some of IBM’s Watson analytics functions, and the possibilities are endless.
By listening to the speakers and demonstrations at the Genius of Things Summit, it seems the first steps are being taken. Safety equipment that alerts and converses with workers on construction sites, Augmented Reality (AR) industrial applications and factory automation and preventative maintenance are some of the more obvious applications.
But the Watson IoT systems are also used from innovation to end of life – from designing new products, services and systems to predicting and producing parts for the long tail of demand.
I am very excited to see IBM investing so heavily in IoT. I am equally excited to see what comes of it all – for instance, Youtube, Uber and AirBnB were not viable before Broadband – what else will become viable when IoT is ubiquitous?
Bluemix and Node-RED
I was pleased to see that what seemed a trivial product – the colour changing orb I mentioned earlier – has been updated and is finding applications throughout the IBM Watson IoT centre and beyond.
In meeting rooms across the centre, these glow orbs or colour changing balls are used to present a visual message about the environment. In meeting rooms, along with a sensor, they monitor the carbon dioxide levels. If it’s fine, the orb is green. If it’s a bit stuffy and it’s time to open the window, it glows red. All they need is a wifi connection and power through a micro USB.
Powered by Bluemix, the orbs let you know if carbon dioxide is high in meeting rooms
The same type of glow orbs, connected through Bluemix to a Node-RED program, are deployed in a clothing factory to alert operators if a machine needs attention – and a nest of these ‘digital twins‘ is mirrored so the manager can see instantly from their desk if there’s a problem on the shop floor.
By connecting these small cheap electronic products to the cloud, the power that is behind the Watson IoT system for analysis, control and management is easily accessed – making the IoT available to both companies and individuals.
You can do this yourself: how to connect a device to IBM’s Watson IoT Platform and Bluemix.
So what will you do with it? As I heard at the event: IoT is not just a feature. It is the future.