Electronics

Smarter circuitry instills intelligence and the Internet of Things into business and products

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Modern electronics are omnipresent. Sometimes they’re front and center—like when we gawk over the breathtaking colors of a new Ultra HDTV. But more and more, they’re cleverly positioned behind the scenes—like when a smart thermostat turns down the heat after it determines that no one’s at home, or when sensors on an airplane wing identify a surface crack that maintenance crews can’t detect themselves.

 

Want to glimpse the future of electronics? Follow the data.

At home, in industry and in the outside world, our electronics are now shaping our daily lives, and in the next few years, they’ll do so in more powerful ways than ever. “Speeds and feeds” are no longer the driving force behind next-generation electronics. Enabled by the fast-growing IoT, it’s now about building products that work more intelligently, integrate with other devices and machines, and streamline our lives and businesses by automating tasks for us behind the scenes.

It won’t necessarily be faster chips and sharper screens defining the leading edge of electronics of tomorrow, but advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning that, when applied to the complex web of data spinning off all our “things,” will make sense of it all and enable a whole new marketplace of services and capabilities. Here’s a look at just a handful of those, and some ways our connected electronics will change our lives—and ourselves.

Machine learning applied to health and wellness

IoT sensors and other types of instrumentation are generating so much data so quickly that concerns about the glut of information overwhelming end users are rampant. Our machines will soon help make sense of all that information and turn noise into signal. Millions of people are scratching the surface of this concept today through technologies like fitness bands, which currently collect data on activity level, heart rate and blood oxygen, and report it back to your smartphone or other devices. But for now, most of that data is left to the user to interpret. As sensors get more sophisticated, watch for bands to offer AI-driven guidance on diet and exercise, and even watch for warning signs of potential diseases. The more data that the legions of bands on the market generate and upload (anonymously) to the cloud, the better these diagnoses will get.

Now extrapolate that idea to a national or international level. Could the CDC spot a pandemic in the making by noting body temperature spikes in certain world regions via algorithm? With conceivably billions of data points to process, it’ll take a mountain of processing power to make sense of complicated trends in real time. Looking further afield, one can imagine AI being used in conjunction with mobile drones to monitor key hotspots or even deliver medication with pinpoint accuracy.

A new vision for VR

The Internet of Things isn’t new technology any longer; we’re way beyond merely “talking to” things with embedded processors and wireless radios. The future lies in how IoT technology is leveraged within each of these technologies. Today, we have smart washing machines and smart thermostats, but we’re not far off from a day when smart refrigerators and smart stoves talk to each other, working in tandem with you, the homeowner, to get a healthy dinner on the table by telling you exactly what ingredients you need and when, and automatically reordering items when they run out.

The IoT means business

Meanwhile, in heavy industry, legions of sensors embedded into industrial equipment will soon reinvent—and automate—much of the job of service and support. From manufacturing plants to oil wells, technicians will arrive on a job site not with a tablet with manuals and charts, but probably VR headsets to show them exactly how and where to service a problematic machine, highlighting what components need to be replaced, even showing him which bolts need to be removed in order to make the repair. Dozens of internal sensors will feed data in real time to an AI unit in the cloud that in turn relays to the technician whether everything is running as it should. The upshot: quicker repairs and lower overall downtime.

“The ability to overlay data on real world images has many B2B uses, thanks to the growth of the Internet of Things,” says IBM’s Bret Greenstein, Vice President, Watson Internet of Things Consumer and Digital Business. “With systems like Watson, which can learn from and understand unstructured data, the ability to integrate the real world and virtual worlds will make VR even more powerful.”

Big data will make shopping extremely personal

Visit any online store you’ve done business with and you’ll likely be greeted by name and offered a selection of items chosen specifically to appeal to you. These items may be based on your past purchases, demographic data, time of year and any number of other variables, all of which collectively comprise “big data” as we’ve come to know it. But as everyone who’s been offered, say, some spicy lingerie after a single Valentine’s Day purchase knows, these algorithms can be blunt, and once they learn something wrong, hard to set back on the right course. Salvation lies in the form of hyper-personalization technology, where dozens of data points about an individual are exploding into hundreds or even thousands. Retailers are going to know an awful lot about you, though whether that works to the consumer’s benefit remains an open question.

The upshot of this will be the development of new technologies that will give consumers a greater ability to manage their own electronic paper trail—and progressive companies that integrate privacy protections into their business processes. As Greenstein explains, “emerging technologies like blockchain will give users a transparent, personal record of where their data has gone, and cognitive systems will help users to understand exactly how their data is being used.”

Today’s electronic technologies represent a mere taste of what’s to come. By truly understanding this dynamic market and consumers’ preferences within it, manufacturers can get ahead of the curve and find innovative ways to create value.

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