Sat, 09/09/2017 - 03:50
IoT, Internet of Things, Bigger, Size
When people talk about “the next big thing,” they’re never thinking big enough. It’s not a lack of imagination; it’s a lack of observation. I’ve maintained that the future is always within sight, and you don’t need to imagine what’s already there.

Case in point: The buzz surrounding the Internet of Things.

What’s the buzz? The Internet of Things revolves around increased machine-to-machine communication; it’s built on cloud computing and networks of data-gathering sensors; it’s mobile, virtual, and instantaneous connection; and they say it’s going to make everything in our lives from streetlights to seaports “smart.”

But here’s what I mean when I say people don’t think big enough. So much of the chatter has been focused on machine-to-machine communication (M2M): devices talking to like devices. But a machine is an instrument, it’s a tool, it’s something that’s physically doing something. When we talk about making machines “smart,” we’re not referring strictly to M2M. We’re talking about sensors.

A sensor is not a machine. It doesn’t do anything in the same sense that a machine does. It measures, it evaluates; in short, it gathers data. The Internet of Things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines. That is to say, the real value that the Internet of Things creates is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyze it in real time.

Cloud-based applications are the key to using leveraged data. The Internet of Things doesn’t function without cloud-based applications to interpret and transmit the data coming from all these sensors. The cloud is what enables the apps to go to work for you anytime, anywhere.

Let’s look at one example. In 2007, a bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing many people, because of steel plates that were inadequate to handle the bridge’s load. When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpages. This is cement that alerts us to fix problems before they cause a catastrophe. And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.

If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car. Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him. This is just one of the ways that sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication can take place. Sensors on the bridge connect to machines in the car: we turn information into action.

You might start to see the implications here. What can you achieve when a smart car and a smart city grid start talking to each other? We’re going to have traffic flow optimization, because instead of just having stoplights on fixed timers, we’ll have smart stoplights that can respond to changes in traffic flow. Traffic and street conditions will be communicated to drivers, rerouting them around areas that are congested, snowed-in, or tied up in construction.

So now we have sensors monitoring and tracking all sorts of data; we have cloud-based apps translating that data into useful intelligence and transmitting it to machines on the ground, enabling mobile, real-time responses. And thus bridges become smart bridges, and cars smart cars. And soon, we have smart cities, and….

Okay. What are the advantages here? What are the savings? What industries can this be applied to?

Here’s what I mean when I say people never think big enough. This isn’t just about money savings. It’s not about bridges, and it’s not about cities. This is a huge and fundamental shift. When we start making things intelligent, it’s going to be a major engine for creating new products and new services.

Of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is the Internet of Things; it’s the one that’s going to give us the most disruption as well as the most opportunity over the next five years. In my next post in this two-part series, we’ll explore just how big this is going to be.

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research. He is the author of six books including the New York Times best seller “Flash Foresight.”


When we truly consider the ramifications of connecting a vast array of data-gathering sensors, devices, and machines together, what’s important to realize is that information will be translated into action at a rate that we have never seen before. We are closing in on a world with infinitesimal reaction times, immediate responses to changing conditions, and unparalleled control in managing assets and resources.

The key is not to think small. Like I said, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not merely about creating savings within current industry models. It’s about upending old models entirely, creating new services and new products. There is no one sector where the Internet of Things is making the biggest impact; it will disrupt every industry imaginable, including agriculture, energy, security, disaster management, and healthcare, just to name a few.

For example, construction companies have begun equipping silos and trucks with sensors that can monitor inventory levels, such as the amount of concrete, and transmit it via a cloud-based platform to speed up deliveries and ensure a steady pipeline. And giants in the oil industry have started to implement mobile, sensor-to-machine technologies that combat accidents well in advance through quick analysis and immediate action. When sensors detect an issue such as a corroded pipeline or leak, M2M tech allows workers to immediately address it.

Another example of new IoT technology at work in the oil industry is a smart well. This is a well with flow control devices and downhole sensors installed, so it can be monitored and controlled from the surface, without risking the safety of workers. The smart well utilizes 4D seismic technology, which monitors gas breakout, water flow, pressure changes, and any other alterations caused by fluctuating seismic movement, making it easier to predict and control seismic impacts that can cause significant damage.

But we’re still thinking too small. Go beyond construction, beyond energy. We have sensors that can measure force, load, torque, and pressure; sensors that can sniff out gas and chemicals; sensors that can hear sound vibrations and distinguish between different acoustics; sensors that can take temperatures, detect motion, velocity, and displacement; identify position, presence, and proximity. In other words, we have the ability to gather virtually unlimited intelligence in real time.

How do you make this intelligence useful? Take a look at your own home. What parts can you make smart? Here’s a simple one. I once observed a video conferencing system that allowed a dog owner to actually talk to his dog, call it over, and feed it remotely through a smart appliance. Think bigger. A house that knows when you’re coming home because it’s connected to a sensor in your car or smartphone. A home that links smoke alarms, security systems, and infotainment consoles to your phone. A home with sensors built into the pipes that can see leaks before they occur.

Perhaps you’re noticing a trend here. One of the biggest advantages of smart technologies is the ability to predict and prevent problems from anywhere. If a car battery were smart, it would tell you exactly how many more trips you could take before it died. If you could monitor and control your assets remotely in real time, you would know the minute a problem erupted, exactly where and what it is, and you’d take advantage of major cost savings.

Wearable tech is going to disrupt health care in extreme ways too. We know that the new Apple Watch is going to have a sensor to monitor your heart rate and offer a host of apps that facilitate and encourage a healthy lifestyle. We already have sensors in our shoe to monitor how far we’ve run and how many calories we’ve burned. What’s next? There will be hospital optimization, where we have sensors that can detect bacteria on the equipment and smart scrubs that can detect viruses that may have traveled from a sick patient.

As I said earlier, this is a huge and transformational shift. It won’t stop with intelligent homes and businesses. We’re going to end up with intelligent highways and vehicles, intelligent factories and farms, intelligent utility and power grids. This is not some flight of fantasy, or one of many potential outcomes (what I call a soft trend). This is a hard trend: it’s a projection based on measurable facts, facts that cannot be changed.

I haven’t even come close to listing all the ways this technology is going to impact us. It’s going to create disruption and opportunity in every imaginable field, and it’s entirely up to you whether you’re going to be one of the disrupted or the disruptors. Because this is going to happen. It’s time to learn about it now.

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research. He is the author of six books including the New York Times best seller “Flash Foresight.”