By Jeremiah Stone, NextGen Advisory Board. Read his full bio here.
At the “Programming the System of the World” event on March 30, co-hosted by the Exponential Center and the NextGen Advisory Board, three panelists at the forefront of advances in the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) gathered at the Computer History Museum to discuss how new technologies are transforming the industrial world.
The evening’s discussion rotated between focusing on hard applications of contemporary technology in the industrial setting, technology adoption challenges, and social impacts of increased automation with Accenture’s Marc Carrel-Billiard, GE Digital’s Peter Marx, and Resin.io’s Bryan Hale, who offered points of view that ranged from equipment manufacturer to systems administrator.
Speaking to the challenges of managing technology in Industrial IoT environments, Hale spoke of how the industrial world is in many ways following trends in consumer and enterprise technologies and that we are currently in a phase of computing shifting from centralization to distributed deployment. This, however, is where the similarities end due to network challenges, hardware variety and the criticality of the machines where applications are being deployed. “You cannot treat them ['industrial devices and the software on them'] like you treat an AWS instance or an application on a phone because they are really, really far away, on poor networks, with a diversity of chipset architectures you need to be able to run on and build for, and the thing that people tend to forget about most often is that you need to treat them differently . . . they are singularly important.”
Moving on to how companies are directing investments, the panel discussed the myth that technology is the leading factor in current deployments. Using the example of how Disney and Carnival Cruise Line are applying artificial intelligence, geospatial analysis, and wearables to improve customer experiences, Carrel-Billiard and Marx pointed out that the most interesting applications of technology are currently driven by careful thinking and design for targeted outcomes rather than rushing to put sensors into environments and analyzing data in hopes of eureka moments. “The discussion we have with many of our clients is how this technology can bring a better experience for their clients. It’s not just a better experience for clients, what our labs are working on is how this technology is going to change the world—we talk about tech for good”
Hardy asked the panelists which industries will be “the most profoundly changed.” The panelists agreed that the impact will be widespread, across all industries in which they have experience. Examples ranged from Oil & Gas personnel safety in confined spaces to healthcare. All agreed, however, that city planning and transportation would be the most impacted by the introduction of distributed sensing and autonomous vehicles. Speaking of the latter, Marx asked the audience, “What is everybody’s car doing right now? If it’s self-driving, go off and do something useful. Just get on out of here. We only use cars four to five percent of the time, every person here spends on average 54 minutes commuting and $6,000 to own a private vehicle per year. Do we need as many private vehicles? I don’t need a car, I need access to it.”
The conversation then turned to how adoption of distributed technology is occurring within industry today. Hale’s experience is that the majority of progress is being made most quickly with commodity hardware and open source software, most notably the Raspberry Pi. Despite the broad skepticism around the impact the maker movement is having with—and on—these tools, he sees widespread experimentation and activity, comparing activity in hardware to the early days of public cloud computing. “Where we see the most pickup—and I wouldn’t call it a dirty secret, but I think it’s a secret around a lot of these projects and this industry in general—but it’s really the commodity units of production are getting to market fastest. By that, I mean in my world, I mean the Raspberry Pi. People love to poke holes at it, and say that it’s underpowered and it’s unsafe. But you can hop online and order 10 of these things and combine that with open source software and means of production and get online very, very fast. . . . We have them on tidal turbines and some of the highest skyscrapers in NY.”
Many more topics were discussed and the discussion was wide ranging, covering themes from virtualized manufacturing to security and privacy. Audience questions took the discussion into blockchain, specific wireline protocols, and automated urban farming. Overall, the theme of the evening was that the way that global and local economies work physically are changing around us and that the rate of change is rapid and accelerating!