A few years ago, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was a concept unknown to most but in the last couple of years it has become key in the future of many businesses. Cheaper sensors are already being produced and deployed and innovations in hardware, analytics and machine learning will combine to create big opportunities for companies big and small.
Richard Soley, Executive Director Industrial Internet Consortium
Where are we now in the roadmap of this next industrial revolution?
It’s not really about “cheaper sensors,” but a convergence of forces over the last few years (also cheaper actuators, but more importantly low-cost computing & storage and much better (Big Data) data analysis. We’re seeing overwhelming interest in applying IoT technology to industries such as healthcare, financial services, mining, manufacturing & production, agriculture, transportation – you name it. They’re moving at different speeds, but even in our testbed systems here at the Industrial Internet Consortium we’re already seeing return on investment.
What role do events such as the Internet of Things Solutions World Congress have in the IIoT landscape?
Gatherings like the Internet of Things Solutions World Congress (IoTSWC) bring together the best and the brightest to share experiences. Papers and videos are one thing, but there’s nothing like face-to-face conversations to understand both good ideas and missteps in IIoT implementation. And IoTSWC is the only event to prominently feature testbeds, real running systems, at the center of it all.
In your opinion, will edge analytics cause greater disruption than big data analytics for businesses?
Data analytics are data analytics — whether at the edge or in the cloud. The disruption comes from the pattern of finally applying real-time predictive analytics to all the data we’ve been ignoring (or not even collecting) to date.
There has been much talking about predictive analytics as one of the main goals of IIoT but some say that the next step should take us towards prescriptive analytics. What do we need to get there?
Predictive analytics is exactly what leads to prescriptive analytics. If you watch carefully, you collect the data that allows you to avoid downtime (or streamline processes) ahead of time, by seeing what has happened in the past. We just have to take seriously the collection and real-time analysis of data and keep an eye on patterns.
Are there any testbeds of these technologies already in progress?
Yes indeed. In fact, as the IIC testbeds collect more working data, they naturally turn from predictive to prescriptive analytics, both in the vertical-market-specific testbeds (Microgrid, Track & Trace, etc.) and the horizontally-focused ones (Asset Efficiency, Condition Monitoring, etc.).
What are the latest testbeds the IIC has been working on?
The IIC is always adding new testbed projects, about 27 now in fact. The exciting part is we’re starting to see cross-vertical results from our healthcare, energy, agriculture and other testbeds. A fascinating trend has been the growth of our horizontally-focused testbeds, as condition monitoring (for example) is the same in many application domains.
What is currently the role of the IIC within the IIoT ecosystem?
Any company can build its own ecosystem of partners; but at the IIC we have a critical mass of companies that use Industrial IoT (e.g., energy & manufacturing companies), that depend on Industrial IoT, that have supporting technologies (computing, security, storage, sensing & actuating, etc.), that have research capabilities (like universities) and so forth. IIC provides the ecosystem and the process to put together testbeds that enable learning quickly how to use this technology in the real world
One of the key issues regarding IIoT is security. Will such technologies as blockchain and quantum computing play a key role for the different applications of IIoT?
We’re starting to see other technologies come to the rescue in various areas of Industrial Internet application. Distributed trust mechanisms (like blockchain and IOTA) will support the kind of trusted network necessary to build multi-company, multi-country, secure solutions; and high-speed computing (especially parallel computing) is always welcome in overcoming difficult, real-time problems.
As a Doctor in Computer Science what are your expectations for quantum computing?
Quantum computing represents a sea change in computational architecture — much like dataflow computing when I was studying it for my doctorate 30 years ago. I don’t think we’re close to solving the energy needs of quantum computing, but when that finally happens we’ll see major changes across the computing landscape, especially in secure communications.
What impact will the adoption of 5G have in the industrial scenario?
An amazingly large number of people believe that 5G IS Industrial IoT. It’s not, it’s just an enabling technology — an important one, but one of many. In many IIoT implementations, wireless solutions don’t even appear (in many industrial scenarios, you have systems that don’t move and must operate in an environment with high RF interference, so wireless solutions just don’t figure into it). That said, there are important applications of IIoT (I suspect especially in transportation) that are going to depend on the high throughput and low latency of 5G moving forward.