Realising the benefits of a totally connected world

December 9, 2013

The internet of things will transform everyday life, from managing airports’ passenger flow to
heating buildings and caring for the elderly.

The ability to network electronics in a standard way is set to revolutionise intelligent device
control. It represents the world defined by the so-called internet of things (IoT), where
electronic equipment transmits data into the cloud over the internet using TCP/IP.


As Computer Weekly reported earlier this year, GE
is developing a sensor network
based on the principals of IoT to monitor turbines constantly in
order to reduce downtime.

In the home, internet-based home automation is now possible thanks to low cost computing devices
– such as the Raspberry
– RF networks and infrared-to-IP interfaces. British
Gas’s Connected Home business
, for example, sells a £200 internet-connected central heating

IoT scales up to city-wide initiatives. For instance, Xerox Parc has developed a system for
managing traffic flow in Los Angeles with dynamic pricing at parking meters. The company deployed
7,000 sensors around the city to detect if a parking meter was occupied and adjusted pricing
dynamically to ensure 20% of parking spaces were always available.

The IoT is a revolution that promises to change people’s lives, from inside the home to right
across society. The reason it will happen is because of the boom in low-cost computing. In fact, Steve
, who was the principal designer of the ARM processor, believes IoT will be the next big
growth area for ARM.

Lower costs

David Davies is group head of instrumentation at Elektron Technologies, a manufacturer of smart
connectors and instrumentation for monitoring control. The technology it provides can sense the
environment in various ways, such as monitoring temperature, pressure, viscosity and
geo-positioning. Its systems are used in food preparation.

He says that, in the past, sensors may have connected to a local PC and were controlled using an
embedded module.

“At a component level, IoT enables us to use cheaper wireless technology and move things into
the cloud,” says Davies. Elektron Technologies has built a system using Xively to provide a
cloud-based back end, which is being used at Claridges  to monitor food preparation.

He says: “Sensors throw out time series data and Xively provides a place to store this data as
well as management and security. Elektron Technologies then builds a web app on top of this

“IoT gives me a way to build systems in a cost-effective and flexible way, using an open set of
components that can easily be integrated and connected easily to the back office.”

Airport flow

Speaking at the Forrester
Forum for customer experience professionals in November
, Declan Collier, CEO of London City
Airport, said he would like to see the airport become the 21st century of the London Docks.His
ambition is to make London City Airport the fastest London airport. “We’re within half an hour from
the West End. Our 20-15 proposition means that 20 minutes after you arrive at the terminal you will
be on a plane and 15 minutes after you land you will be on your way.”

London City airport is using the internet of things to enhance the customer’s journey. He says:
“We use face recognition to measure the speed of the journey.” Technology from Hitachi is used to
count pixels to measure people’s movement in the airport.

For instance, he says the system is being used to optimise the arrivals process. “We built
systems to measure the journey through the airport and see, in real time, how passenger flow is
working in the baggage hall.” This information feeds back into central control and planning to make
the process better. He says: “It helps us to prioritise our investment.”

Along with the customer experience, there are other benefits, he says: “IoT will allow us to
track our assets. We can turn an aircraft in 30 minutes. Having the right equipment at the right
place makes a difference and keeps us more punctual. We could track bags, trollies and cars in the

The airport has also integrated data from Transport for London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR),
which means it can tell how well the DLR is running and how long it will take for a passenger to
get to the gate.

Getting to know customers

Many companies are developing internet connected intelligence into their products. At the FT Innovate conference in
London last month
, Nancy Quan, global research and development officer at Coca-Cola, spoke
about how the company’s drinks machines provide an interactive display, allowing consumers to
customise drinks. The information collected from these units allows Coca-Cola to understand
customers’ tastes better.

If we give machines responsibility for their own actions, can they expect rights?

Steve Prentice, Gartner

Much of the really exciting work is being done by startups. Alex van Someren is a managing
partner at Amadeus Capital Partners. He says the venture capital company is interested in IoT and
has invested in early stage companies to help them build products. Along with hardware for
machine-to-machine and connected home technologies, he says: “The second layer of IoT products is
the software that analyses data flows from sensors. For instance, a building sensor will generate
big data that can create a lot of value.” Such data could be extracted to optimise heating and
lighting in a building controlled via an IoT-based sensor network.

Another area of interest for Someren is the development of low powered computing, where
processors can run indefinitely with very low power consumption. For instance, piezo electric
devices can generate electricity from vibrations.

William Webb, board member at Cambridge Wireless and president-elect at the Institution of
Engineering and Technology (IET), says connected devices on the IoT will make the world a better
place. “Some of the key societal problems – such as assisted living – will be ameliorated through
sensors in the home and on the person.”

Whatever the future holds for the internet of things, intelligent devices will become
intertwined into people’s lives. Gartner
fellow Steve Prentice warns
of the moral implications were such devices to take on routine
tasks that would traditionally be carried out by humans.

Prentice says: “Smart machines are close to outsmarting the humans – whether driving a car or
determining a medical diagnosis – leaving the human overseer with the responsibility but reduced
capability. But, if we take the major step of changing the legal systems to give machines the
responsibility for their own actions, can they also expect rights?”

This was first published in December 2013

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