People often say to me, that the Internet of Things (IoT) does not seem to be gaining much practical market attention.  There seems to be loads of hype and lots of press, but where is the actual work?  What sort of applications are being done? What implementations are being installed?

At IBM where I work, one senior IT technology leader voiced his concerns to me that he is not seeing many, or any, requests for IoT from our account executives, so he concluded that there is no meaningful traction for this emerging technology.  Is it all hype?  Or, is it really happening and we are just not seeing it?

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Now, it is important to balance the thoughts of one person against the investments that IBM is making on a global scale.  IBM has created its cognitive computing platform and named it IBM’s Watson IoT.  Watson IoT is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to derive analytic conclusions from enormous sets of unstructured data. Using these techniques from the academic discipline of Artificial Intelligence, Watson is a highly advanced software system designed to run on a range of IBM’s high performance computing systems.  It is estimated that the total addressable market for Watson Solutions was over $147 billion (US$).  Even with conservative estimates, Watson solutions can add over $10 billion (US$) to IBM’s topline by 2022.  So, this is not insignificant.  It is like creating a Fortune 500 company from scratch.

Recently the company launched an array of new services, industry offerings and capabilities for enterprise clients, start-ups and developers to drive digital transformation in the Internet of Things (IoT) domain through Watson IoT platform.

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The point is that we are seeing different impacts on the micro level versus the macro level.

My perspective is that it all depends where and how you look.

Globally, IoT is taking-off, but in pockets, it has yet to hit the speed to rotate and become airborne.  From a classic IT point of view, there may be few customers embracing IoT at this time.  Most CIOs are still a very conservative lot.  I must admit that IBM can sometimes be a slow turning ship too as we try to map and match to our customer’s needs, but this seems to be drawing us backwards by the strong classic IT tides.

Yet, in many industries we are seeing great progress for IoT.  The cellular industry is on the cusp of sorting out new standards to accommodate IoT, such as NB-IoT and LTE-M1.  The global mining industry has embraced autonomous mining with excellent financial results and enhanced safety performance, just look to Caterpillar and Komatsu for the amazing driverless solutions they are developing.  While definitely not mainstream yet, many leading retailers seem to appreciate the value of IoT, for example Starbucks and Canadian Tire.  One standout industry is the aviation world where they are embracing IoT full force these days.

If we consider the aviation world’s largest players, such as Boeing, Airbus, GE, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce, we see extreme compounded annual growth for IoT.

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A typical jet engine made in 2014 would have about 250 sensors.  However, the next generation engines being made in 2017 will boast many thousands of sensors.  Now that is a major shift in design.  Of course, all of these sensors generate an astonishing volume of data.  The data needs to be understood so it can add value to the performance of the engine.

Pratt & Whitney’s new Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine, which is fitted with 5,000 sensors will generate up to 10 GB of data per second.  A single twin-engine aircraft with an average 12-hr. flight-time can produce up to 844 TB of data.  Pratt could potentially download zeta bytes of data once all their engines are in the field.

Questions could be asked about why so much data needs to be collected.  The GTF engine uses great swathes of data to build artificial intelligence and predict the demands of the engine in order to adjust thrust levels.  As a result, GTF engines are demonstrating a reduction in fuel consumption by 10% to 15%, alongside impressive performance improvements in engine noise and emissions.

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Other major players are also on the same path when it comes to embracing the Internet of Aircraft Things.  The new generation of GEnx engines started pumping 5-10 TB of data per day.  GE expects to gain up to 40% improvement in factory efficiency by the application of IoT and Big Data Analytics. Rolls-Royce collects similar amounts of data from 12,000 engines across the globe in its data centers.

While engines are leading the charge, and embracing the IoT and data generation, avionics systems are also having to catch up to this trend and do so quickly.  Traditional avionics systems transfer data up to a maximum of 12.5 kB/s whereas Boeing 787s and A350s are using Ethernet-based, next-generation aircraft data networks (AFDX) that allow up to 12.5 MB/s.  This makes it quicker and easier to transmit information via avionics systems to the maintenance teams on the ground.  This can include updates about current flying conditions and any faults that have occurred during the flight.

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To augment these amazing engines, the manufacturers are rebuilding the wings and making major changes to the aircraft aerodynamics too.  With these latest-generation engines – along with improved aerodynamics, including new split wingtips – Boeing says the 737 MAX design is 14 percent more fuel-efficient than today’s 737.  The wings have sensors in them too.  These wing sensors measure every twist, flex, lift, compression, and stress of the wing.  Of course, these parameters are fed back to the flight systems to equip the pilot with more knowledge and better situational control of the aircraft.  These sensors collaborate with the engines to maximize fuel efficiency.

One of the greatest achievements will be the real-time diagnostics which will minimize physical inspections and downtime.  Preventive maintenance is now a full-time activity and not done with periodic checks and by physical unscrewing inspection ports and peaking into tiny places to hopefully observe cracks or structural fatigue.  By reporting minute issues on a continuous basis, these problems can be caught before they become critical concerns.  They can be seen by the computers before they can be seen by the human eye.  Aircraft downtime can be minimized and passenger safety and flight on-time performance improved.

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With all of these sensors, and the ability to display summary information to the pilots, the key change is the “real-time” dynamics of these systems.  There is no room for older IT approaches like batch processing.  These aircraft are effectively live sensory machines.  We are now using federated networks, edge computing, and analytics distributed throughout the aircraft.  Security is critical too, to protect the information and the aircraft.  So, the networks have changed dramatically too.

Make no mistake, the Internet of Things is here now.  It is becoming pervasive and working diligently to improve our lives.  You may not see it, often it is transparent and ultra discrete, but the next time you board a new Boeing 737 MAX or 787 or Airbus 320 NEO or 350, you can rest assured that its systems are occupied tirelessly to get you safely to your destination.

References:

Bhoopathi, R. (2016). Internet Of Aircraft Things: An Industry Set To Be Transformed. Aviation Week, Penton. Retrieved on January 16, 2017 from, http://aviationweek.com/connected-aerospace/internet-aircraft-things-industry-set-be-transformed

Gates, D. (2016). Boeing’s 737 MAX takes wing with new engines, high hopes. The Seattle Times. Retrieved on January 16, 2017 from, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeings-737-max-takes-off-on-first-flight/

Trefis Team. (2016). Why Watson IoT Platform Is Important For IBM. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved on January 16, 2017 from,  http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2016/11/30/why-watson-iot-platform-is-important-for-ibm/#643d03101077