A year ago, no more than 15% of the population had heard of IoT, but the first connected objects date back to the mid 70’s with the introduction and growth of ATMs. Now there are around 5 billion connected things and by 2020 some predict there will be as many as 20 billion. Obvious things that already form part of the IoT are smartphones and vehicles, but many other “smart devices” such as healthcare products and environmental monitoring equipment are also adding to the IoT.
But, IoT is more than just smart homes and wearable tech. The scale-up potential is huge for industry and a significant amount of data can now be collected, analysed and put to use saving companies a substantial amount of money. This could be done, for example, through tracking objects as part of a supply chain by using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, or in agriculture, monitoring crops and boosting maximum yields through a leaner use of water.
The examples are endless, and we can expect connected devices to creep into most businesses, similar to how computers and the internet have. In manufacturing, efficiency is very important and the IoT is already being utilised for organising tools, machines and people; tracking where they are and ensuring they are being utilised effectively.
A network of over 20 billion devices will create an immense amount of data, which all needs processing if businesses are to make effective use of it. The wireless communications tech industry is working on its next big development, the 5G revolution. Though 4G is still being deployed in many countries, and is adequate for now, in five or ten years time it will not be able to meet requirements for new applications. When 5G is deployed it will be 100 times faster than 4G, will have one fiftieth of the latency and be over 50 times more instantaneous in terms of getting data to and form a device. This is expected to usher in entirely new ways of doing business, create new industries and drive unprecedented economic and societal growth. Commercial deployment is expected to happen in 2020, with both industry and academia working towards this common goal.
IS IT SAFE?
The biggest challenge for IoT are the security and privacy of data floating around online. There have been high profile cases recently, including attacks on websites such as Twitter, Spotify and Facebook, where hackers used internet-connected home devices to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, forcing them offline.
These devices can also be hacked to compromise your privacy. For example, your smart meter knows when you are not at home and also what kind of technology you use when you’re there. This issue is especially important for governments and businesses where this data could be considered sensitive.
SUSTAINABILITY AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
IoT technology has the potential to help us create a more sustainable world. Agriculture accounts for a high percentage of water use, especially in hot places where it doesn’t rain much. Soil sensors could tell us exactly when crops needed watering. Food waste, air pollution, and more could all be mitigated by IoT technologies.
The concept of ‘big data’ has been around for a while but the exponential volume of terabytes and zetabytes that are being created have paved a way for a new era that is only beginning to be realised. In manufacturing, the potential data collected throughout the supply chain via IoT enabled devices could inform direct sustainability policy. IoT could potentially be great for developing a circular economy, through tracking the lifecycles of objects with embedded chips and sensors. When technologies, such as our cell phones, small appliances, and televisions become obsolete we can quickly discard and forget about them. There are huge opportunities to re-purpose, reuse and create new value from these unused technologies.
The mining industry certainly haven’t waited around to take advantage of developing technology and IoT connected devices and sensors. Companies like Rio Tinto employ the technology by using driverless trucks in the mining process and have also implemented mining automation systems removing operators from hazardous environments allowing them to work from control rooms.
Mining operations around the world are on this automation curve and are clearly gaining efficiencies in production, however, these initiatives are often focused and restricted within production sites. By merging data across different sites, new processes can be instigated, utilising their resources in new ways to achieve better outcomes. The number of sensors used in mines is growing rapidly and systems involved are becoming more intelligent, so the challenge is in making the best use of this data.
But not only does this data need to be captured and analysed, it needs to be available in real time so that the mine’s remote operating centre can modify processes, asset utilisation and maintenance to optimise production rates in relation to dynamic market demands. Through IoT, this next level of optimisation can be achieved for a single, or a group of mines, rail and ports around the world.
James Walsh, MMTA