Structural Health Monitoring: underground pipelines could be monitored in real-time avoiding manual inspection by humans. Off-shore wind turbines could also be monitored so that if a crack is detected in the foundations, blades or nacelle an engineer could be immediately notified and dispatched, potentially preventing catastrophic failure. Aircraft will be monitored in real-time so structural defects between scheduled maintenance stops are detected (NDT is becoming more difficult with carbon fibre versus metallics so issues with cracking and delamination will become a growing problem).
Energy Efficiency: commercial facilities such offices and factories will be able to control their thermostats, pumps, chillers, commercial air-handling equipment and cooling towers. Apparently Microsoft have reduced their energy bill by $2 million in less than 18 months by monitoring the 145 buildings on its Redmond campus.
Patient Care: connected devices are starting to appear in hospitals enabling data such as patients' vital signs to be shared in real-time with medical professionals. Also "smart pills" are being tested that monitor the digestive tract and report relevant data directly to a doctor over a secure Internet connection.
Transport: telematics systems are being adopted throughout the transportation industry. For example, the military are starting to install telematics systems onto armoured fighting vehicles, haulage companies on trucks, and train operators on trains. Real-time monitoring will offer insights into key performance indicators such as driver compliance, fuel savings, impact on time to destination improved safety, and enhanced operational performance. This technology will trickle down to the consumer so that one day instead of purchasing a car we will be charged based on usage, similar to a "pay-as-you-go" contract.
Manufacturing: individual parts and assembled components will be tracked during manufacture of complex objects such as aircraft. This is referred to as "smart assembly". This is beneficial because there is a growing trend for OEMs or "Prime Contractors" to sub-contract manufacture of almost every part of an aircraft, which allows them to focus on airframe assembly. Tier 1 and 2 suppliers are usually not located within the same country which represents quite a logistical challenge! For example the Boeing Dreamliner's beautifully curvy carbon fibre wings are manufactured in Japan. They are shipped all the way to America where they are attached to the fuselage. Intelligent networks will enable customers and suppliers to reduce downtime and increase efficiency by monitoring each other's progress throughout the manufacturing process.
Smart Cities: local police and fire departments will have citywide sensing, communications, and response networks. Roads, bridges and buildings will be monitored in real-time so, for example, it would be known immediately how far a wall has moved after an earthquake. Data relating to traffic flow, accidents and car parking spaces will be provided to motorists in real-time. Glasgow's £24 million smart city project will embed sensors within street and traffic lights. Operators will know when bulbs need to be replaced and LED's will be automatically controlled remotely so that empty streets can be darkened to save energy. The office of the future, covered in a previous article, will use "smart trash cans" to reduce visits to bins that are not yet full.
So this is all very well but a tricky issue still remains. How do all these smart devices communicate wirelessly? What is needed is a wireless network that allows things to communicate, similar to a 4G network but less bandwidth-hungry. David Cameron announced that OFCOM is looking at the way spectrum is parcelled out to make it easier to get IoT devices connected up. Mesh networks and cognitive radio are some technologies that may help but what we need is a new dedicated network for "things" such as the one SigFox is building. They claim to be the first and only cellular network operator dedicated to M2M & the Internet of Things but another contender is "Weightless" which could use white space frequency channels originally intended for TV broadcasting that are currently unoccupied, hence the OFCOM announcement. It boasts a 5km range, 10 year battery life and $2 chip cost per unit! Neul is a member of the Weightless consortium (more info at weightless.org) so, in short, the acquisition of Neul is very good news for UK's IOT ecosystem. A substantial cash injection from Huawei will directly help Cambridge's burgeoning tech cluster and therefore the UK as a whole. Who cares? We all should care!
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