Traditionally, technicians have had to read extensive manuals when diagnosing complex issues, but now they can use Augmented Reality to access not only service guides and tutorials, but also information specific to the bikes they are actually working on, such as production data, service history, and current warranty coverage. The back-end functionality is handled by the ThingWorx IoT platform, but for the technicians to actually visualise the data, they still need to either wear AR headsets such as HoloLens or Google Glass, or use a tablet device such as an iPad that must be held by the technician, and placed over the area that is being worked on.
Another application for the ThingWorx IoT Platform is in the area of industrial equipment. At the show I was able to check out a control panel which displayed data that was being pushed to a web interface in real-time from generators that were located in a school somewhere in the world. Obviously, for security reasons, I didn't know which school it was, or the location of the facility, but the very fact it was connected to a real place, in real-time was fascinating to me. I could see each generator's power output, temperature, as well as historic data such as service history, breakdowns, and energy consumption. In addition to viewing the real-time data, the system is also able to send alerts directly to those responsible for managing it, in the event that something within the system requires their attention. It's almost as if the IoT has started to give inanimate objects all over the world a voice.
Although I didn't ask, I guess it'd be possible to not only monitor the generators via a smartphone or tablet, but also take control of them remotely providing the correct login details are entered. For obvious reasons, security remains a very important issue, which is why the enterprise is increasingly turning to specialist service providers such as ThingWorx, as well as the company's network of partners. Connecting industrial assets to the Internet is not a trivial matter, neither is protecting those assets once they come online. They need to be sure that they will see an increase in operational efficiency, and feel comfortable that the system, once deployed, is safe, robust and secure. By building applications on top of the ThingWorx IoT platform, it is good to know that everything from bug fixes to security patches is taken care of.
Another interesting case study on display involved a "digital twin" in the form of a Santa Cruz mountain bike. The concept of a "digital twin" is a little hard to get your head around, but essentially it is a three dimensional CAD model that's normally created by the design team ahead of the manufacturing process. Within the context of the IoT, each product that leaves the factory is "tethered" to its own CAD model that is linked to sensors embedded within the product, in this case a Santa Cruz mountain bike. This enables the OEM to continuously keep track of the item, even after it has been assembled and dispatched to the end-user.
Without the digital twin nothing is known about how a product functions or performs post-acquisition. This is because the digital and physical have always remained separate. The "digital twin" concept is, however, about to change all that thanks to software developed by ThingWorx.
The mountain bike on display at the show was fitted with sensors for tracking wheel speed, pressure of suspension, as well as the angle of steering, and linked to a digital twin that could be seen moving on a screen in sync with its physical sibling. All kinds of other sensors could in theory be added, providing the data being gathered adds value in some way, without infringing customer privacy. The last thing customers want is OEMs spying on them, but that is a topic for another occasion. It was weird to see something exist in both the physical and digital world simultaneously.
The ultimate goal of this technology is to revolutionise the way products are paid for, used, and maintained. Instead of buying and owning possessions in the traditional sense, we will simply pay for them based on usage. Sensors built into all kinds of everyday objects will communicate data back to the OEM about how they are being used. I'm not yet sure if this is creepy or incredibly cool, but I suspect that over time we will get used to the idea. In the same way that we now trade our privacy for convenience via social networks, interaction with connected objects will feel completely natural. Eventually by monitoring the digital twin of every item that comes off the production line, OEMs will be able to accurately monitor and manage the entire lifecycle of every product they produce. This is commonly referred to as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), and is a term that will take on greater significance as the IoT becomes more mainstream.
The reason why intelligent PLM will become so valuable is that it will enable companies to deliver all kinds of enhanced services. For example, people will only pay for what they use, products will be repaired the moment they develop a fault, and complementary products and services will be seamlessly delivered to us based on our location, preferences and circumstances, as if by magic! In fact the IoT will enable entrepreneurial companies to dream up all kinds of value-added services that will one day delight and surprise us like nothing we've ever experienced before, if proponents of the IoT are to be believed.
One thing is for sure, ownership will become a thing of the past, and "on-demand" services will increasingly become the norm. Uber is only the beginning. In a few years' time vehicle ownership will plummet, as will ownership of white goods and other domestic appliances. Like Uber today, almost everything tomorrow will be summoned with the press of a button, and companies like ThingWorx are well positioned because they will become the glue that will bind everything together.