The Internet of Things: More Efficient Than You

© Erik Isakson/Blend Images/Corbis

Is the Internet of Things more than just customizable environments? How will it impact the efficiency of civic and industrial systems? What will these changes mean for you and me? Listen in to learn more.

Jonathan: Greetings everyone, welcome to Forward Thinking. I am your host Jonathan Strickland, joined by my fellow co-hosts who are going to introduce themselves now.

Lauren: Hi, I'm Lauren Vogelbaum.

Joe: Hi, I'm Joe McCormick.

Jonathan: And these two are part of the brain trust that keeps Forward Thinking going. We are looking at topics that are going to be really important to us in the future, how they're going to affect us as human beings, and one of the things that we wanted to talk about was this concept of the Internet of things. Now Lauren, if I came up to you and I said, "What is this internet of things concept? I just don't understand." How would you describe it?

Lauren: Well, basically it's the idea that all of the devices that we use, and not just our computers and our cell phones, but also our cars and our houses, are going to be communicating with each other in order to provide the best environment possible for every human person.

Jonathan: Right, yeah. This idea that we're going to have ubiquitous sensors around us constantly gathering data, crunching that data in some sort of way, and then using the data in different ways, whether that's to serve it up to us, saying, "Oh, by the way, your energy usage this much has been such-and-such," or, "Oh, by the way, you've burned X number of calories because you did all this running around today." Or it will actually make devices behave in a very specific way, and it kind of takes human interaction completely out of that equation, so that your thermostat, for example, might adjust itself based upon the weather, and maybe even your own body's temperature. So it's kind of this neat idea of technology shaping the world around us. Joe, why don't we talk a little bit about what the video kind of covered and what we're going to cover today?

Joe: Okay. Well, in the video we were talking about how - we focused a lot on how the internet of things will change the end user experience of the world, and by that I mean just the way the world looks to you and me. And we talked about customizable environments, which means that the room in your house might have any number of hidden elements that are conspiring to make your life more comfortable and easier, and they're taking data to learn what you like and how to fit you best. So this could be lighting and music, environmental control, like you were saying, but I thought in this podcast one thing that would be interesting to talk about would be an even more invisible aspect of how the internet of things will change society, which is how it will change efficiency in the processes we don't always see in industry, in civic systems.

Lauren: And healthcare and anything.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. We're talking again about devices that are taking endless measurements and then sending that data back in some fashion to make our live easier and in manufacturing, that's a very simple way of changing huge outcomes. I mean, manufacturing processes have changed quite a bit ever since the industrial revolution, but the idea of the internet of things could bring that to an even more precise level.

Lauren: Right. When you have machines that have computers at every single stop gap of the process that are calling home and telling you what the machine is doing, how efficient it's being, how fast the motors are running, how fast the product is being turned out, then you can use that to completely optimize everything every step of the way, and furthermore, have that machine tell you when it's about to break.

Jonathan: Yeah, which, of course, would be a huge benefit if you already know that you need to do some preventive maintenance on a machine before it breaks down. That can mean the difference between a profitable month or a disaster. And Joe, you had a story you were telling us earlier about, kind of, you gave us a scenario where this makes sense.

Joe: Oh yeah, well, you just have to imagine you're in a furniture factory and maybe you're the floor manager there, and you produce a certain kind of upholstered chair. Now, for a while it's been taking X number of hours to complete the production, from when you first get the parts until when you ship it. Suddenly, this month, it's taking twice as long. Now, in lots of factories, you might have no idea why, because we've got humans dealing with the machines at every step along the way, and you have no devices to really track the difference and how long it takes to produce this thing and give real time analytics and feedback. With the Internet of things, each particular cog along the production line is both uploading and downloading information, so the production line itself is teaching and learning.

Jonathan: Right, so then, by the, if there is something that's causing a slower production than normal, you can actually see where the bottleneck is occurring. Or, if it's an intelligent enough system, it anticipates that and fixes it so that you never have that problem to start with. It's definitely something that could impact us down the line. This is something that anyone who works in that industry, obviously, it would affect them, but if you're asking, "All right, well how about the average person, the consumer, how would that affect this person?" Well, increased efficiency could mean that you see prices start to come down on products because it takes less money to produce them, and as competition rises, that could see the prices come down. You don't have to worry about that profit margin being affected because the cost of production has gone down, so that you can actually lower the cost to the consumer. That doesn't always happen, obviously. We have industries out there where the cost of production has come down, let's keep the price the same way, but it's something that could happen.

Lauren: Sure, and if it happens in your industry then it means that you get to, hypothetically, make more money, so that's not a bad thing either.

Jonathan: No, that tends to make shareholders very happy, as it turns out. And you were mentioning, Joe, also, about the civic uses. One of my favorite illustrations of the Internet of things is the idea that with the true implementation of the Internet things at its most pervasive level, traffic doesn't exist.

Lauren: It can be completely automated so that, for example, if you live in, say, Atlanta, like the three of us do, and have to commute through Atlanta, like the three of us do, then you don't get in traffic jams that take up, how many hours a week is the average?

Jonathan: For the average Atlantan, I think they spend around half an hour per trip. It could be more than that, actually, because I think in Atlanta the average commute is close to around 30 miles, which is, that's a long commute for someone who lives in the city where they're working. It means that a lot of us are not living very close to wherever our offices are, and on top of that, Atlanta traffic is pretty bad. It does regularly rank in those top cities of bad traffic; cities like Los Angeles, or New York or DC. There are several in the United States that are known as being bad when you're a driver, just for the sense of how much time you're going to spend sitting in traffic.

But with the internet of things, you could have all these devices that detect changes in traffic and either relay that information to drivers, so that they can react proactively and take a different route so that they are no longer at risk of being delayed because of a change in traffic, or, if you pair this with, say, an autonomous car, the cars themselves start to adjust without your input at all, and next thing you know you're where you need to be. And beyond that, we're talking about improvements that could allow things like dynamic control of traffic signals. So the example I always give is, imagine you are driving home at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, as the three of us often are doing, because we burn the midnight oil at our office, not because we're all party animals. That's also true, but not material.

But you're driving home at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and you get to that infamous traffic stop, where the light has turned red and you know you're going to be sitting there for three minutes while there's no cross traffic at all. With a truly dynamic system, the traffic components already know you're approaching, they already know there's no traffic coming the other way, and they change all the lights.

Lauren: They just let you through.

Jonathan: Yeah. So that means at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, you have the magical experience of all green lights all the time, so that red lights, when you see them, become something that's unusual, and hopefully you remember what to do. But, more importantly -

Joe: Well, that same principle could be translated to matters of life and death and not just convenience. If you imagine the problems that a first responder encounters, I don't know if you've ever had that experience of, you're sitting in traffic at rush hour and nobody is moving, and suddenly behind you you hear a siren, and you see an ambulance coming through, and it just can't penetrate.

Lauren: And there's nothing you can do, there's nothing it can do, everyone is at a stand still.

Joe: Right. It's just stuck, and you know in the back of that ambulance somebody could be dying, and they have to get through, but they can't. Now imagine if the traffic grid was smart. If the cars were smart, they were all communicating, if the traffic lights were smart and they were all communicating, the grid itself could clear a path because it knows where the first responder needs to go. You'd know before you even heard the siren that it was coming, that you needed to pull over. The traffic lights would know so they could block off traffic from cross streets.

Jonathan: yeah, this is truly a matter of life and death. It could mean that it saves lives. The Internet of things could literally save and prolong life in that fashion, and beyond that, it's something that could also impact on a macro scale, our energy use and and even our energy production. Lauren, you were telling me about something along those lines.

Lauren: Yeah, if railways were smarter, they could use GPS to track trains, and also add in the length and the load into the data, and min/max the performance and fuel usage. Also, with the production of energy itself, you could have wind turbines that know when to shut down due to danger from high winds at an individual level. They could be detecting what's going on with the weather, if they start freezing up in the winter, automatically speed up to knock off ice. One wind farm in particular did a study where they input a whole bunch of this smart technology and over the course of a year, they had about a three percent increase in energy output, which sounds really small until you take into consideration that that's $1.2 million in additional revenue.

Jonathan: Yeah, and tiny tiny changes in industries can end up having huge impacts down the road. It can be very simple to sort of write out something where you hear a small percentage, but it means a big change, especially for something as large as energy production. So you're talking about having this system that can intelligently react to different inputs, whether it's environmental or performance or even a human factor, and be able to adjust so that it's giving the most efficient output. I mean, that's an amazing story, and obviously once we've reached this point in the world, our experiences day-to-day will be very different, I think, because things like traffic, I can't imagine what a generation who grows up without traffic would feel like if suddenly there was a traffic jam.

Lauren: That green light scenario sounds like magic, to me.

Jonathan: Yeah, it does. Again, Arthur C. Clarke, right there, saying about the, as technologies get more sophisticated, they eventually reach a point where they are indistinguishable from magic, and that would be a wonderful world to live in. I do worry about living in a world that would occasionally need a control alt delete. Have you tried turning it off and on again? But to me the bonus is the positives about this world are so phenomenal that it would be unthinkable not to pursue them.

Lauren: Sure, and lots of companies are doing that currently. GE is calling it the "industrial internet," right now, IBM has a phrase that they're calling "smarter planet," Cisco of course has "the internet of everything" that they keep talking about.

Jonathan: Sure, yeah. So everyone has a different kind of way of summing this up in a little title, but it's all saying the same thing, really.

Lauren: Yeah. The point is that it's incredibly worthwhile, financially and environmentally and socially.

Jonathan: Yeah, so I'm excited to see this world come about. I cannot wait to find out what my own personal reality is going to be, especially considering that I won't have to worry about traffic anymore. That, I know I go on about that, but really, if you've lived in a place where there's been a lot of traffic, I can - you all understand that the idea of no traffic is something that we think is just a fairy tale.

Joe: I think we should get in on the naming.

Jonathan: Oh, well we'll have to come up with our own version.

Joe: Our own name, so we can get in on the ground floor.

Jonathan: Right, yeah. Well, we'll start brainstorming names for the internet of things. I vote Dave, but other names are fully - it's all up to discussion, just remember that my decision is final, and then we're all good. And, guys, we're going to have this amazing website. It's launching on March 1st, and it's called That's At that site, you're going to be able to find copies of our audio podcast, you're going to be able to see the video series, which is really amazing, and you're going to be able to read some blog posts written by these two amazing co-hosts of mine. Also, some written by me as well. So I highly encourage you to go to that website and check it out once it launches on March 1st. It's really going to be something special. I'm very excited about it, and I'm excited to see the future, guys. I hope you are too. Lauren is. Joe?

Joe: No doubt.

Jonathan: All right, excellent. We're all in agreement here. I hope you guys are too, out there, and we hope to hear from you soon.

Male Speaker 1: For more on this topic and the future of technology, visit Brought to you by Toyota. Let's go places.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 15 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: energy, manufacturing, industry, Internet of Things, transportation