The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been astonishing. From our cars to our watches to our factories, more and more things are becoming embedded with technology. We can do more than ever before with the objects around us.
Regardless, both companies and consumers have not yet tapped into the abundant possibility of the IoT. And a lot of this has to do with how we use and collect data from the devices that we have deemed smart.
Even though we can theoretically collect and analyze more than ever before, our data use has lagged behind. McKinsey reported on IoT analytics use cases and found that an oil rig with 30,000 sensors used only 1% of its data — that's right, one percent.
We need to be prepared to ask better questions about our relationship with smart devices and start using the data that we're collecting in IoT analytics use cases. Companies that do not start taking advantage of the abundance of IoT data are going to fall behind, and the ones that do are going to rise to the top.
Factories — Moving towards optimization
The factory setting is the perfect breeding ground for advancements in the IoT.
Since most factories have become heavily automated, the potential for data collection is boundless, and with all factories competing for the best results at the lowest cost, the motivation to improve is alive and well.
Factories that are automated are looking to start collecting more data and connecting their devices to each other, even to things like incoming orders. Many factories have already put systems in place that alert employees of equipment issues.
Companies, like Amazon, are maximizing space by grouping items into cubbies that have available room, rather than grouping like-items together. This, combined with smart storage systems that “remember” what is stored where, streamlines the factory, shipping, and storage experience through the IoT.
But many factories still have a long way to go from automation to truly use the IoT as an analytics powerhouse for their company. Near-full automation is allowing orders to be processed and shipped faster than ever before. Baseline analytics regarding machine performance and order tracking is the start of businesses understanding their inventory and their manufacturing process more intimately.
But the future is even brighter. If (almost) fully automated factories can collect and harness data on almost every single part of their manufacturing and shipping processes, they will quickly optimize their operations, reduce wasted resources, and predict things like machine maintenance. Because factories rely on a very delicate sequence of events, granular detail on every part of the chain will have a great impact on streamlining industrial production.
Cities — Increasing quality of public life
Small advancements toward “smart cities” are already becoming commonplace in many urban areas around the world. Something as simple as an electronic sign telling you when your bus is supposed to arrive or whether it has encountered a delay is an example of the IoT solving problems in cities.
One of the biggest hassles in a city is navigating transportation and traffic. So tracking trams, buses, and subways is a huge help to commuters and not just because you know when your bus will arrive. Many cities also use this tracking to schedule maintenance work on infrastructure and vehicles, targeting the least disruptive time for repairs and the most likely candidates for repair work — a fabulous example of top IoT analytics use cases.
There's potential for data from the IoT to help improve the quality of life all over cities, particularly where large (public) services are involved. For example, cities like Barcelona are using trash cans equipped with sensors that measure how full they are. This helps optimize service routes, keeps the cans empty, and reduces traffic.
The future potential for smart cities is endless. When more objects in cities become part of the IoT, city planning will be shaped by the data that they collect to restructure our relationship with our urban surroundings literally.
Even parking and navigation still have improvements left. Cars could alert you when you're running out of time on your parking spot or if your car is in a zone that has hit street-sweeping time. New tram or bus routes could be planned around years of traffic data.
More than public infrastructure will be affected. For example, with city power grids tracking usage and smart devices connected to the IoT, we might see innovations like blackout preventions. A fridge might stay on while lamps, TVs, and other non-essential devices are kept off, rather than rolling total power cuts across a city.
The IoT in cities should react and respond to the problems that urban developments have, and the data we collect from “smart cities” plays a role in making that possible.
Self-Improvement — How the IoT shapes habits
One of the biggest trends for self-improvement is the smartwatch/fitness tracker — a perfect example of how the IoT is already being used to shape our habits. Wearable tech is huge when thinking about how the IoT shapes us as individuals, whether that's tracking our sleep, steps, miles run or minutes without moving, these devices allow us to analyze our own behaviors.
There's also IoT that help you manage larger habits, like your energy consumption and your food waste. Smart fridges let you look into your fridge from the grocery store, and even notify you when foods are about to expire. It's only a matter of time before they're able to help you track the way you buy, eat, and waste food with even more data.
Smart meters can also be used to measure energy, water, and gas consumption in your home. This gives homeowners a live look-in at their spending and consumption any time they choose. Some companies combine this with aggregate data about energy use to vary the costs of utilities depending on time of day and season. This helps homeowners spend less on energy, and encourages green home habits.
Personal betterment with the IoT is about automatically collecting behavioral data and using it to change the way you behave. We have made good strides to develop simple wearable tech, and as these devices continue to collect information, both companies and individuals will reap those benefits.
The future of self-improvement with the IoT should see our wearable devices becoming more and more sophisticated. Shoes might have sensors in the sole that detect problems with stride or tell you how long you've been standing in a day. Athletes could wear force sensors in their equipment to help reduce and prevent injuries. Things like toothbrushes could be gamified to encourage good habits, or your smartphone might beep if it's too far away from your smart keys.
Companies should be looking at the data coming in from these devices and helping users get the most out of their products. As more and more personal items become part of the IoT, the key will be making this data manageable and accessible, not a data-dump.
Retail — Consumer-driven innovation
Most innovations in retail have focused on the shopper's journey through the store selecting items. Smart checkouts are an example of this, where the checkout station has been designed to scan, weigh, tell if shoppers are using their own bags, and complete all functions of a checkout person within a small “smart” station.
Amazon took this further with their idea for a store that automatically scans the items you picked and charges you on your way out the door, with no need to scan each individual item. An Italian “smart” grocery store concept pushed the envelope yet again by making all nutritional information, grower information, carbon footprint, allergy information, price — basically anything you'd want to know while shopping — available through smart displays in-store.
Amazon and others have piloted drone “quick” delivery services, and other retailers, such as luxury retailer Everlane, are also offering hour-of delivery. With drones becoming more commonplace, quick shipping via drone could see a boom, specifically for customers within a certain radius of brick and mortar stores or storage and shipping facilities.
These examples underscore how retail is using IoT to improve the consumer experience by alleviating the worst parts of purchasing, like waiting in line or waiting for items to ship. This is bringing mechanization to parts of the retail chain that haven't been upgraded in the same way as back-end manufacturing processes.
But they don't speak to how the data from these smart devices are going to be used to make retail experience even better. Does adding a carbon footprint to food really help a shopper? Are drone flight patterns going to be measured against weather pressure systems to ensure speedy delivery?
Good IoT analytics use cases will uncover better indicators as to how consumers interact with purchase experiences — how are people moving through stores, how long are they looking at items or in dressing rooms or waiting in line? What are their pain points, what is influencing their purchasing decisions in brick and mortar locations?
Implementing smart technology in retail should yield answers to these questions through a wealth of data collected from the way customers behave.
Whether you're trying to optimize machine behavior or eliminate your own bad habits, the IoT has the potential to revolutionize the way you achieve your goals — but only if you let it.
Yes, it can be hard to wrap your head around the idea that your fridge or your pillow or the brakes of your city bus can provide the data it takes to make the next revolutionary shift. Embracing this possibility and taking a critical eye to what we can do with a flood of new information will pave the way to the future.