IoT Tech and AI to Grow Beyond Bots and Bitcoin
January 03, 2018      

Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend the IoT Tech Expo North America in Santa Clara, Calif. The event was co-located with sister events Blockchain Expo 2017 and AI Expo 2017. As a result of the three collocated events, the hallways and conference sessions were packed with a diverse set of attendees. The biggest buzz came from the blockchain and digital currency crowd as Bitcoin value soared past $10,000 in value that week.

With over 50 billion connected devices predicted to be in play by 2018, and 8 zettabytes of data produced today, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is predicted to be a $3 trillion market by 2020. IIoT is opening new business opportunities on the shop floor, including:

  • Monitoring of shop-floor equipment
  • Analytics for predicting machine failures and identifying potential scrap
  • Integration with MES and supporting ERP solutions to provide real-time data

Conference highlights

The biggest draw for me to this event was the variety of sessions available between the three events. This was a unique opportunity to learn about AI, blockchain, and IoT technology all in one place. In fact, there were too many sessions of interest to attend all of them. Luckily, they were recorded, and all of the content is now available online.

Harbor Research chart

Alex Glaser’s view of solutions and technology (Source: Harbor Research; click here to enlarge).

Alex Glaser, director of development at Harbor Research, opened up the Connected Industry track with a keynote presentation about the state of the market for connected devices in manufacturing.

I really liked his chart, which correlates solutions with applicable technology. This solution map provides a view of where new solutions, such as IoT tech, have the most applicability.

In his keynote session on “Accelerating the Adoption of IoT in the Enterprise,” Mighael Botha, chief technology officer at Software AG, presented an interesting chart that highlighted the phases of IoT adoption.

Software AG's IoT model

Mighael Botha’s enterprise IoT adoption curve (Click here to enlarge.)

One of the more informative sessions was a panel on “Manufacturing and Smart Factories of the Future,” which included panelists from Stratus, ESI Group, and Boeing.

Boeing is upgrading its factories to optimize production and enable smart sensors to grab real-time data. The aircraft maker is now prewiring all of its new factories to enable IoT.

In the field, IIoT tech promises to improve visibility of the operational aspects of airplanes and improve the quality and performance of airplane components during their operational lifetime. Enabling components to “phone home” with maintenance and operational data presents a whole new class of support opportunity for suppliers and manufacturers alike.

A current bottleneck, which remains to be solved, is how to securely network all of these devices so that they can effectively communicate their data to the desired destination.

AI grows beyond chat bots

On the artificial intelligence side of things, the current product focus remains on using chat bots to automate customer conversations in lieu of conversations with real people. By 2020, Gartner predicts that customers will manage 85% of their enterprise relationships without interacting with a human.

However, there are emerging applications for AI together with the increasing data stream from IIoT devices. They may accelerate the adoption and application of AI in other areas of the enterprise. Such applications include the following:

  • Asset condition monitoring
  • Operational efficiency analysis
  • Capacity and utilization tracking
  • Predictive maintenance alerts
  • Anomalies and patterns detection
  • Predictive replenishment
  • Cyber security

Blockchain technology grows beyond Bitcoin

I am a blockchain technology neophyte, and I was able to learn about the emerging applications for blockchain technology beyond the digital currency realm. As a secure, distributed digital ledger technology, blockchain technology has its origins with the Bitcoin revolution. Yet, blockchain technology is now being leveraged to disintermediate any process where some intermediary is required to physically track the movement of an asset.

In manufacturing, the obvious applications will be in supply chain management and the monitoring of parts or product throughout the entire supply chain. As parts or products travel across the planet and through various import/export checkpoints, blockchain technology could increase visibility and reduce friction throughout the logistics process.

Using blockchain technology, the chain of custody for all types of products can be tracked and verified during the production process to improve customer confidence. Obvious applications include the pharmaceutical supply chain and the production and shipping of organic vegetables.

It’s the Wild West for coin offers

There were over 200 vendors, large and small, in attendance at the event. The most interesting of them were the plethora of “coin” vendors offering some new digital coin or token for sale.

In fact, I learned that the hottest new method to raise capital — and most risky for investors — is what’s called an ICO, or initial coin offering. Coins or tokens offered for sale can’t have any equity, or they would fall under SEC governance as a security. Thus, there is no end to the creative ways in which new coin offerings are providing some utility.

Key IoT Tech Expo takeaways

Next year’s IoT Tech Expo events are already in the planning stages. If the topics of IoT, AI, or blockchain technology are interesting to you, then you should consider attending a regional event. This market is evolving rapidly, and it’s exciting to imagine what new ideas will be launched over the next year.