The Common Sense of Sensors

The achievement of a truly connected world — where not only computers are networked but any physical device is capable of receiving and transmitting data — is one of the biggest changes in the business environment of the last few decades. As we discussed last week, the Internet infrastructure is being adapted to allow a remarkably large number of devices to be connected and integrated. At the same time, initiatives around the world seek to standardize communication models between machines, enabling a less complex and more efficient environment.

The fall in the cost of producing sensors — the equipment responsible for capturing and transmitting information — now allows a single device to carry several types of sensors: proximity, light, noise, temperature, pressure, spatial orientation (gyroscope), applied force (accelerometer), and humidity are just a few examples. And this market has extremely positive prospects: according to BIS Research, the expected growth for sensor manufacturers over the next five years is close to 30% per year.

The management of assets by gathering information through sensors emerges as one of the first wide-scope projects adopted by several companies. Fleets of vehicles, goods and equipment — in addition to the chain of suppliers and customers — can now be monitored and measured in real time. Is the temperature of a perishable product approaching critical levels during transportation? Simply issue an alert to the driver, informing which package needs to be replaced or what action should be taken. If the vehicle in question is autonomous, simply alter its destination leading it to the nearest service center or, if that is not feasible, discard that particular product. Power consumption will also be greatly optimized — whether to control elevators, refrigeration and heating equipment or lighting. With motion or pressure sensors it is possible to determine how many people are in each environment, adjusting the temperature accordingly and enabling a more efficient management of power use.

Another application involves determining, in advance and with safety, the appropriate timing for maintenance of equipment — whether it is a specific machine component, a turbine, a motor, or an oil probe. With the ability to monitor parameters such as wear, usage volume and material fatigue, operators are notified as soon as an action is required.

IoT can also realize a fictional element featured in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film “Minority Report,” based on a tale by writer Philip K. Dick: customization in advertising. With intelligent sensors connected to products, it is possible to identify the consumer via their mobile phone (in the film, retinal identification is used) and thus convey the most relevant advertisements and offers to that individual.

Increases in efficiency and reduction of waste that are made possible through the use of sensors, data, and algorithms scattered across the planet promise considerable productivity gains, potentially strengthening the economy and all elements participating in the supply chain. But the Internet of Things revolution will not be limited to businesses: the impact on homes and cities will be equally meaningful — with opportunities for considerable improvements in our quality of life. This will be our topic for next week. See you then.

Founder at GRIDS Capital, Award-winning author of “Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution”, Twitter @guyperelmuter