In new­ly built (or ren­o­vat­ed) homes in devel­oped coun­tries, it’s not unusu­al to have ther­mostats that con­trol when dif­fer­ent parts of the house are heat­ed or cooled. A step beyond that are more com­put­erised ther­mostats that can sense whether any­one is in a room or not and adjust as war­rant­ed.

Okay, ramp up such basic indus­tri­al con­trols by a fac­tor of, say, 1,000, and you will start to imag­ine what Gen­er­al Elec­tric (GE) is start­ing to do with trains, pow­er plants, hos­pi­tals — even wind farms.

Steve Lohr report­ed in the Novem­ber 23, 2012, issue of The New York Times that GE is begin­ning to take lessons and approach­es learned in the con­sumer Inter­net and apply them to “the Indus­tri­al Inter­net”. Lohr explains that although GE “resides in a dif­fer­ent world from the con­sumer Inter­net, … the major tech­nolo­gies that ani­mate Google and Face­book are also vital ingre­di­ents in the indus­tri­al Inter­net — tools from arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, like machine-learn­ing soft­ware, and vast streams of new data. In indus­try, the data flood comes main­ly from small­er, more pow­er­ful and cheap­er sen­sors on the equip­ment.” What this means, he adds, is that GE (and, pre­sum­ably, oth­ers) are tak­ing us to the dawn of an age in which machines can, if you will, com­mu­ni­cate how they’re “feel­ing” and what their needs are long before they snap or break down.

Lohr reveals that GE “is putting sen­sors on every­thing”, and the illus­tra­tion that grabbed me most was about the use of sen­sors on tur­bines at wind farms. Lohr cites an exam­ple of 123 tur­bines on two wind farms. Most of us prob­a­bly think that those huge wind tur­bines (and Derek Markham shows what these tur­bines could become) are either run­ning or they’re not. Uh-uh. With sen­sors, these tur­bines might soon be able to check wind speeds and tem­per­a­ture and, per Lohr, deter­mine which tur­bines are safe to run dur­ing heavy weath­er, keep­ing those going while shut­ting the oth­ers down. And how about this: wind tur­bines that “can detect when they are icing up, and speed up or change pitch to knock off the ice”.giel with wind turbine

Maybe all this doesn’t tick­le your inter­ests as much as Face­book announc­ing the top video games of 2012. But don’t let the Indus­tri­al Inter­net slide off your radar. This vari­ant of the Inter­net is about to bring its forces to bear on the indus­tri­al world in the same way it did on the con­sumer econ­o­my. That is a major wave of dis­rup­tion on the hori­zon. Lohr says that GE is visu­al­is­ing ways that tiny sen­sors could add up to huge sav­ings of $150 bil­lion for com­pa­nies. (GE, of course, tells its own sto­ry in this regard.)

Text mes­sag­ing, instant jpg shar­ing, free tele­con­fer­enc­ing, smart­phones engaged in world­wide shop­ping – all of this is actu­al­ly about man­ag­ing big data in inno­v­a­tive ways. Sen­sors on every­thing is anoth­er indi­ca­tion that big data is now real­ly get­ting trac­tion in the indus­tri­al world (please see pre­vi­ous blog on big data) which makes the nextsens­ing process all the more crit­i­cal to find­ing what needs to be next for a lot of com­pa­nies.

The Inter­net of things affects ener­gy, health care and fields that don’t present­ly use sen­sors at all (such as track­ing lost air­line lug­gage). And that means that, as all this grows, the kind of jobs avail­able to young, tal­ent­ed tech­nol­o­gists will be chang­ing. GE may be the new kid in town when it comes to deploy­ing the Inter­net in the mar­ket­place, but if this $147-bil­lion com­pa­ny found­ed in 1892 starts com­pet­ing head-on with the likes of Google and Face­book, watch out, world. The Indus­tri­al Age may soon regain its lost glam­our and swag­ger – and revi­talise the world econ­o­my at the same time.

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