For a country that missed the industrial revolution of the 19th century, Ireland did a great job in the last few decades of making itself one of Europe’s foremost digital economies. Now it is positioned to help drive the next industrial revolution with the internet of things.
The internet of things (IoT) is enduring something of a hype cycle right now, but the potential of connecting billions of objects – from ECUs in car engines to fridges in homes – to the internet is a tantalising idea that will not die.
It is estimated that, by 2020, some 50bn objects or machines will have a digital lifeline. The industrial revolution that will ensue will be one where producers of goods will transform their business model by turning ‘things’ like cars, furniture and even clothing into attentive servants.
In the apt setting of the National Museum of Ireland, where everything from golden torcs from the 8th century to weapons from the middle ages are on display, the idea of bringing things to life digitally and in industrial terms was explored.
The scene was set for EMC and Vodafone to reveal they have jointly invested €2m in a new INFINITE internet of things (IoT) industrial platform that will traverse Cork, and which will provide facilities for the testing and exploration of technologies like machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.
Test-bed for products and services of tomorrow
The IoT Innovation platform is spread across three data centres in Cork: EMC, Vodafone, and data centre and cloud provider Cork Internet eXchange (CIX).
Businesses will be able to use the platform to test solutions for the internet of things, in manufacturing, fleet management, machinery, household appliances, and even clothing that contains sensors and that can communicate with other machines (or things).
The move comes just over a week after Intel revealed that Ireland was to be the location of its newest IoT lab. The head of Intel’s IoT division, Frank Jones, said that Ireland is in the eye of a perfect storm when it comes to the potential for the IoT economy.
“Any casual observer can see that joining up things with the internet has the capacity to transform the way we live and change so much of the world,” said Jobs Minister Richard Bruton TD.
“We need more companies to participate in this test-bed. We want, as a country, to become early movers in a technology that will transform industries. There’s no reason why, given Ireland’s strength in pharmaceuticals, we can’t lead the world in connected health, for example,” Bruton said, quoting statistics from Gartner that 77pc of industrial leaders believe IoT will transform their business environment.
Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said that the global telecoms operator is already deeply involved in the internet of things, with 17m devices worldwide already connected to other devices in terms of machine-to-machine (M2M), including over 20,000 M2M devices in Ireland.
“We connect people, places and things in a transformational way. Business models that were unimaginable up until now are now possible. IoT is a separate technology that is leading to a situation where the term ICT will be obsolete.
“It is dangerous to predict the future; it is best to prepare for it. The new INFINITE test-bed is all about preparing for a new and exciting future. IoT will mean not only a new generation of businesses, but whole new business models.
This is only the tip of the iceberg for a technology that is set to revolutionise everything from driverless cars to connected health.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg for a technology that is set to revolutionise everything from driverless cars to connected health,” O’Leary said.
The VP of Innovation at EMC, Dr Orna Berry, said that, while many of the technologies for the IoT already exist – hardware, connectivity, intelligence – the standards for joining them together are still being developed.
She said being able to simulate what is coming, test assumptions and make it work is critical.
“If we are thinking about putting devices in cards or in-flight engines, we want to ensure that what we are doing is reasonable. For example, if an aircraft’s engines are in flight, you don’t want to miss maintenance. It’s about simplifying infrastructure to focus on what you want to achieve.”
Dr Berry said we are in an age where there is an abundance of data and this is increasing. “We need to find ways of interconnecting information and generating data – structured or unstructured – that people can build new business models on.
“There are lots of things we don’t know. The living technologies that will be intelligent in three years from now – we don’t know what the next digital revolution will bring forward. Apple tried with the Newton, it failed. Palm created the personal organiser, it failed. Then along came the smartphone. What is the next device that will change everything? What will be the impact of 3D printers on manufacturing? There are lots of issues we don’t know the answers to, but the test-bed in Cork will simulate real-world conditions, and the expertise that will be created will be essential.”
Dr Berry said that IoT represents a new proposition for the technology industry: the industry will have to work together instead of trying to dominate the market.
“No one is going to be the IBM of the 1970s. No one is going to provide all the storage, virtualisation, servers. We need to partner to bring the best of breed, combining technologies in such a way as it’s not about complexity but solving problems, whether it is monitoring cows in a field [or] smart cities, where cities will be more efficient and infrastructure more automated.”
The industrial internet
Citing Steve Jobs, Dr Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, said that it is impossible to define the future. “In the late 19th century, we saw a major social disruption through the introduction of machines – the net effect was an enormous leap in productivity and there were more jobs than before.
“In the late 20th century, the internet revolution brought, once again, huge disruption and a large number of jobs. There were not a whole lot of web designers in the world before 1990. And his name was Tim.”
The Industrial Internet Consortium has more than 176 member companies, including IBM, HP, EMC, Tyco, Dell, Toshiba, Toyota and Samsung, to name a few.
Dr Soley predicts more momentous change thanks to the onset of IoT. “By changing the way products are sold, for example, manufacturers will have connections to products and deeper connections with customers.”
The key to the success of IoT will be software and standards. “Products no longer exist in a vacuum without software. This gives us a lot more information about how products are used, can be used and what can be sold. It is a large opportunity – some estimates suggest the IoT represents a US$33 trillion a year opportunity, which is an enormous piece of the world’s GDP.”
Dr Soley said that, globally, there are eight test-beds, with 15 more coming on stream. The Cork test-bed is the third in the world to go public.
“Test-beds are vital to inventing the future. We can only get to the new products and services by testing what works and what doesn’t work.”
IoT and the future of work
Once the tech industry and other industries collaborate, and begin connecting physical objects and devices, new business models will emerge, said Derek O’Halloran from the World Economic Forum.
Eight out of 10 [of 2013’s] in-demand jobs didn’t exist in 2004
“IoT will fundamentally enable a shift where companies can shift from selling products to selling services on top of those products. We studied 250 executives from across all industries, and 74pc said that the main reason for pursuing IoT was to drive new business opportunities in markets that didn’t exist.”
Cases in point include Hailo – which is really a network of connected cars – and Rolls-Royce, which is using data from smart-enabled engines to sell guaranteed uptime and maintenance to customers.
The disruption to the taxi industry being caused by Uber and Hailo brings to mind the kind of distruption we may see in all kinds of roles.
“Eight out of 10 [of 2013’s] in-demand jobs didn’t exist in 2004,” O’Halloran said.
“Automation is going to remove the need for some jobs, new jobs will be created, but what we think we are going to see is that far more jobs will be just changed, from mining through to healthcare, pretty much any job that is enabed by technology.”