The Internet of Things (IoT) is opening up a world of business opportunity as everything from cars to fridges to hearing aids gets connected. A new frontier in smart business solutions, IoT is also redefining the very industries it is disrupting.
It’s changing entire industries, says the chief technology officer for Cisco’s Internet of Everything vertical solutions team, Aglaia Kong. “Look at the Uber example, it impacted the taxi industry tremendously,” Kong says. “Business leaders need to be mindful about what is coming.”
The IoT makes it possible to control and monitor remote environments, and to collate and analyse huge amounts of data – data that deepens our understanding of trends, risks and opportunities.
One of the Australian companies at the edge of this new frontier is Abyss Solutions, a start-up that uses aquatic drones to monitor underwater assets. What’s more, the drones are not guided by a person. This may sound simple, but global positioning systems do not work underwater and acoustic navigation systems are expensive.
Abyss’s drones find their way using a proprietary system, cutting the cost per drone to about $5000. According to director Nasir Ahsan, there are many applications for these drones: dams, water ways, ship hulls, oil and gas pipelines, subsea cables, fish and oyster farms, fish stock assessment, and aquatic weeds, to name just a few.
“For the first time ever, our clients get a comprehensive understanding of their whole asset, and a baseline that helps them proactively manage their assets,” Ahsan says.
For example, dam managers no longer have to wait until they detect a fault then send a diver to the estimated location. Using an Abyss drone, they can systematically map the dam below the waterline. Then Abyss software analyses thousands of images, a herculean and mind-numbing task that would take humans a whole lot longer.
Farming’s new frontier
Sydney-based software developer Craig Hendricks saw a viable solution to agricultural problems thanks to the IoT. Hendricks owned a farm near Oberon, about three-hours’ drive west of Sydney, where he farmed cattle, truffles and olives.
“I needed to be able to monitor and manage things when I wasn’t there,” Hendricks says. “So I developed technology to check what was going on – the level of water in the tanks, whether the pumps were working, and the soil moisture.”
Today Hendricks is commercialising the resulting system, Farmbot, to deliver remote-area monitoring to farmers, beginning with water monitoring.
Having recently installed a sensor on a 66,000 hectare farm, Hendricks recalls the astonishing result. “We turned it on Thursday night,” he says. “At 11am on Friday, the sensor showed the tank was empty. They didn’t believe it, so they looked. It was empty.”
Such data dramatically changes farm management, Hendricks says. The farmers discovered the pumps to the tank were not working properly, the water tank was too small, and their stock was using more water than they thought.
“They then had the data to support the capital expenditure,” says Hendricks. “Two weeks later, they ordered as many sensors as I could deliver. It’s a simple case, but the problem on farms is that something is always happening, especially with water, and you get caught out regularly.”
The next generation of IoT technology is already having a massive impact on our homes, and the way we go about day-to-day activities. On a recent visit to Australia Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future, shared his vision for the way connected smart devices would continue to impact our homes and lives.
“The internet started with a PC on the desk and a hard wire to the wall, it didn’t become mobile until we had Wi-Fi and laptops, then smartphones let us move the internet from the laptop into our pocket and with virtual devices it’s in our line of sight,” Cole says. “Virtual reality will let us walk through hotels, and tourist attractions in our own home before we book our holiday.”
The challenge for business leaders, according to Cole, lies in creating the right cultural environment to respond to these changes to recognise and deliver the next phase of change.
“If you look at Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple they’re all getting into each other’s businesses, they’re all aggressively challenging each other, and challenging themselves,” says Cole. “The point is, if all four of these companies have cropped up in the last 16 to 20 years, there’s no reason to believe that we’re not going to see equally big competitors in the next three to five years, or that some of the four may go away.”