Executive Technology Briefer, IBM Research
Since 1982, IBM Research has marshaled the unique capabilities of its worldwide community of top scientists to create the Global Technology Outlook (GTO). The GTO is a comprehensive analysis that looks three to ten years into the future seeking to identify significant, disruptive technologies that will change IBM and the world. Moshe Rappoport presents IBM Research’s view of the future of IT technology to customers, academics, press, government officials etc. and challenges his listeners to think about the future confluence of technology, business and society. His particular focus areas include future innovations in the Retail & Consumer Products, Health & Life Sciences, Education, and Travel industries.
I believe that the Internet of Things will have a huge impact in health and medicine – both preventive and curative, public safety, travel and transport and, of course, in the consumer space, where it is being fueled by developments like wearables.
When I look back a decade or so at the IT industry, that’s when the hype around IoT started. But back then there were several critical pieces missing to make it a reality. Now, we are finally seeing a lot of the technologies that we have been working on in the industry over the past 20 years, finally come together. These technologies include middle ware, analytics and cloud computing combined with the advances in hardware and in the mobile and telecommunications area. Data is now seen as the new natural resource on which to build new services, markets and business models. Significantly, IoT data will play a key role in this transformation.
Erik Hoving, Chief Technology Officer of the Dutch telecom company KPN, recently said that standardizing the communication to allow interoperability between large scale low-power wide area network deployments is essential to unlock the volumes of data from IoT. And he couldn’t be more right. We need these communication interoperability standards.
This is why I am particularly excited about the recently launched LoRa Alliance. LoRa, short for Long Range, is an important step to tackle the challenge of creating low-power wireless area network standards, known as LPWAN. As an open, non-profit industry association initiated by Semtech, the LoRa Alliance brings together companies such as IBM, Actility, Cisco, Kerlink as well as lead telecom operators including Bouygues Telecom, KPN, Swisscom and FastNet.
The Alliance has developed its own specification for LPWAN which enables point to point communications of IoT devices spanning 100 km in favourable conditions with data rates of up to 100 Kbit/sec. That means two devices can talk to each other without the use of the Internet or cellular connections, and the devices can run for up to 10 years on a single AA battery, meaning they can be used nearly everywhere.
At IBM Research – Zurich, our researchers are working on various technologies that will make IoT a reality including small devices, security, energy and analytics. In addition, we are providing the glue or middleware for LPWAN with our partners to enable the implementation of this technology. Our scientists have developed the platform which allows our customers and partners to easily build and manage sensor networks and their applications – and very importantly, scale them up. Combining the software with the IBM IoT Foundation cloud-hosted service, companies can realize large-scale IoT projects connecting millions of end devices with all the data processing and analysis that comes with these.
Similar to the Wi-Fi and cellular services offered today by global telecommunications firms I think we will also see them offering IoT services. As I mentioned, LPWAN doesn’t use the Internet or cellular to connect the devices – it uses completely different frequencies. So the telecom operators will now begin to offer a new set of offerings to the market.
IoT data is one of our new natural resources and as we start putting the pieces together and use it, it will transform industries. Here is just a simple example. A firm in the US is installing 20,000 sensors this year to track the fuel levels of propane and oil tanks located at consumer homes and businesses on the west and east coasts of the United States using LPWAN and the IBM software. Every hour the sensors collect and securely transmit data, including fuel levels, gauge status, sensor status, and sensor recalibration reports, to fuel providers, who then determine when to dispatch deliveries and when to replenish supplies.
But IoT is only one part of the next big thing. It’s a critical part since it captures real-time information, but it’s not sufficient. The real power lies in combining IoT data with other data sources, processing it and generating new insights and services. To do this, we will need to evolve to a new richer computing model. At IBM Research we call this new model cognitive computing. Cognitive systems use machine learning algorithms and are designed to efficiently analyze huge amounts of data from different sources. These systems are also capable of understanding natural language and interact with us in more natural ways in order to help us deal with this data tsunami. We see them as our ultimate digital assistants in the era of big data.
I am convinced that within 5 to 10 years nearly every major company will have implemented IoT-applications. The book Smart Machines paints a very good picture of where we need to go in computing in the next 10 to 20 years.
Moshe Rappoport and Elise Orhan