My first week at New Equipment Digest, my frenetic editor, Travis Hessman, and I were in his office, listing all the tech-centric stories we’d like to cover as our team endeavored to bring an eighty-year-old manufacturing magazine into the 21st century.
Admittedly, we sounded like a couple of high school girls talking about the latest boy bands we’re crushing on.
“I think 3D printing is going to change everything soon,” I gushed. “I’ve been following it since I learned about in in 2007. It’s going to go mainstream real soon, I think. ”
“Oh yeah, it’s so super cool, though we just did a special section on it. It’s kind of my bae,” Hessman responded, (although maybe not in those exact words).
Then he pulled out another recent issue with Sawyer, Rethink Robotics’ collaborative robot, on the cover.
“Check this out, Hessman said slyly. “I actually got to meet him at a show once. They let me control it and everything. I was like ‘OMG!’”
Then he quickly started going into a diatribe on the Internet of Things. I nodded and agreed with everything he said about it being revolutionary and its ability to terraform our perception of productivity, and how important it is to our audience.
I nodded and chimed in with a “yeah, totally,” every now and again, but in my head, I was thinking, “What the hell is this guy talking about?”
Yes, I had no idea what the Internet of Things was. It sounded kind of important, so instead of faking my through any more of our discussion, I asked casually, “So what is this ‘Internet of Things’ you speak of?”
Instead of laughing at me like my step-daughter does when I haven’t heard of the latest emo band du jour, Hessman morphed from manic tech geek into a calm, collected professor-type to explain. He even put on tweed elbow patches and a bow tie before getting in depth.
He started by asking if I knew about Internet-connected thermostats, and other common “smart” devices that constantly feed each other data.
I had heard of those, of course.
“Basically, the Internet of Things is ALL of these Internet-connected devices and machines working together to optimize production and efficiency,” he said, outstretching his arms for effect. “So a machine on a production line can tell other machines in the process if it’s broken or needs maintenance, and everything in the supply chain adjusts accordingly.”
This Internet of Things sounded a lot like my Catholic elementary school’s explanation of God: Omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.
Like God, it is known by many names: IoT, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet, Internet of Everything, and so on. And everyone argues which is the correct one. Some say it lives in the cloud, others don’t even believe it really exists.
Finally, no matter how much you know about it, you can’t say for certain whether it’s merciful in nature…or vengeful.
“It’s the democratization of innovation,” says Marc Blackmer, a product marketing manager for Cisco and prodigious IoT evangelist. “It goes more toward a meritocracy. The more minds that are cranking away out there, the more things are going to come out of left field that we never thought possible.”
Cisco calls it the Internet of Everything, and affirms that connecting everything to everything will improve traffic patterns, water usage, and employee productivity. In the global public sector, a place where bureaucracy trumps efficiency, this “networked connection of people, process, data and things” is estimated to generate $4.6 trillion in potential opportunity between 2013and 2022. The private sector will nearly triple that, creating $14.4 trillion.
Sure, it sounds like Dr. Evil has become an analyst for Cisco and is just making up numbers. And who would second-guess him or what it can do? A 2014 study from Acquity Group reported 87% of people didn’t even know what the Internet of Things is. Like me, they would just nod their heads and agree.
That’s about to change, though. No one knew what the Internet was in the’70s and ’80s, except that it let them get money out of ATMs.
The early stages of IoT helped optimize supply chains and certainly made businesses make more money, and will continue to do so, but that doesn’t account for people’s unbridled excitement at the IoT’s potential. As the ubiquity of broadband and machine-to-machine and person-to-machine connections spreads, expectation and reality move closer together.
Blackmer has noticed it just in the subject matter of the Cisco-run IoT World Forum, where the foremost authorities on IoT give TedTalk-like presentations about the cuurent and future state of affairs.
“The topics of most of the speakers shifted away from improving logistics and how to make more money to the things that can improve people’s health and quality of life,” Blackmer says.