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Tech & Innovation
DEC 20, 2016

Enabling IoT: Disruptive Innovation or “Hi-tech Inebriation”?

By Dr. Jorge Calvo

In our previous article, we reviewed the main technologies behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution—IoT, AI, Big Data and Smart Sensors—and argued that the various combinations of these four, set out in the next section, that is leading to the merging of the physical, biological and digital worlds. The American technology entrepreneur Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO of Amazon) stated, in a highly interesting Ted Talk, that “Every new thing creates two new questions and two new opportunities.” This article answers some main questions so that you, the reader, can think about these opportunities. Because of the brevity of this article, links are provided so you can get more information on each subject.

What is an enabling IoT technology?

The definition states: “An enabling technology is an invention or innovation that alone or in combination with associated technologies can be applied to drive radical change in the capabilities of a user or culture. Enabling technologies are characterized by rapid development of subsequent derivative technologies, often in diverse fields.” In other words, not all these technologies need to be used at the same time in order. It would be like trying to drink a cocktail made of twelve drinks and four spirits. The first upshot would be a type of “hi-tech inebriation,” the result of “technology abuse.” Which components can we mix to our taste in this magical formula that will lead us into the future? They include:
Cloud Computing
Mobile smart devices
IoT platforms
Cyber Physical Interfaces
Autonomous Robots
Cyber security
3D Printing
Human-Machine Interfaces
Augmented reality (AR)

The IoT platform deserves special mention, since we can connect all the elements of IoT, devices, sensors, software, cyber-physical interfaces etc. and share databases and knowledge with strategic partners in the business ecosystem. An IoT platform can be the equivalent of a table used to assemble our IoT technologies jigsaw puzzle. In Japan, Pokémon GO shares its IoT platform with McDonald’s, since they have clients in common with similar behavior patterns, without being competing companies. The bigger this business ecosystem, the more competitive the companies that form it. Steve Jobs was one of the first visionaries to see the potential of platforms to strengthen the Apple business, creating a new context in which any competitor wishing to go into business has to compete with the platform’s other partners. Companies such as Amazon and Microsoft are focusing their business strategies on creating their powerful IoT platforms.

While many of these technologies are not new, their combination with IoT, AI, Big Data and Smart Sensors allows new and innovative business, products, services and process models to be created. In other words, they can bring about gradual innovations through digitalization—for example, by simply placing a series of sensors in a drilling machine to gather data on temperatures, vibrations, fluidity of the coolants, the length of the drill, meaning its performance can be optimised and its maintenance forecast more efficiently.

Disruptor of Innovation

IoT can, however, disrupt traditional business models, consequently putting industry at risk: “disruptive innovation is a technologically simple innovation in the form of a product, service, or business model that takes root in a tier of the market that is unattractive to the established leaders in an industry…. The best run of the large corporations—those that are well managed, pay attention to their customers, and invest in new technology —are vulnerable to being outwitted by disruptive innovators” (HBS Prof. Clayton Christensen, 1997). Disruptions are normally generated by agents outside the traditional industry as a result of the complacency of companies, who prefer to focus on gradual improvements without taking on any risk. Since disruption results in a change of context—Amazon was an explosive disintermediator bookseller without shops, and Uber is a transport service without owned cars—by the time traditional industry has noticed, it is usually too late, as clients have moved over to the new, attractive value proposition. There are many such examples in the history of business: the analogue photography industry disappeared when digital cameras appeared and subsequently the digital camera industry suffered as a result of the incorporation of high-resolution sensors into smartphones.

This could justify the phrase “disrupt, or be disrupted.” So it is vital that businesses start to experiment with emerging technologies in order to quickly gain the necessary knowledge within the company and to adapt the corporate culture in order to foster gradual changes. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the ultra-green BMW factory in Leipzig (Germany) where they make the BMW i3 and i8 electric cars. BMW is a good example of how Industry 4.0 innovation can be applied in the design of cars and manufacturing; not only have they designed a car that is 100% electric, but they have also replaced the steel chassis for one made of carbon fiber to lighten the car to compensate for the weight of the batteries. What’s more, they have come up with new industrial processes: the steel pressing and welding line has disappeared, and in the assembly zone some robots (called co-robots) work alongside the operators in a safe and collaborative environment. The cages that enclose robots in car assembly production lines will also vanish soon, as robots will be designed to be even more sensitive of their surroundings so as not to harm workers.

As Dr. Voigtsberger remarked, “In BMW, we apply emerging technologies only in certain areas and when it makes direct practical sense—in other words, a positive impact on value added, performance or productivity.” The basic principle of any IoT strategic business plan should start with experimenting, followed by testing, iterating, implementing, and scaling. You can’t build a house by starting with the roof. The same applies to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

IoT Holiday Gifts

And speaking of houses, Christmas is coming and the decorations are cheering up our homes and streets, reminding us of times of love and peace. Not everything is about technology—although for those of you who want to include a little IoT in your Christmas presents, I’ve come up with a list of ideas for all the family, as suggested by Computer Business Review. I’ll leave it to you to work out where you can buy them!

Oral B’s SmartSeries 7000 toothbrush: your smartphone receives signals from the brush and displays an alert to prevent you from damaging your gums by brushing too hard.

The D-Shirt: designed to record a person’s heart rate, GPS location, temperature and speed.

The SITU Nutrition Scale: designed to help users weigh their food and see nutritional information on their iPad via an accompanying app. The Bluetooth-enabled device can also track the amount of calories, salt, fat and sugar in foods, allowing dieters or athletes to see exactly what they’ve consumed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

MIMO Baby Onesie: this is a sleep suit and baby monitor that tracks a baby wearer’s temperature, breathing rate, body position and activity level.

Whistle Lab’s dog collar: this wireless-based sensor device attaches to a dog’s collar, which then collects data depending on the dog’s age, breed and weight during the day.

Beddit sleep tracker: it tracks your sleep, heart rate, breathing rhythm, movements and snoring, and no wearable sensors are required because it’s a film sensor that lies under your sheets.

Babolat smart tennis racket: French tennis racket maker Babolat has embedded sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers in the handle, which count and measure strokes, ball speed and where the ball hits the strings. 

And you too can light up your Christmas tree with IoT and program it, turning it on and off from wherever you are with the XCSOURCE LED Wi-Fi controller!

So, here’s wishing you a very Merry Internet of Things Christmas and a Happy AI New Year!