feet dangling over edge of skyscraper

Finding Solid Ground in the IoT Era

4 minute read
Pierre DeBois avatar

Some combinations sound natural when blended together, like peanut butter and jelly.

Others, like Red Sox and Yankee fans in a bar, are sure to be contentious. 

This summer's O’Reilly Solid conference in San Francisco offered the right combination when it comes to potential in the Internet of Thing era.  

Presenters from various organization — from small startup associated with open source programming to biology research associated with large universities — stirred attendees imaginations and filled their heads with visions of devices communicating to make life easier.

The public has seen the first glimmers of this ultra-connectivity among devices such as Nest thermostats. But Solid successfully gathered such glimmers into a well-orchestrated supernova.

Changing Times

Joi Ito
The themes of the summit centered on transforming trends from advanced micromanufacturing — reducing scale to more efficient levels — and synthesized biology, a field in which programming biological organisms enable a wide range of new applications, from chemicals to food to pharmaceuticals.

Calling biology  “the new digital” in his opening keynote, Joichi "Joi" Ito, director of MIT Media Lab, characterized the pace of synthesized biology development.

He noted that development costs are dropping at a rate much faster than that of Moore’s law, which famously claimed the doubling of processor speed every 18 months.

Ito highlighted Sorona, is a programmed microbe that can convert sugar into polyester with 30 percent higher efficiency that the fossil fuel methods currently used.

But Sorona’s development took years to complete. In cutting development time, Ito says students working at his lab are learning to program microbes through treating gene segments as code, then inserting the programmed genes to control bacteria behavior.

Saving Time and Money

This research highlights how innovation outside of centralized traditional settings is leading to reducing development time and costs.

Danielle Applestone, CEO and co-founder of The Other Machine Company, also shared similar influences on micromanufacturing. 

In her keynote she shared an important branding aspect as a defense against competing solely on price.

“Just as hardware and software will be commoditize, we have to … infuse story into what we do. Most people would call that brand. But this has infinite value, and its deeper than design. When you know who made it for, that is so much valuable. It’s not just about the technology. It’s about the craft,” she said.

Driving the Point

the first 3D printed sports car
Kevin Czinger, CEO of Divergent Mircofactories, dazzled attendees with Blade, the first 3D printed sports car. 

The vehicle is built with the company’s ‘Node’ platform system, a series of carbon fiber tubing connected with 3D-printed aluminum joints.

The Node system solves spacing concerns and production time by cutting down on the actual amount of 3D printing and assembly required to build the chassis.

Czinger’s presentation highlighted how microfactories represent the last mile in reducing environmental waste. 

Overcapacity in the automotive industry has been a problem even back in my Ford days during the nineties. Excess manufacturing capacity also forces high sales volume to cover costs, creating a precarious business model in some instances.

Learning Opportunities

Understanding the IoT

Even though it's early days, the IOT is promising clear economic value.

Digital Lumiens, for example, offers a lighting system that cuts lights on and off according to floor activity.

In a warehouse environment, the system would provide energy savings as well as analytic capability to understand how an operation adjusts over a period of time.

The system also provided analytics in a user interface, which can be easily incorporated into an advanced dashboard.

Speakers like Douglas Woods, president of the MTConnect Institute, discussed new interoperational protocols. 

Woods presented information on MTConnect, a nonproprietary, open-source, XML- and HTTP-based communications standard for manufacturing equipment and devices. 

MTConnect was meant to provide manufacturers a seamless, connected shop floor operation, as well as improve management ability to monitor and extract data related to communicating devices.

Woods outlined the process of convincing executives in his company to look beyond traditional processes.   

Other protocols, such as Adafruit.io for open sourced devices and a hands-on low energy Bluetooth, showcase what programming enterprises can leverage to make their products or services better.

Ultimately the Internet of Things era is introducing new programmatic and operational behaviors to deliver product and service to customers.

This means marketers must stretch their imaginations of customer benefits to craft meaningful branding and sales messages to cut through the myriad of IOT tech that is arriving at an astounding rate.

Title image by Alex Wong.

About the author

Pierre DeBois

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. He reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability.