The Internet of Your Things: What if...?
Utilizing the Internet of Things really starts with a very simple question. Check out what you can already do today to digitize your products with innovative solutions.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly revealing itself. Network-connected products are being marketed extensively: security cameras, appliances, thermostats, smoke detectors, and yes, even vacuum cleaners. Consumers are supporting these network-centric products with their wallets by purchasing them, and then rapidly signing up for additional value-added services that automatically renew.
The lines are blurring, too, as thermostats include carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke detectors link to thermostats to adjust the temperature of those rooms that are unoccupied. This technology unification seemingly all started somehow with the release of a phone from Apple.
The Start of Convergence
The advent of the iPhone just one decade ago unified disparate pieces of electronics in a way that the world had never considered before. Suddenly, your pocket held a calculator, a camera, a camcorder, a radio, a gaming platform, a GPS, and there was also - oh yes - a phone! Apple didn’t know precisely what would happen once they unified seven disparate electronic devices, but they were openly willing and excited to see what innovative individuals could craft using their platform.
Devices like appliances, cars, smoke detectors and thermostats have an electrical advantage: they all have reliable access to a power source. These devices also generally enjoy reliable Internet or Bluetooth connectivity, allowing them to “push” data up to the Cloud whenever they feel an event is worthy of publication. Thus far, the IoT revolution has focused more on either large, bulky items like cars, or relatively static and fixed things, like appliances and security cameras.
What about all of the simple things in the world? What about those things and products that are highly portable, lack reliable access to a power source, and for various reasons will never have a printed circuit board and a relatively stable network connection? Why can’t the soccer balls, spare parts, clothing and magazines of the world uniquely participate in the Internet of Things?
Joining the Internet of Things really starts with a very simple question: What if…?
What if a soccer ball could connect to the IoT?
What if a roofing tile could connect to the IoT?
What if a spare part could connect to the IoT?
What if a magazine could connect to the IoT?
Business fundamentals continue to exist, even in the age of the IoT. Value propositions must still be defined, and use cases fully understood. Suffice it to say, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should do something.
What if a spare part could prove its authenticity and automatically track its own installation date, warranty and even provenance, as well as capture which part it replaced? What if a roofing tile could automatically track its installation date and tell you if it was leaking?
Connectivity without Compromise
RFID technology, including NFC, offers companies a powerful solution for connecting everyday, simple things like roofing tiles, spare parts and soccer balls to the Cloud. The exciting part is that the introduction of this technology doesn’t have to affect the aesthetics of the product. Unlike barcodes and QR codes, which only operate via line of sight, RFID technology can be embedded within the product. The artistic mastery of a shoe designer isn’t constrained, and neither is the shiny exterior of a plastic toy, or the utility of a spare part for commercial aircraft.
The science of embedding is important, but in isolation, embedded RFID technology can only deliver one third of a functional solution. The physical item must have a corresponding digital persona that is truly unique on a per-item basis. But what data constitutes a digital persona? How can a complex supply chain that spans numerous business partners effectively collaborate in the creation of this persona?
Data Holds the Key
In nearly every vertical market, modern businesses rely on a web of suppliers, partners and resellers to achieve their business goals. Complicating matters even more, this web extends around the globe. For example, product design may occur in California, with product manufacturing taking place in Asia, before product distribution ultimately occurs in Europe.
SMARTRAC’s enablement platform SMART COSMOS provides the second third of a functional IoT solution, as it securely manages the collection of authentic, unified data through the entire RFID-enabled product lifecycle. By collecting that data all along the supply chain, it is possible for example to control, monitor and manage the collection of disparate pieces of data that help companies to fully leverage the power of digitization, and develop new, innovative, profitable business models.
One centerpiece of SMART COSMOS is its ‘data binder’ concept. Imagine a baby album for example. The first page is all about the birth of the baby, and then subsequent pages capture data from other key events during the growth of the child. When was the first haircut and who did it? When were any vaccinations given and which medical facility provided the service? Who was the teacher for that first day of school?
Analogously, simple things also follow a cycle throughout their life. They are typically ‘born’ in a factory, contain parts from well-defined suppliers, are shipped to a distribution center after assembly, purchased possibly through a third-party retailer, used, and then at some point in time, recycled or replaced. SMART COSMOS’ data binder allows each stakeholder to securely contribute the pertinent data that they are responsible for, in a separate page of the binder.
The Future is Connected
Armed with this wealth of data, it turns out, ideas are virtually limitless. In fact, for the last decade, companies have been envious of Apple’s unique business model: Apple managed to turn the point of sale into the start of the relationship with its customers. After buying an iPhone for example, consumers would race home, create an iTunes account, give Apple their credit card data, and because iOS is a platform, all usage data would route through Apple’s servers.
The What if… question is very often geared toward the utilization of a product. And many companies use this question to identify new and unique ways to interact with their customers post-sale.
As Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC fame notably stated, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Utilization is the final third of the solution, and it is where the history of the life of a simple thing begins to disappear into the fabric of business operations, and the fundamentals of business take hold.
Information assurance is one key element of satisfactory product utilization, and it all starts with the birth of the RFID transponder in a SMARTRAC factory. But that is another story that will be told in the next edition of this newsletter.