In 1999, Kevin Ashton—the so-called “father of the Internet of Things”—was hired to work at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager for cosmetics in the United Kingdom. He observed that a brown shade of lipstick in the cosmetic line he managed apparently was always sold out, and no one knew why. The product was in stock at the warehouse, but there was no way to link the retailer electronically with the supply chain.
Inspired by microchips that were gaining traction in credit cards in Europe in the mid-1990s, Ashton had the idea to integrate a chip and RFID antenna on the shelf to help store managers keep track of how much of each kind lipstick was on the shelf. As Ashton explained in 2009 in the RFID Journal: “people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world.”
To test the idea, Procter & Gamble hooked up with MIT to study “smart packaging” and, in 1999, Ashton titled a presentation related to the technological concept “The Internet of Things” that ultimately helped popularize the idea of machines communicating with each other. At that point, computers—and the Internet—were almost wholly dependent on humans for information.
Of Robots, Drones, and Autonomous Vehicles
Today, the IoT is still about breaking down barriers and opening up new communication between “things.” It links together humans to objects and objects to other objects. It also enables objects to react to stimuli other objects, human action, and information. “To be able to achieve interaction in a ‘smart’ way, knowing ‘where’ the action is taking place or ‘where’ the data came from is very important as reactions must be context based,” says Mickael Viot, Vice President of Marketing at Decawave (Dublin, Ireland). “We see this as robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles are becoming growing markets, but this also applies any connected object that can move or be moved.”
Decawave, which has developed the first single chip ultra wideband transceiver, has observed a growing number of applications for tracking technology. For instance, Viot says that some of its customers in factory automation are building virtual fences for connected power tools that could be harmful to humans. “Those tools cannot be operated if they are outside a predefined zone,” Viot says. “Such features require a very accurate location to be efficient.”
In the consumer realm, two of the biggest IoT domains include the connected home and wearables. “Those markets are definitely growing and we are seeing a lot of traction there,” Viot explains. “However, Bill Gate’s dream of a home that would react and even anticipate your expectations is not quite there yet with the current solutions which still require a lot of human action.” As motion-tracking technology improves, it is becoming more common for technology to track the precise location of people or objects, which is leading to the development of
“The industrial market is also going through a revolution that spans from connected factory to logistics, healthcare, agriculture, etc.,” Viot says.
As the World Economy Slows, Efficiency Is King
Many countries across the globe are struggling with sluggish economies. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that China’s economic growth had cooled to the slowest pace in a quarter century. Developed countries like Japan and the United States are facing similar problems as is the Eurozone.
“With growth perspectives declining, especially in developed countries, finding new ways to gain in efficiency is critical and the Industrial IoT is bringing solutions to industrial processes and supply chains,” Viot says. “Again, location plays a vital role as you can locate or track assets—even small ones—to optimize the work in progress and keep track of inventory.”
One of Decawave’s partners, the Czech firm Sewio, recently demonstrated an augmented reality indoor GPS for warehouse capable of navigating the workers exactly to where the products on their pick list are located.
As location technologies evolve, expect to see more creative applications of microlocation technology that are helping transform Kevin Ashton's vision of the Internet of Things into reality.