Some time ago we wrote about how the Internet of Things with trillions of sensors changing our future. Today, I would like to go one step further and have a look how a sensor-society generating brontobytes of information will look-like. Although it is difficult to have a look into the future and understand what the implication of trillions of sensors will be for organisations and society, it is worth having a try at it. As one thing is for sure; our society will not look the same tomorrow.
There are several organisations that predict the growth of sensors to reach trillions, but the organisations differ when the amount of a trillion sensors worldwide will be reached. The Wireless World Research organisation predicts 7 trillion sensors by 2017. The Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE), which is developed by HP and Shell, is predicted to reach 1 trillion sensors by 2020. These trillion sensors will drive 50 zettabytes of data annually (that is 50 billion terabytes!). On the other hand, IDC predicts that data usage will grow to 40 zettabytes in 2020. IBM predicts that the emergence of sensors for context-aware computing will grow to a trillion sensors by 2015. Cisco believes that by 2020, the Internet of Things will drive a $ 14 trillion business worldwide. It is clear that all of the organisations have different predictions, but it is also clear that the growth of internet connected devices is massive in the coming years and will create a trillion dollar worldwide business.
At the moment, the price of a passive RFID sensor is approximately $ 0,09 and active RFID tags range from as low as $ 1,- to $ 9,- at the moment. According to Moore’s Law, the computing power of sensors is doubling every 18 months, while the price remains the same. Of course there are many different types of sensors, so it is difficult to predict Moore’s Law over all types of sensors, but in general it is predicted that in 2021, the price of an average passive sensor will $ 0,03. The price of an active RFID tag can be as low as $ 0,15.
When active sensors become so cheap, it is likely that they are introduced in all sorts of devices in all kinds of industries. What are the most likely industries that will be affected by sensors?
IBM unveiled the seventh annual “5 in 5″ – a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years. These five sensor innovations include:
- Touch: You will be able to touch through your phone;
- Sight: A pixel will be worth a thousands words;
- Hearing: Computers will hear what matters;
- Taste: Digital taste buds will help you to eat smarter;
- Smell: Computers will have a sense of smell.
The “5 in 5” is built on market, technology and social trends from around the world that can make these transformations possible. Having sensors in computing devices that will mimic our senses will change the way consumers will deal with internet connected devices.
When the Sensor-Era reaches the health industry, it will greatly affect it. Personalized medicine, nutrition and disease prevention as well as real-time patients health monitoring will improve the way patients are monitored. In 2020 patients do not have to go to a doctor for a doctor to know how the patient is doing, as the doctor receives all information from the sensors the patient is wearing. Nano-sensors will be included in the medicine that the patient is taking and doctors can monitor the affect of it on the patient in real-time as well.
Sensors will be able to detect diseases instantly. In order to progress the development of such devices, Qualcomm announced in 2012 a $10 million Tricorder X PRIZE1 for the first organisation to develop a Tricorder that can capture key health metrics and can diagnose a set of 15 diseases. Registration has begun and the 16-year old Jack Andraka mentioned that he has already built a tricorder.
The possibilities for a sensor-based healthcare industry are enormous and when devices can measure all relevant metrics of patients in real-time, it will greatly improve consumer-health while decreasing the ever expanding health costs.
The Central Nervous System for the Earth will place sensors around the world at any important site to monitor how the earth is doing. Sensors will be able transmit data at the speed of light via the internet to monitoring units around the world. This would greatly improve the response time for earthquakes. For example, when an earthquake’s epicentre is 20 miles away, we could know about it 10 seconds before the ground would shake. At the moment this projects is being rolled out and for now it is also used by Shell to help find more oil in (abandoned) oil wells.
The smarty city of Songdo, the world’s first ‘City in a Box’ will be ready in 2015. What started already in 1996 is now the most expensive private real estate development in the world. Costing a merely $ 40 billion. The technological backbone of the city is being developed by Cisco Systems. They work together with Korean Telecom to provide smart public services. Millions of wireless sensors are embedded in every aspect of this city. From public buildings to all homes in Songdo, all are equipped with smart sensors. Citizens receive information via their refrigerator or their mirror in the bathroom. Also ‘telepresence’ technology will form a large part of Songdo, enabling meetings from everywhere with everyone.
Songdo will have smart innovations such as streetlights that automatically adjust to the number of people out on the street. Smart cities will generate massive amounts of data that need to be monitored. Songdo therefore will also have an advanced ‘central hub’ that monitors almost every aspect of the city in real-time. Songdo will change the way we view cities and the way we live in cities and Songdo is being made ready for 2050. Songdo is not unique, as at the moment over 100 smart cities are being developed.
The domotics applied in Songdo is also becoming more and more available in households anywhere else in the world. Household automation is gaining more traction everywhere in the world and it will make our lives easier. A home automation system integrates electrical devices in a house with each other and gives the users the possibility to access those devices via smartphones or tablets. Lights can be turned on or off via an app, the coffee is automatically brewed when your alarm clock goes and the fridge knows what’s in stock. In the past decades, a lot of ‘homes of the future’ appeared around the world, but slowly, among others due to the Internet of Things movement, they become more widely available. We can expect that eventually, sensors will appear in all electronic devices within houses, from kitchen equipment, to bathrooms and security.
The sensors that will appear in household appliances can also be used in cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, trains or airplanes. Ford is already installing numerous sensors in their cars to monitor behaviour. Ford is installing over 74 sensors in cars including radar, sonar, cameras, accelerometers, temperature and rain sensors. Together with information collected by satellite navigations such as TomTom and traffic conditions, cars are becoming smarter rapidly and it won’t be long before they can drive independently, as Google already proved is possible.
Also the transportation industry is working hard to use sensor data from trucks to optimize the routing and decrease fuel consumption. American logistics company US Xpress has installed almost 1.000 sensors in each truck to monitor where the trucks drive, how fast it drives, how often it breaks, when maintenance is required and even the capabilities of the driver.
The supermarket is the perfect place for sensor-enabled products. In the USA, an average grocery store contains over 50.000 products. Keeping track of all these products is becoming a lot easier when they all have (active) RFID tags. The Real Future Store, a concept store in Germany, is a playground for such new sensor initiatives. Using RFID tags, supermarkets can provide a lot more information to customers. The RFID tags can contain information about the manufacturer, sizes and prices. Discounts can be given automatically for products that are almost over-due. Shoppers do not have to place their items on the conveyor belt anymore for the cashier to scan, as all RFID tags are scanned immediately upon leaving the supermarket. With over 35.000 supermarkets in the USA alone, this would lead to over 1,75 billion RFID tags in supermarkets in the USA on a daily basis.
How should organisations in such industries deal with it?
So, the sensor-era will affect any industry imaginable. How should your organisation deal with it to be ready for the Great Sensor-Era?
Organisations should start finding those products that can be enriched with sensors to deliver a better user experience. This improved user experience can be to create additional features (the quantified-self movement), give additional insights (smart energy meters for example) or decrease maintenance. Start small to implement sensors in a pilot product and have a pilot group test the product. This will give great insights what information is collected, how the information needs to be stored, how it can be analysed and how it can be returned to the user and/or the manufacturer. Once the data is collected it can be used to analyse it and start finding patterns, outliers, errors etc. to improve the product. From there on it can be implemented throughout the entire organisation.
The Internet of Things will create a completely connected society. With trillions of devices connected to the internet in the 2020s, brontobytes of data will be generated. All these data needs to be processed, stored, analysed and visualized for improved decisions making. It will change our society and how organisations are operated and managed. Although 2020 might seem still far away, turning your organisation into an information-centric, sensor-based organisation requires a lot of time and effort. Therefore, in order not to be left behind, prepare your organisation in time.