The Internet of Things – or “intelligent ambient technologies” – as Microsoft prefers to call it, is well on its way to reshaping American homes. Thermostats, appliances and heating pipes that are connected to the internet and can be monitored and tweaked wirelessly are becoming commonplace. Small business owners clearly need to keep an eye on this burgeoning field for sources of competitive advantage and profit. But what are the Internet of Things’ most viable applications outside four walls?
One new area of focus for the Internet of Things is the original outdoor occupation -- agriculture. Managing fields or orchids remotely is a lot more challenging than turning the inside heat up or down, but the principle is the same: installing sensors that can continuously measure relevant variables, and take instruction from a human (or computer) at a different physical location.
Large farm product providers are helping to move growers into the age of “precision agriculture” with apps such as FieldScript and FieldView, which feed real-time information and analysis of soil and climate variables, enabling better decisions on employing seeds, fertilizers, water, and other inputs. Tractor maker John Deere is competing with its own Field Connect system. For fruit growers, a smaller company called SemiosBio has pioneered mobile devices that monitor the activity of insects and other pests. The connected farmer can, among other defenses, direct the release of pheromones to prevent these parasites from mating when their population density gets too high.
The Internet of Things is making rapid inroads in the world of gardening and smaller-scale farming as well, driven partly by the passion of many Silicon Valley types to grow their own organic herbs and vegetables. Kickstarter-fueled companies with engaging names like Click and Grow or Edyn are shrinking the size and cost of soil/weather/plant sensor technology to the needs of the modern-day organic hobbyist, who can sprinkle a little more moisture on her arugula or kale while conducting a meeting miles away. Click and Grow even designs a “NASA-inspired” personal herb garden designed to grow on a kitchen countertop.
Remote monitoring is at least equally important for manufacturing, and the Internet of Things is beginning to make its mark there too. Just 10% of industrial production currently uses “connected enterprise” technology according to John Nesi, vice-president for marketing at Rockwell Automation. This means early movers can reap significant advantage. Nesi, who was interviewed by Forbes, pointed to a client (bread maker King’s Hawaiian) which doubled production after installing automated systems equipped with Rockwell’s Factory Talk software. A major benefit of real-time monitoring on the bakery floor was less time lost to shutdowns, as the technology pre-emptively alerted managers to the need for machine maintenance. Management efficiency also increased as divisional executives were able to monitor factories directly without relying on layers of reports.
The age of the Internet of Things is just dawning, and presents challenges not confronted by the hermetic environments of online research, data management, or person-to-person communication. But judging by the speed at which those earlier technology waves inundated the world, the first mover advantage will be profound.