Mike Fahrion, Vice President of IoT Technologies
Advantech B+B SmartWorx
Over the years I’ve made many presentations in which I discussed the technology-enabled collision between Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law. Moore famously predicted that the number of transistors that could be placed in a dense integrated circuit would continue to double every 18 to 24 months for the foreseeable future, making computers ever more powerful and making it possible to place intelligence in smaller and smaller devices. Moore knew what he was talking about. The room-sized super computers of the 1970′s had less processing power than today’s iPhones, and you can carry an iPhone around in your pocket. (The iPhone is also more reasonably priced.)
Metcalfe stated that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. The development of the global Internet has proven Metcalfe’s point very nicely. Together, Moore and Metcalfe’s laws have interacted to produce an incredible acceleration of innovation. They have engaged the warp drive of technological advancement that were experiencing today.
We are now living in a world where technologies are advancing so quickly that even the most change-resistant industries are taking notice and getting caught up in the movement. Whether its adding new capabilities that were only a dream a few years ago, or making existing capabilities more accessible by making them smaller, less expensive and less power hungry, were seeing some real game changers. Here are a few examples:
We’re transitioning into a data-driven economy. Build a bigger data pipe and applications will automatically spring up that can use that bandwidth to deliver real value. Not so long ago we were excited when we could upgrade our modems to 56 kbps. We’ve improved that by 4-5 orders of magnitude in just 20 years. The ability to binge watchMadmenis only a tiny part of the story. Today’s high bandwidth is enabling incredible new capabilities in every industry.
The need to charge my phone every day is a minor annoyance compared to the amazing amount of computing power and communications that such a small device can now deliver in exchange. In the world of connected things, some of the same technologies that reside in my phone are working wonders in industry as well. Among other things, they now enable wireless sensors that can be deployed in rugged and industrial settings, with battery lives approaching a decade. This opens the door to real energy harvesting applications – although with a few caveats, as we discussed in my last Remote Magazine blog posting: “Batteries Included”.
IT Technology Infiltration
This can be a volatile topic in certain quarters, but the inevitable truth is that we are increasingly living in an Internet Protocol (IP) world. There have certainly been some industries that have tried to hold out and ignore this over the last decade or two. But the writing is on the wall, and that’s not a bad thing. IP is enabling a marriage between IT and Operations Technologies (OT). It may be a rocky relationship at first, but the end result will be interoperability, scalability, frictionless deployments of new applications, and the ability to use and reuse existing data, existing sensors and existing networks across many applications. (There will, of course, be numerous security panics to keep things interesting.) Companies with strong technology vision have already begun to eat their competitors lunches, and that will ultimately drag even the most obstinate players on board.
Augmented Reality and Wearables
Most of us are quite content with our computers today, but well soon realize that mimicking the “typewriter” user experience is not always going to be the best way to interface with technology. Wearable technology and augmented reality will enable computers to be extensions of ourselves, rather than tools that create an artificial barrier between the user and the task at hand – whether that’s research, communications or entertainment.
“Things” will keep getting smarter. They will be self-configuring. They will minimize the time and skill required to turn them into functional devices. The mantra in our own product development labs has become “Zero Touch Provisioning”. (“Zero Touch” really means “Light Touch”, of course. Even smart devices cant physically carry themselves out into the field and plug themselves in. )
In many cases the cost of installation already exceeds the price of the electronic hardware itself. Costs skyrocket if the installation also requires field technicians with specialized skills. Smart devices with Zero Touch Provisioning can be provisioned, configured, and managed remotely. This makes it much easier – and much cheaper – to deploy them.
Moore’s Law predicted that while capabilities would continually increase, the cost of those capabilities would continually drop. Metcalf’s Law shows us that expanding the network increases its value. The value proposition for connecting “things” continues to grow, and the cost continues to decline. The return on investment can only escalate. Were at warp speed already, and were only getting started.
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