Smashing Boxes | 04.19.17 | Culture

IoT: The 4th Industrial Revolution


  • IoT

In order for us to understand where we are going, we must understand from where we came. The year 1784 is where it all started. Our first Industrial Revolution had begun. During this time, the focus was based on mechanical production driven by water and steam power. People no longer had to work out of their homes. Collaboration, innovation, and mass production replaced the silos that once stunted growth. Nearly 100 years later, the second revolution began. Electricity allowed for humans to create a division of labor and mass production. The production line, which still remains today, was one of the greatest assets to spin out of the second revolution. It almost took additional 100 years for the third revolution to take place. The third revolution used electronics and IT systems to further automate production. Manufacturing became digital. Skip ahead 30 years, we enter the fourth industrial revolution. IoT and cloud technology automate complex tasks in real time, without having to be on-site. It is the fourth revolution that causes one to pause and think about how can we effectively integrate all systems under one, well oiled, platform.

Smashing Boxes headed South to Atlanta with our partner RIoT. RIoT, for those unfamiliar is a non-profit driving the Internet of Things economy by bringing together entrepreneurs, established companies, universities, government officials, non-profits and IoT enthusiasts. RIoT conducts community building, marketing, events, workshops and conferences, teaches classes, and facilitates access to engineering expertise and labs. Tom Synder, Executive Director of RIoT, stated, “IoT has been hyped as the 4th Industrial Revolution. I see tipping points today in low cost connectivity, sensing and big data that remind me of the tipping points in digital wireless and networked computing that launched the internet economy early in my career. Who wouldn’t want to ride this next big wave?”

We headed to the Peachtree state with the following goals in mind: join and contribute to the IoT conversation, learn about existing innovation labs, and most importantly, provide a forum for everyone to gather and share their ideas. Atlanta is a growing hub for all things creative so it only made sense to start there.

Our first stop led us to ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center); a Georgia Technology Incubator. Jennifer Bonnet, General Manager, invited us to view one of their showcase workshops. The format is simple. Each presenter has 20 minutes to share their idea, prototype, and/or financing round updates. Afterwards, the presenter takes questions from viewers. The conversations that follow, priceless. I liken this exchange to a robust litmus test. “Have you thought about X,Y,Z?” “Could you possibly extend the battery life by doing X instead of Y?” ATDC found a way to leverage the wealth of information and experience of their own, to help their own. It is not an original idea, however the execution is flawless which makes ATDC such an incredible asset not only in Atlanta, but other incubators as well. The most notable presentation was delivered by Tim Quinn, CEO and Co-Founder of ThingTech. ThingTech created ThingX, which is the first IoT technology that connects real-time data to your devices, assets, and people. ThingTech remains device agnostic and has the freedom and ability to partner with any potential client and meet their demands. By providing real time data, the single most valuable asset ThingTech has to offer is the ability for companies to address and correct incongruencies on the spot. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been saved by utilizing ThingX. It only makes sense Venture Atlanta listed them as one of Atlanta’s top five companies to watch in 2017.

With our minds full of IoT possibilities, Larry Steffan, the Co-Founder of RiOT and General Manager of the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina (WRCNC), and I headed upstairs to meet with one of the most brilliant minds in the IoT world. Enter Alain Louchez, Managing Director at the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) at Georgia Tech. CDAIT connects sponsors with Georgia Tech faculty and researchers with similar interests. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, he held various positions including Vice President for BellSouthEurope and General Manager of GTE/Verizon Media Ventures’ wireless video operations in Hawaii. Most recently, he was Vice President of Strategic Management at Numerex, a company focused on machine-to-machine communications (M2M). Needless to say, I was a bit nervous about meeting a man of his stature. To my delight, we were greeted with open arms and a jovial laugh. Alain has a zest for life, knowledge, and wisdom. Alain and Larry discussed all things IoT. They came to a pause and both acknowledged that whilst connectivity is a major component of IoT, they want people to think more about the “Smartness” of things. Intelligent things should direct human action and interaction, not simply prompt the user to download more software. It is not enough to connect devices, we must continue to push the boundaries.

“It is only through embedded intelligence that the Internet of Things will transform the dimensions of the economy and society on a scale not experienced before.” – Louchez

All that being said, I was curious to see how far IoT has come and how said devices and platforms are tested. To my delight, we were invited to tour the Aware Home. The Aware Home Research Initiative (AHRI) at Georgia Tech is an interdisciplinary research endeavor aimed at addressing the fundamental technical, design, and social challenges for people in a home setting. As soon as we walked into the home, it became very clear that if an appliance could be connected, it was. The purpose of connecting such appliances ranged from sheer convenience to practical safety measures for the resident, patient, or family. Brian Jones, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Aware Home, has dedicated his time to developing technologies to improve health and well-being and enable healthy aging and increased independence. The technologies spanned from assisting an older adult accomplish everyday activities to improving an individual’s management of a chronic disease. Brian and his team continually implement user experience in every scenario which is why their ideas are so successful and have meaningful impact.

I asked Tom how difficult it is to actually build and program an IoT device. He started to explain the process and stopped. “Why don’t you come to our Lab and find out for yourself!” I jumped on the offer and was excited when Tom shared I could extend the invitation to my colleagues. Ergo, RIOT Field Trip. The group ranged from solution architects to administrative assistants. Our experience with IoT and coding ranged from 10+ years to none at all. Victoria Rind, Performance Textile Innovator, welcomed our group and shared that our team will build a fortune telling coin bank. We used Arduino and Audacity as our software base and RIoT provided the hardware kits.

Zach Kuhn, Director of Development at Smashing Boxes, stated, “Victoria gave a great introduction to the Internet of Things that included all levels of technical skills. It was easy to see the power of the technology. The sensors and hardware are so small—it opens up possibilities in making everything around us smarter and more aware than ever before.”

“Not worrying about concurrency, data normalization, blocking or coroutines and getting back to the basics of electricity and a little bit of coding was a welcome change of pace, “ said Jon Latané, Software Engineer.

And on the other end of the spectrum, Casey Haycocks, Project Manager, shared, “the experience gave perspective to those of us who do not code or work with electricity on a daily basis. I now know a little more about what my fitness tracker is actually doing while it’s on my arm all the time.” There is nothing like writing a line of code and watching your device react. It was instant gratification. Our team did not have enough time to build the entire product, however what we did have time for was experimenting with the speakers, importing code for songs, and blasting music through the lab. Overall, it was a win.

IoT is ever evolving with so many avenues to explore. These avenues do not come without challenges as my colleague, Brian Carrigan, Director of Technology, points out in his article: The Challenges of Developing Connected Devices. That being said, this should not stop you from experimenting, asking questions, and getting involved. It is our responsibility to contribute to and expand the 4th Industrial Revolution.


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