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Converging on the Industrial Internet

by Michael Keller

For decades, science fiction writers and futurists have foretold a time when a world of networked machines work together with people to share information and solve problems.

Now that age is dawning. A huge amount of information—now coined Big Data—is being generated, collected and analyzed in industries from manufacturing to healthcare and power generation. At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence, communications technologies and analytic tools are causing experts to begin speaking of an Industrial Internet that connects computerized machines, people and data.

“Exciting new advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence will augment human intuition and perception in interpreting the Big Data being generated through the myriad of scientific and Industrial Internet applications that have been emerging over the past years,” writes Rick Arthur, a member of GE’s software sciences and analytics team.

Concept takes center stage

A conference being held in San Francisco on Nov. 29 that is considering the potential power of the Industrial Internet is the first of its kind and a sign that the idea is maturing. Sponsored by GE, which also sponsors this magazine, Minds + Machines 2012: Unleashing the Industrial Internet convenes thought leaders from across the academic and business worlds to discuss the impending technological revolution and why it matters to the world.

Bill Ruh, GE’s vice president and global technology director, tells GE Reports that the fuel for the Industrial Internet is Big Data’s deluge of information being constantly generated by the world’s growing population of sensors and smart machines. “Big Data is not just that there is value within, but rather there are connections to be made to make Big Data more proactive and predictive – or making information more intelligent,” he said. 

GE CEO Jeff Immelt will speak at the conference, as will leaders from WIRED, O’Reilly Media, Mt. Sinai Hospital, MIT’s Center for Digital Business, Andreessen Horowitz, EMC and Greylock Partners.

Major economic impact

Big names are being drawn to the Industrial Internet concept because it promises to harness Big Data to make machines in the home and in commercial settings faster, smarter and more efficient.

A recent GE report found that the Industrial Internet could add $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. That level of growth could boost the average U.S. income by 40 percent.

“A software-driven movement, [the Industrial Internet] promises to bring greater speed and efficiency to industries as diverse as aviation, rail transportation, power generation, oil and gas development, and healthcare delivery,” write the report’s authors.

Making sense of the data deluge

Researchers say systems and sensors will begin to offer real-time status updates that can be analyzed by software to keep machines working at peak performance. This tailored, flexible management can mean real advantages for jet engines, power-generating stations and grids, locomotives, refrigerators, thermostats and many others.

Scientists are already starting to explore higher-level functions of a nascent Industrial Internet.

Computer scientists at Australia’s University of Adelaide are exploring the use of a smart sensor network to monitor when senior citizens deviate from their normal activities and help them live independently. The system will use radio frequency sensors and algorithms to interpret data into recognized activities. It will learn when changes in regular activity demand that a caregiver be alerted.

“This is becoming a significant problem for most developed countries where the proportion of older people is rapidly increasing and the labor market is tightening – there are more elderly people to be looked after but less people to do it,” says Dr. Michael Sheng. “We are trying to solve this by developing a system using a network of sensors attached to objects that the person is interacting with in the home; using software to interpret the collected data to tell us what someone is doing.”

Top Image: A 2005 representation of the Internet. Courtesy The Opte Project.

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