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Column Bernd Schöne: Engineering Data – IoT is not for free

We want to build the best ma chines in the world, but for that we need data.” That’s what I heard over and over again at Bauma in Munich, the largest trade fair for the construction industry and, in fact, the largest trade fair in the world. It’s where companies like Caterpillar, Liebherr, or Komatsu show off their gigantic excavators and dozers, and the feeling was that the industry is under huge pressure.

Heavy equipment like this makes lots of noise and guzzles dozens of gallons of diesel every minute. Yes, the machines are controlled by complicated electronics, but what about IoT? Every exhibitor had something to say on this subject, but few had anything to show. It seems almost as though the engineers have yet to hear about the Industrial Internet, which is curious.

The reason for the apparent disregard, exhibitors told me, is lack of data. Not that these behemoths don’t generate tons of data, it’s the fact that nobody really knows who owns it all: the manufacturer, the customer, the contractor, or the rental company. “Each of them keeps their data under lock and key,” one frustrated developer told me. Which is too bad because data, as everyone knows, will be the crude oil of the 21st century.

Bernd Schöne

Gathering data is one thing – making sense of it all is something else indeed!

Bernd Schöne
is a veteran German Internet journalist and an expert on cybersecurity


Of course, gathering data is one thing; making sense of it all is something else indeed! A car engine consists of more than a thousand parts, the whole car can run to 10,000 parts or more, but an airplane has over a million of them. Every time it takes off, a plane generates more data than a supercomputer: each of the twin engines on a Boeing 787 produces 60 terabytes per hour. Analyzing such a tsunami of bits and bytes requires a deep understanding of what they represent – and that costs money. IoT does not come for free. Smart sensors are more expensive than dumb ones; maybe only a couple of cents but it all adds up. The increasing number of connected devices uses up electricity at an ever-growing rate: power demand from IT is growing faster than in any other industry already. The International Energy Agency estimates the Internet of Things will be consuming more than 1,000 terawatt hours by 2025 and that 400 of those terawatts will be wasted.

Being able to demonstrate sustainability is becoming a compelling sales argument for any product, but IoT must also show a profit if it is to succeed. Industries all over the world need to cut down on wear and tear and increase fuel efficiency if they want to stay in business. One of the best examples of this is how Formula One racing cars are developed; their manufacturers were among the first to bet heavily on data. Every mile one of these speedsters moves is minutely chronicled, the data is put through sophisticated simulators, and the results meticulously evaluated by trained technicians who are able to modify almost every characteristic of the car, often in real time. Engine performance and wear can be altered during the heat of a race via remote systems, ensuring that the racer makes it to the finish line with enough gas for a victory lap left in its tank. Careful data analysis in racing cars leads to incremental improvements; a few hundredths of a second here, a few there. In the end, data will play a large part in who takes home the prize and who gets left in the dust. That’s why it makes more business sense to have an analysis bottom line that reads: “Give the data to the engineers, not the bean counters.”

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