“The unknown future rolls toward us…” as Sarah Conner put it in the Terminator sequel, and so it is with the Internet of Things. The future of the internet is a great unknown, yet it rolls toward us with inevitability.
One of the most important accomplishments is defining what the Internet is; communications backbone, media delivery, telephone system or something more. For those of us involved in the manufacturing sector, it is the “Industrial Internet of Things”. Though the difference may appear subtle, it is very important. The Industrial Internet may be the biggest revolution in human history, certainly in the history of manufacturing.
The Internet of private individuals is estimated at over 3 billion people. Consider how long it has taken to migrate from dial up modems and copper wire networks for domestic use to fiber optic networks and server farms that operate internationally and support voice, video and data and gigahertz bandwidth. Decades of equipment, man years of engineering, multiple generations of communications protocols, acres of rack mounted computers all seamlessly architected to produce the Internet we experience today. These days, you can type in a question from your mobile phone and instantly access sources all around the world with relative transparency.
The forecast explosion of 50 billion devices in the industrial control space which projected to be added in the next 10 years is a staggering task to contemplate. Users will want their hydraulics, pneumatics, servo controls and instrumentation to all operate together with monitoring and remote diagnostic features that were the stuff of dreams 10 years ago. Some of these capabilities exist today but are costly to implement. Some capabilities will require ongoing engineering and cooperation across vendors and platforms to implement. But it’s all going to be engineered, packaged and delivered for maximum user convenience when we get there.
Not only must we consider the task of adding 50 billion devices to the Industrial Internet, but the data that is created must be supported as well. We have seen the ability to measure and control expand by 1000 times in the last few years. Where microsecond measurement was the limit of our technology a few years ago, we routinely measure in nanoseconds and in the high frequency world picoseconds and in the physics world femtoseconds. This means that even data is being creating with density millions of times greater than our current commonplace experience.
If for no other reason, this expansion of our reach in the world of high speed events creates a proportional increase in the data we have to deal with. The challenge is how we will architect new systems to acquire data and decide on the local level what is meaningful.
The future, though uncertain, is ours to define. It can be a glorius future.