Many companies are still engaged in proofs of concept to see where the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring value to their operations and strategies, but a number of IoT apps have already taken root in a cross-section of industry sectors and are producing favorable business impact. Here are 10 good examples.
1: Transportation infrastructure
The insertion of sensors at key points of highways and railways is enabling cities to monitor the wellness of their transportation infrastructures, along with events like traffic flow and congestion. The information these IoT sensors send back to headquarters is used to notify motorists of heavy congestion points and alternate routes. It also serves as a predictive means of showing where equipment failures are imminent, so repair crews can be dispatched to fix vulnerable equipment before actual failures (and traffic stoppages) result.
2: Safety of sensitive goods during transport
Foodstuffs and medical supplies often require stringent temperature and humidity controls during storage and shipment. To facilitate climate control, logistics companies use environmentally controlled, sealed containers. The containers are equipped with sensors that emit status reports to a central network so they can be monitored for adherence to humidity and temperature controls. If the environmentals within a container begin to fail or if tampering with a closed container seal is detected, the sensors immediately send out alerts to the central network so appropriate steps can be taken. The use of IoT reduces spoilage of sensitive goods and also prevents tampering.
3: Logistics tracking and performance
Major logistics carriers now use trucks that are sensor equipped so shipments can be tracked along routes, optimum delivery routes can be used, and timeliness can be tracked. In some cases, sensors are also used to track speeds, braking habits, etc., of drivers to ensure that the safest and most environmentally friendly driving practices are used.
4: Equipment diagnostics and preventive maintenance on the factory floor
As manufacturers adopt new 21st century practices, equipment within the factory is being outfitted with sensors that automatically flash an alert into the central factory operations monitoring network when a weakening component or other failure-inducing condition is detected. In this way, manufacturers can take a machine offline, reroute manufacturing operations and repair the faulty equipment before a total failure occurs that stops production.
5: Smart street lights
Street lights with IoT capability now "communicate" with city utility managers who are miles away, sending IoT data on energy usage and enabling remote adjustments to lighting to compensate for local environmental conditions—such as dimming the lights on a moonlit night or increasing lighting during rainstorms and fog. The ability to climate-adjust street lighting economizes energy usage and reduces energy costs.
SEE: Internet of Things: The Security Challenge (ZDNet special feature)
6: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
Aerial drones equipped with IoT sensors are being used by oil and gas exploration companies, mining companies, and agribusiness to chart and monitor remote, difficult to access areas and to measure elements such as soil composition and moisture content. The ability to perform these operations remotely saves field time and reduces the safety risk incurred when personnel are dispatched to remote and uncharted areas.
7: Inventory tracking during shipment
In areas of the world where the theft of inventory from trucks in transit for sale on the black market is widespread, transportation companies are attaching IoT sensors to packages and are making the practice known to locals. In one case, a transporter reported that the theft rate had fallen from 50% of inventory to 4% after IoT sensors were installed.
8: Home and business energy monitoring
Homeowners and companies are employing environmental energy monitoring with the help of IoT sensors. The devices assist them in controlling energy consumption—whether it be for an individual home, a business, or a data center.
9: Mobile device tracking
In 2014 alone, more than 10 million mobile devices were lost in the UK. The worldwide total of lost or stolen mobile devices is undoubtedly staggering. Enter IoT sensors that can be activated on these devices to at least prevent data breaches—and to possibly facilitate device retrievals.
10: Safety monitoring/tracking of Alzheimer's patients
Individuals suffering from Alzheimer's or other mentally debilitating disorders can now be tracked via IoT sensors in case they leave the home and can't find their way back. In addition, IoT sensors can serve as a safety net for potentially dangerous situations. For example they can be attached to stove gas burners in case a burner is turned on and left unattended.
- Microsoft's Azure IoT hub is now ready for business
- Shodan: The IoT search engine for watching sleeping kids and bedroom antics
- Two newly discovered flaws light fire under IoT security
- Why 10 million developers are lining up for the Internet of Things
- 10 ways to capitalize on the Internet of Things
What other ways can IoT solve business problems? Share your insights and ideas with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.