IBM has opened a $200m global headquarters for Watson Internet of Things in Munich, Germany.

The centre will be home to what IBM is calling “cognitive collaboratories”, which will be run with Avnet, BMW, BNP Paribas, Capgemini and Tech Mahindra. These companies will work with IBM to identify opportunities for using data from IoT sensors to train machine learning and other AI systems to make smarter decisions. The centre is part of a $3bn investment in IoT that IBM pledged in 2014.

Craig Smith, director of IoT for Avnet Technology Solutions, said that developing IoT systems is “immensely complex”, needing to combine cognitive computing, data analytics and cloud platforms, saying “it really is more than any one firm can put its arms around”.

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IBM has about 1,000 IoT experts based at the Watson IoT centre, working with partner companies.

Together they will explore ways to use IoT data and cloud services to improve connected cars, to prevent disease, and to devise new financial services products and new managed services across industries ranging from agriculture to manufacturing.

As an example of how combining internet-connected devices and cloud services can help create new products and services, IBM revealed a new partnership with Visa, which they say will allow support for secure payments to be added to connected devices, without the need for dedicated infrastructure.

IoT devices will be able to be linked to the Visa Token Service, a security technology that replaces sensitive payment account information found on payment cards with a unique digital identifier, which will be available via IBM’s Watson IoT platform.

Jim McCarthy, executive vice president, for innovation and strategic partnerships with Visa, gave an example of how the service could be used to support on-demand billing, for instance, to pay by the mile when driving connected cars or by how much you drink when sipping from a connected cup.

Dr John Kelly is IBM’s senior VP of cognitive solutions and research, who helped develop the IBM Watson system that defeated two world champions at the quiz show Jeopardy in 2011.

Kelly said the centre would allow IBM and its partners to devise industry-specific cognitive services fueled by IoT data. Partnering with industry experts allows their expertise about specific verticals to be combined with IBM Watson IoT Platform’s cloud infrastructure and cognitive computing capabilities in areas such as speech and image recognition and signal processing, he added.

“We are doing it through an industry lens, we believe decades from now, before we have a general-purpose, all-knowing system, these systems must be trained in the domain you’re in,” he said.

The conference heard how the granular data being captured by IoT devices and sophisticated analytics at the backend is reshaping the way companies operate, such as the French railway operator SNCF. The rail operator is using sensors on overhead wires and tracks to do predictive maintenance on its 30,000 kilometres of railways, using the Watson IoT Platform to analyze the data. Meanwhile the aerospace manufacturer Airbus is creating detailed digital models, dubbed “digital twins”, of de-icing systems on plane wings to allow more effective approaches to designing and operating such systems.

The centre will also house an innovation hub for the European IoT standards organization EEBus, which will develop standards for connected home devices.

IBM also announced new products and services using its IBM Watson IoT platform’s cognitive capabilities:

  • Dutch unmanned aerial vehicle designer Aerialtronics making a drone that uses Watson’s Visual Recognition APIs to allow it to understand what’s being captured by its 360-degree camera, with potential uses in areas such as crowd safety, damage assessment and aviation inspection.
  • Ricoh is launching an IBM Watson-powered, voice controlled digital whiteboard, which can also do its best to transcribe and translate what a speaker is saying in real time.
  • Bosch will make its industrial Bosch IoT Suite available on IBM’s Bluemix and Watson IoT Platform.
  • IBM will offer free access to Watson IoT Platform via Bluemix to companies pitching products on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo that have been certified by Arrow Electronics.

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