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December 7, 2016
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By Chris Newmarker, Brian Buntz
Every nascent industry needs a killer app. But in the Internet of Things realm, it can be hard to identify the most promising use cases. For one thing, the field is gargantuan, including everything from drones to connected jet engines. In addition, some of the most powerful IoT use cases recede into the background where they quietly work to boost uptime, performance and overall manageability. We’ve rounded up 11 promising IoT use cases that are quietly shifting everything from wine cultivation to how utilities manage the power grid.
1. IoT-Based Pest Control
A handful of companies are using connected technology to keep track of pest populations. There is, for instance, Semios, which uses sensors and machine vision technology to track pest populations in orchards, vineyards, and other agricultural settings. And then there is IoT Box Systems, a company that makes connected bait stations, traps, and cages that inform the user when they have caught an animal.
2. Optimizing the Power Grid
General Electric has been touting the benefits of creating an “Electricity Value Network,” in which digitization creates allows for visualization across the entire electricity system. A great example is Bord Gáis Energy’s Whitegate power plant, a 445-MW gas combined-cycle plant 25 miles east of Cork, Ireland. There are 141 sensors across the plant that provide round-the-clock monitoring and diagnostics of existing hardware. Whitehouse engineers receive operational recommendations through the software and data analytics, and also get a single, consolidated picture of Whitehouse’s performance. The system provides more early warnings, and improved efficiency when it came to using natural gas. Additional advanced controls from GE have also enabled improved performance for the fleet of GE turbines at the Whitehouse. The result has been a €2.28 million (about $2.43 million) positive financial impact at the plant.
3. Imbuing Jet Engines with Artificial Intelligence
Bombardier last year showed off its new C-Series jetliner, which boasted Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine and its 5,000 sensors producing as much as 10 GB of data each second, according to Aviation Week. Why would a jet engine need so many sensors, especially since many modern engines have fewer than 250 sensors? Aviation Week reports that the Pratt & Whitney engine offers artificial intelligence capabilities to predict future engine demands and adjust the engine accordingly. The GTF engines consume as much as 15% less fuel than average jet engines, and also have reduced emissions and noise. However, in an industry still struggling with integration across legacy systems, chief information officers face challenges in getting the underlying architecture right as well as addressing security issues.
4. Growing Better Grapes for Better Vino
Winemakers in the Mosel Valley in southwest Germany are using an Internet of Things system called TracoVino, developed by MyOmega, according to Ericsson, which provided the device connection platform used in the Telenor Connexion infrastructure supporting TracoVino. In this IoT use case, sensors across the vineyard upload data on such metrics as soil humidity, air humidity, sunshine, and intensity of sunshine, temperature and rainfall to the cloud. At the 700-year-old Reinhold Haart Estate in Piesport, Germany, TracoVino enables the vineyard workers to do the “right work at the right time,” and avoid bad decisions during harvest that could affect the quality of Reinhold Haart’s Riesling, winemaker and part owner Johannes Haart told Ericsson. TracoVino has also enabled Reinhold Haart to improve sustainability by better limiting the use of pesticides.
Another winery, Salt Creek Vineyard in Massachusetts tends to over 12,000 vines in three fields and has built up strong wholesale and retail business lines. To help overcome challenges related to groundwater and microclimate management, Salt Creek has deployed IoT sensors, Dell Gateways and solar panels to help increase growth and profit while lowering water and energy consumption. Additionally, Salt Creek uses IoT technology to monitor pH levels in soil and water, both of which are critical to optimal vineyard performance and good tasting wine.
5. Saving the Bees
IoT technology could help beekeepers better combat honeybee colony collapse disorder, in which honeybee stocks have died off at rapid rates. Andreas Nickel, a Germany-based SAP development project manager and recreational beekeeper, built a beehive scale that sends an alert to his cellphone or computer when a major change in hive weight takes place, according to an SAP article in Forbes. The alert helps Nickel know if, say, a hive has tipped over, food has run low, or the bees are having trouble gathering pollen from the surrounding area. Researchers are interested in connected sensor systems that track everything from hive temperature and humidity to the effects of noise and light.
6. Making Trash Collection More Efficient
Barcelona, Spain, alone is expected to save $4 billion over the next 10 years because it is using the connectivity to make its trash collection more efficient, according to Cisco. Barcelona is among a number of cities in Spain, Mexico, Israel and elsewhere adopting Urbiotica’s M2M, a wireless autonomous sensor that uses ultrasound to tell how full a trash bin is. The information is transmitted to a Urbiotica software platform that links up with systems meant to optimize trash collection routes. The sensor is helpful in cases where waste is being produced at rates that are slower or more variable. Optimizing routes also means less traffic and truck emissions.
Other companies, such as Ireland-based SmartBin, are also active in the trash bin sensors market.
7. Thwarting Illegal Fishing
The Port of New Bedford, in Massachusetts, is the No. 1 one fishing port in America for the 12th straight year in a row, known for high-margin scallop shipping operations. When faced with the challenge to limit illegal fishing practices, the Port installed Dell Edge Gateways, with V5 Systems solar video surveillance technologies to better track who was coming in and out of the port. Both the South Terminal and Palmers Island Lighthouse are using these technologies to monitor fishing practices and to better understand the health of the underwater environment.
8. Doing Away With Dangerous Police Chases
Law enforcement agencies in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Arizona; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and elsewhere have been trying out a system called StarChase that eliminates the need for police to engage in dangerous high-speed chases of suspects. An air compressor launcher on the front of the patrol car fires a sticky GPS locator with a transmitter. Police can then remotely track the vehicle versus chasing it, apprehending the suspect when the vehicle stops.
9. Using Drones to Help Save the Rainforest
The Amazon Basin Conservation Association’s Los Amigos conservancy concession has started using small remotely controlled planes to monitor 550 square miles of Peruvian Amazon for illegal logging and mining, according to NPR. The drones will allow the handful of rangers to quickly investigate reports of deforestation, a major improvement over having to travel into remote parts of the jungle over unpaved roads.
10. Redefining Field-Based Intel for the Oil and Gas Industry
Exara has taken an innovative approach to field-based intelligence for companies in the oil and gas industries. Exara is helping industrial companies gather, analyze, store and relay data from oil field equipment resulting in cost savings, reduced maintenance costs, lengthened machinery lifespan and more efficient performance for workloads in demanding environments. Customers have reported that they’ve cut power use by 43 percent and achieved $60,000 in annual savings per site.
11. Using Sensors to Make Driving Safer
Humans are the cause of the vast majority of car accidents. A significant proportion of accidents are the results of distracted driving. U.S. regulators want to cut smartphone-related traffic injuries by encouraging tech companies to restrict access to apps when a driver uses them. But companies like Zendrive have developed technology that uses sensors built into smartphones to gauge driver behavior. Once sufficient data is collected, the app can offer coaching to make drivers safer. The company is targeting both insurance companies and fleet managers.
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