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Pictures of the Future


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Internet of Things

Trends: Perpetual Optimization

Thanks to the unlimited capacity of the latest version of the Internet Protocol, virtually every object may one day be able to provide real-time information.

Machines are talking to each other in unprecedented numbers. Not only are they doing simple things like managing our boarding passes and seating assignments; they're also about to start streamlining smart grids and entire supply chains. It all adds up to an economy based on perpetual optimization.

They will soon be everywhere — in the bar code readers at the corner grocery store, in street lights, traffic lights, and your car’s navigation and braking systems. They will zap messages back and forth between buildings and the smart grid, notify factories when a supplier’s production line runs into trouble, and report on, learn from, and predict the maintenance needs of everything from jet engines and off-shore wind parks to pacemakers and programmable logic controllers. They are software modules — sometimes referred to as agents — and they are part of a new, invisible economy in which objects speak with other objects — in short, the Internet of Things.
So rapidly is the Internet of Things growing that on June 6, 2012, the Internet Society, a global standards-setting organization with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and Reston, Virginia, officially launched a new Internet Protocol (IP) standard called IPv6.

Global Networking

Thanks to this development, “there are now enough IP combinations for everyone in the world to have a billion IP addresses for every second of their life,” reported CNN Money as the Protocol was launched. That amounts to over 340 undecillion addresses (3.4x1038)! The idea that so many addresses could ever be needed may sound ludicrous when thought of in terms of the current world population of around 7 billion people and 4.3 billion IP address; but it’s not so outlandish when you think of the population of things. Indeed, according to Cisco Systems, Inc., by 2020, there will be some 50 billion networked devices, billions of them invisibly embedded in everyday objects ranging from clothing and cell phones to automobile parts.

By 2020 there will be some 50 billion networked devices.

Automated Economy

“We are witnessing the birth of an economy that, with the help of sensors, will be automated,” says Prof. W. Brian Arthur, an economist and technology thinker at the Santa Fe Institute. For instance, he points out, a truck equipped with radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs) can optimize its arrival timing as its navigation system talks with roadside sensors that, in turn, compare the vehicle’s position with real-time traffic flows in coordination with computers in the supply chain to which the truck is making its delivery.

Intelligent Supply Chains

Each part of this communications network used to require a human participant — along with associated costs and errors. But today, and to an ever increasing extent, such processes are taking place among machines — with significant benefits for the general economy — and potentially profound challenges for labor markets around the world.
Just as our vehicles are beginning to communicate with systems around them, systems within them will also hold their own conversations. Supported by a 10-million Euro grant from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economy, Siemens and other companies are investigating the software needs of tomorrow’s electronic vehicles in the context of the “Robust and Reliant Automotive Computing Environment for Future eCars” project.

Somewhat further down the road is a world of automated communication and optimization that may one day link — and optimize — entire supply chains. That’s the goal of a 20-million Euro project sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economy. Known as the RFID-based Automotive Network (RAN), the program is heading for development of a standardized parts and information management system for the automobile industry. The idea is that supplier production lines will automatically advise their customers — original equipment manufacturers or OEMs — of any significant slowdowns. Intelligent systems at OEMs will then evaluate the information and adjust production schedules flexibly. The potential economic benefits of real-time communication between different levels of suppliers and OEMs are expected to be enormous. Merging Real and Virtual Worlds.

Merging Real and Virtual Worlds

One of the most spectacular events in the short history of the Internet of Things was the seamless development, testing and manufacturing of the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity . With the help of Siemens PLM Software solutions, individual parts, subsystems, and even the entire assembly were so accurately produced in the virtual world that, following exhaustive simulations, the same data sets were used by computer numerically-controlled (CNC) machines to manufacture the parts’ real-world counterparts. Says Siemens Industry CTO Prof. Siegfried Russwurm, a member of Siemens’ Managing Board, “What NASA was able to do with the Mars rover was a paradigm shift, an integrated database, an integrated approach from product design to production design — a seamless transition from the virtual world to real production in one consistent database.”
Daren Rhoades, a Senior Product Development Manager at PLM Software’s Cypress, California development center who, until recently, was a member of the NASA team that developed the Curiosity rover, adds that “Developing something new for a space mission is incredibly expensive because of the amount of engineering and testing involved. But with our technology, NASA will be able to easily find and reuse any of the pertinent information and knowledge gained from Curiosity’s development and testing phase. That can save a tremendous amount of money.”

From the Third World to the Virtual World

NASA is of course not the only organization to have discovered the extraordinary efficiencies associated with precision development and functional testing of parts and systems in the virtual world. In China, for instance, a transition from low-wage, low-tech industries to higher-wage, high-tech industries is driving growing interest in virtual world development. The country’s nascent automobile industry — particularly Chery and FAW — have embraced Tecnomatix, a Siemens PLM Software technology that links product development units to manufacturing locations, from process definition and planning to simulations and production.

Objects with Addresses

The connection between virtual and real worlds will not be limited to industry. According to Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Director of the Institute for Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, “As the Internet of Things connects the physical world with the Internet, we will see an explosion in the number of devices that have their own home page and associated apps.” As Fleisch sees it, in the future, virtually every object, from toys to medications, will be able to provide real-time information regarding its age, constituent materials, and condition.
Indeed, thanks to a process called SIPAT (Siemens Process Analytical Technology), pilot projects now under way in the pharmaceuticals industry indicate that, in the near future, it will be possible to track the origin and quality of the substances used in every pill. Who knows — maybe we’ll need all those billions and billions of IP addresses after all!

Arthur F. Pease
Picture credits: Blickwinkel