A self-driving John Deere tractor rumbles through Ian Pigott’s 2,000-acre farm every week or so to spray fertilizer, guided by satellite imagery and each plot’s harvesting history. The 11-ton behemoth, loaded with so many screens it looks like an airplane cockpit, relays the nutrient information to the farmer’s computer system. With weather forecasts and data on pesticide use, soil readings, and plant tissue tests pulled by various pieces of software, Pigott can keep tabs on the farm down to the square meter in real time without ever leaving his carpeted office.
“This is becoming more standard,” says Pigott, who grows a rotation of wheat, oilseed, oats, and barley on his farm in the rolling Hertfordshire countryside an hour north of London.
The initiative, previously called Project Tango, is Google's ambitious plan to map the indoor world. Google Maps is already wildly popular, with more than 1 billion users. But where Maps is a cartographer's dream on steroids, Tango isn't concerned with streets and rivers and national parks. Tango is for everything underneath rooftops: hallways, offices, ballrooms and -- perhaps more importantly for Google's advertising ambitions -- the stuff inside those rooms, like furniture and products on shelves.
The 18,000 containers aboard a vast new vessel unveiled this month by shipping giant CMA CGM are more than just climate-controlled cargo boxes. Embedded with technology from French IoT startup TRAXENS, each container is a smart connected object, able to share data with other containers, with the crew’s mobile devices, and with company HQ in Marseille. The devices relay the container’s location, temperature, humidity level, vibrations, any impacts or attempted break ins, and customs clearance status. Monitoring all that for every one of the 5 to 6 million containers in transit on the world’s oceans at any given moment would be a data revolution. It will eventually happen.
But other technologies will also soon transform how the world’s 100,000-plus ocean-going merchant ships are managed, operated, and maintained. Consulting and services firm Lloyd’s Register says the carrier of the future will be “smarter, data driven, greener…fully connected wirelessly onboard, and digitally connected through global satellites.”
Such ships might also be unmanned. Lloyd’s predicts tankers and cargo carriers will be guided by sensors, automation, big data, and global networks. Indeed, Rolls-Royce got to work this summer on a $7.5 million research project for the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation to produce specs and designs for a fully remote-controlled ship.
Today, it takes just seconds for Welder to learn that one of his company’s wells has gone down. That’s because in 2013, Welder Exploration became one of the first oil producers to sign on with WellAware, a tech startup that kits out clients’ oil and gas wells with hardware that transmits real-time data over its own radio network. Clients can access the information on a smartphone or tablet using WellAware’s mobile app or through a Web browser. Customers pay $15 to $100 a month per well, depending on the level of service and equipment.
Except for advances in drilling technology, which underpinned the U.S. shale boom, much of the oil industry remains strikingly antiquated when it comes to above-ground operations. Now, as companies transition from searching for deposits to slashing costs and improving the productivity of existing wells, digitizing their operations has become much more appealing.
This coin-size device clips on to whatever you want to locate in a hurry—your purse, golf bag, pet, bike, laptop, keys … whatever. Once clipped on, you pair the TrackR bravo device with the companion smartphone app and then assign each item (up to 10) to a unique icon to create a log of all your tracked items. When you need to locate one of these devices, just click on the app and choose the item you’re tracking. The TrackR uses a Bluetooth distance indicator to find the missing item within 100 feet and can ring the bravo tracking device.
Now, of course, every smartphone is a GPS device—if advances in chip design have allowed us to carry around powerful computers in our pockets, as often as not it’s the 24 GPS satellites circling the planet that make us take them out and use them. Milner argues that ubiquity has begun to exact a price. Part of that price is the ease with which we can now be located and tracked, but he also writes about another cost. He opens his book with an enchanting account of how ancient Polynesian navigators figured out how to cross thousands of miles of open ocean in outrigger canoes, guided only by the stars and the currents. Today, he points out, people blindly follow their turn-by-turn instructions into lakes or drive miles before they realize they mistyped the name of their dinner destination. He speculates, citing some suggestive psychological research, that our reliance on the technology may be altering the structure of our brains.
The device will help fill the gaps left by canes, dogs and basic GPS devices by providing users with more information about their surroundings. Worn around their shoulders, it will help users better navigate indoor spaces, such as office buildings and shopping malls, by helping them identify everyday features, including restrooms, escalators, stairs and doors.
The device will be equipped with cameras that detect the user's surroundings and communicate information to him or her through speakers and vibration motors. Users, in turn, will be able to interact with the device through voice recognition and buttons. Toyota plans to eventually integrate mapping, object identification and facial recognition technologies.
You will see a highly automated manufacturing flow, like what the automotive industry uses. But what you see is sometimes the flow is like this [he moves one hand off to the side]. Sometimes the flow is like this [he shifts it again], and all of a sudden, the flow is like this [he moves both hands]. And you say, “What the hell is going on here?” Well, what happens is that there’s a customer request such as, “I want this product in that size, in that lot size, with that blue color, with that dot on the bottom.” So the software steers the manufacturing process into lots as small as one item. And then sometimes all of a sudden, you see that certain products are being sorted out into a queue, because the plant received information about a quality defect in that product. So the simulation fixes the defect and gets approval from quality management to put it into the production process. And then off we go.
Industrie 4.0 basically takes the cost of scale close to zero. The production process is being changed. It’s machines talking to machines in a self-optimizing manufacturing and engineering process. Using this approach, we have attained a production quality rate of 99.9988%. That is getting pretty close to Six Sigma. In the last five years, we have increased productivity eightfold. It’s really something.