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.
Farmers are using satellite data to get precise information about the health of their crops. Healthy plants absorb light for photosynthesis and reflect infrared. By looking at a field with both visible and infrared cameras, satellites can provide weekly – even daily – information to farmers about the state of their crops. This helps ensure fertilisers and other treatments are only applied where they are needed.
Autonomous farm vehicles can be accurately controlled to follow set paths using global navigation satellite systems to ensure that no section of the field is missed when ploughing or seeding, and overlapping is reduced. This helps prevent too much soil compaction, which causes lower yields, and means fewer seeds or treatments are wasted.
Satellite positioning is also being used to monitor and manage livestock. Scotland’s Rural College,SRUC, is working on “virtual fencing”, which involves fitting cattle with a collar programmed with exclusion zones. Cattle can be gently nudged away from particular areas using negative stimuli such as an irritating sound.
Since Dorn Cox began automating his 250-acre New Hampshire farm four years ago, he has installed dozens of sensors. Some measure moisture in soil around his squash. Some track temperatures in the greenhouse air around his cucumbers. Others track wind speed and rainfall in segments of field roughly a quarter-acre in size. When something is amiss—temperatures are too high or the soil is too dry—he receives an alert on his smartphone. He also sends out drones to survey his field crops for dryness, soil erosion, and plant health.
Makers of semiconductors spend upward of $5 billion to build and operate fabrication plants—known as “fabs”—that run 24 hours a day so they can recoup their investment before the equipment becomes obsolete in five years or so. Rows of pristine machines sit in windowless cleanrooms, which are almost as free of humans as they are of dust. Intel and Texas Instruments have spent decades perfecting this almost sci-fi form of manufacturing. Now they want to show the rest of the world how it’s done.
The chipmakers have set their sights on what researcher IHS estimates is a $185 billion global market for gear to automate industrial production. To capture a portion of that spending, they’re prodding companies to bring the Internet of Things—a term that describes a world in which physical objects are embedded with electronics and talk to each other—into factories. “It’s moving beyond hype and into engineers rolling up their sleeves,” says Doug Davis, senior vice president of the IoT division at Intel, which had more than $2 billion in sales last year. “The economic value and impact are unquestioned.”
ProGlove, developed by Workaround, is an “intelligent” glove that uses chips to power a simple display on the wrist. If the person wearing the glove completes an assembly task correctly, a large green check mark appears.