Kevin Ashton has been an executive director and visiting engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he led work on the next generation of computing. Perhaps more importantly for this report, says Jeremy Cowan, he is the man who coined the term the ‘Internet of Things’.
Ah! That Kevin Ashton. Right.
So, when he agreed to speak, no one was surprised that 2,500 registered to join the MuleSoft EMEA Summit at London’s ExCeL expo centre on November 13th. And those I spoke to afterwards were not disappointed; he brings a world of research experience, a sense of humour and the gravitas of recognition for his academic work and serial entrepreneurship.
He began by demonstrating the pace of recent technological change, and how we all become quickly accustomed to it. A heavily pixelated image of Pluto (in fact, only 15 black & white pixels) was shown resolving over a period of 85 years into a colourised and dramatically detailed image of the erstwhile planet (it was reclassified to a dwarf planet in 2006).
Ashton took a sideways swipe at some products that claim to be IoT-enabled but aren’t, drawing laughter when he showed a photo of a smartphone app interacting with a “smart” wine bottle. “If you need a ‘smart’ bottle and app to tell you if you’re drunk,” he said, “you’re drunk!”
Instead he drew a parallel between the Internet of Things and the human body. Sensors are only useful if you put them into a network. “It’s the same with your sense of touch and hearing connecting to your nervous system. We’ve turned the world into Data. Then you must do something with the data – in the 20th Century it was via spreadsheets. Now you need Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to look at data and tell a human or an automated system to do something.”
Life-changing IoT application
Kevin Ashton cited two examples of new IoT applications. Some chronic lung diseases can be analysed by spirometers but these are costly and frequently unavailable in remote areas of Asia and Africa. He pointed to pioneering healthcare that is now being delivered in Kenya with patients blowing into a smartphone microphone. When transmitted to a hospital equipped with a spirometer, the volume of air inspired and expired by the lungs can now be analysed remotely with 95% accuracy.
In another example, Ashton showed how T-shirts destined for the US are mostly made in Bangladesh. The cost per T-shirt is US$0.22 (€0.19), as opposed to $7.47 (€6.61) for T-shirts made in the US. With a new robotised sewing machine (inevitably dubbed the Sewbot) humans are being replaced and the machine can produce one million T-shirts a year in the US at a cost of $0.33 (€0.29) each. He didn’t expand on the human cost of unemployment in Bangladesh but said that shipping costs are drastically reduced too.
“There’s a catch,” said Ashton. “If you had four separate systems delivering sensory information in your body you’d have a disintegrated mind.” He paid tribute to the role of solutions like […]
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