SECTIONS - The Internet of Things
August 29, 2016

More with Homaira Akbari

In this issue’s cover story, Homaira Akbari talks about how health care will be the next big vertical for the Internet of Things. That’s because the IoT, she points out, can be used for everything from patient monitoring to asset tracking.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible in health care using the Internet of Things. At a past IoT Evolution event, one speaker talked about IoT ingestibles that allow doctors to see inside their patients’ bodies for diagnosis and treatment.

IoT devices can also be attached to the outside of our bodies to address health issues – and I’m not just talking about fitness trackers, and glucose and heart monitors. For example, a company called Ekso Bionics has created the Ekso GT, an FDA-approved exoskeleton for people with spinal cord injuries or those who have suffered a stroke. This is essentially a robot that is strapped on to the user’s body in an effort to help the patient gain mobility and strength. 

“Ekso GT enables functional based, intensive, over ground gait training and is designed to support the re-learning of correct step patterns and weight shifts, potentially mitigating compensatory behaviors,” the company explains.

This product is available today, in Canada, most European countries, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States, and it’s being offered by more than 150 rehabilitation institutions.

Speaking of movement, I didn’t include this part of our discussion in this issue’s cover story, but Akbari and I also talked a bit about how the IoT will enable companies that have traditionally sold products to expand into the business of selling services. That, of course, moves these businesses from a one-time sale scenario into a recurring revenue model.

Printing company Heidelberger Druckmaschinen is an example of a company that is moving in that direction. The German company in May announced its selection of PTC’s ThingWorx technology to enable it to remotely monitor and service more than 25,000 printing devices and software modules. ThingWorx helps power Heidelberg Remote Service, an offering that is today used in 50 countries with as many as 3,000 remote sessions per month and through which the company can resolve more than 70 percent of issues.

“We have successfully connected over 10,000 machines and 15,000 systems with the new

solution and as the global leader in our market, we can give our customers excellent support,” said Uwe Galm, vice president, system service and head of operations at Heidelberg. “With the ThingWorx platform, ongoing consultation as needed, and regular function and security updates through PTC Cloud Services, we are well positioned for the future.”

While plenty of companies have put in place successful IoT implementations, Akbari noted the challenge they face in doing so due to the fragmentation of the IoT marketplace. The fact that some companies have had to put together IoT solutions with piece parts of different vendors’ solutions, and that there is no standardization in the IoT, has resulted in lost time and money for some early adopters, she said. For example, one company had already spent $20 million on developing an IoT solution that failed to meet requirements before they engaged Akbari to help get on the right track. The problem, Akbari explained, was that the company had built some parts of the solution itself, and those parts were not performing well, and it selected platforms that were not capable of interfacing with other systems at a reasonable cost.

In light of this, many IoT solution providers have moved to put together 95 to 98 percent of what customers need for an IoT deployment, Akbari said. But the ideal IoT marketplace scenario, she added, would be to have a collection of players that each focus on a core competency, but whose different solutions could easily integrate with one another and with customers’ legacy systems. She referred to this idea as the move to horizontal models.

Some industrial equipment has been in existence for 70 years, and it’s going to stick around a while, added Akbari, so you can’t force feed these companies all the pieces of an IoT solution, and you need to be able to integrate with that legacy embedded base. To this point, Akbari offers elevator KONE as an example.

KONE earlier this year announced its selection of IBM as an IoT partner. IBM’s Watson IoT Cloud Platform will enable KONE to collect and store equipment data, build applications, and develop new solutions empowered by the newly connected elevators and escalators. But Akbari said KONE has elevators that were put in service as far back at 1912, which she added shows the complexity of IoT and the requirement that it address a variety of equipment and systems even within a single customer deployment.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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