C-level briefing: Craig McNeil, Global IoT MD at Accenture, discusses how robots and human interactions will be part of the future, despite today’s fears.
Much has been written about IoT, iIoT, Industry 4.0 and many other upcoming acronyms associated with a smarter world. CBR’s Joao Lima sat down with Accenture’s Global IoT MD Craig McNeil to discover what the differences, the challenges and the benefits are for the always-on consumer and the connected manufacturer.
"What is happening in the Industrial Internet is much further ahead that it is in the other areas we are seeing in IoT."
McNeil explained that IoT is a term that he mostly associates with the consumer side of the technology, while manufacturers, especially in Germany, have always referred to it as Industry 4.0, also dubbed as Fourth Industrial Revolution.
"That sector [manufacturing] is much further along in what we would call IoT or even iIoT than the rest of the world."
Thinking about the typical manufacturing shop floor, an assembling line in an auto plant or at most factories, is something that has been automated for decades, "what is getting more sophisticated about that automation is that is requiring less human interaction over time".
Deploying robotic technology into human life, however, is the main challenge the industry is facing, according to McNeil.
Taking on smart cars for example, he said that despite autonomous vehicles being "really cool" they are still a testing product, and they will be a test for many years. "It is not because the technology does not work, it is because of liability reasons.
"We are used to dealing with robotics, on an assembly line. We [as humans] are fine with robots doing all kinds of things that do not affect human life; it is ok if they do not make a phone right or the device in the right way.
"All of a sudden we throw that into real time human interaction and it becomes more challenging. This hurdle that has to be crossed is not just about autonomous vehicles, it is about robotics, it is about artificial life interacting with human life in a way that could harm that.
"We are just scratching the surface on getting into that, but that is going to be what drives the future."
Privacy, security and trust
This interaction between humans and robots has its setbacks, and one of the current biggest discussions in the IoT space is the need for common standards on security and privacy.
"Privacy and security are very different. Privacy does not change with the IoT. It is exactly what is has been with the internet and mobile. Security is a completely different thing and that is new and scary.
"When we add more devices to a network, we open ourselves to more vulnerability. The reason that assembly lines in manufacturing have closed systems that only allow them to talk to the machine from the shop floor is because the more openings and nodes they have on that network, the more vulnerable they are to an outside intrusion."
McNeil added that security is a real threat and something that has to be addressed in every architecture or solution that is put out there or "IoT it will not see uptake".
The whole issue around security is directly linked to trust. "From a consumer perspective, everything we do we have to trust.
"IoT is going to create a trust problem. Businesses need to build a trust base with consumers. If I lose trust in an automaker, I am going to tell my friends, and they will not buy a car from them either. If the device is insecure then that is a challenge."
In order to offer a fully trustworthy service, networks – including cloud and edge computing – will have to see significant improvements to cope with data.
For example, the "goal for the smart car" is to be able to communicate to several different end points at the same time.
If the vehicle breaks, it should be able to connect to the manufacturer, which will then contact the closest garage to fix the issue.
In the mean time, the car would have sent an alert to the driver’s office saying one will be late, a note to the airport telling the parking space is no longer needed for that evening’s flight, arrange with the school a way of transport for the kids as the driver cannot pick them up later on, and so on.
"That requires a lot of systems to work together. It will take some time. On the consumer side of the world, that is going to probably happen much sooner that it would on the industrial side.
"The industrial side is more advanced on how we are using analytics to help things make more efficient and generate revenue, but in terms of using that data to influence what happens in the consumer environment that is probably going to take quite a few more integrations and years to come."
McNeil explained that where the industry needs to really look at is at the age of edge analytics and being able to take the data off a device (from planes to wearables) and not putting it in the cloud but do the compute on the sensor.
"In the future, this [edge analytics] might actually start to take data from the cloud, and understanding a little bit of data and start to act as the cloud at the edge.
"In two or three years time, edge analytics is going to be a standard part of any IoT architecture."
The common impact
The use of edge analytics will also create a safer work place both in industrial and everyday sites, like offices and shops, bringing into workers’ lives the common benefit of IoT. "Mobility and analytics are also contributing to reinvent what we see in the workforce."
Looking at someone that works in an oil refinery for example, allowing the employer to track employees could end up saving lives, according to McNeil.
"If I know where they are and I can track that, and I know that a person has been stationary for five minutes, maybe there is an injury. If I can sense the temperature around them and their vital signs to real understand what is going on," that could save their life.
He added that there is some acute value in being connected and being able not only to make life easier to that employee but also to make things more efficient to the business.
"It is a challenging thing as much as it is an opportunity, because the sky is the limit. There is very little being done in that space right now. Changing one business process has a profound impact, because we really are starting from zero, and going quite a bit up the curve there."