General Electric’s newish $170 million-dollar battery plant in upstate New York has more than 10,000 sensors in every conceivable piece of manufacturing equipment, all of which are connected to an internal Ethernet that enables the devices to communicate and share a wealth of data.
While the sensoring of the plant has revealed some useful insights that have saved both time and money – important commodities in manufacturing – the eventual goal of GE’s ultra-modern plant (and those plants in other GE divisions) is to be able to track goods once they leave the factory floor.
It’s those links between the factory floor and the rest of the world that could ultimately be the most valuable, according to an MIT Technology Review article. And perhaps the hardest pieces of the puzzle to put in place.
Thus the goal of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). And its challenge: Standards-based interoperability that enables devices, objects, and systems to communicate seamlessly and ubiquitously, much like WiFi does now.
But who is leading the standards charge? That remains to be seen.
LinkedIn groups dedicated to IIoT, technology, and standards host lively discussions about collaboration and connectivity and the best way to get there. Even CEOs of manufacturing companies -- looking to build next-gen IIoT products -- are confused. One lamented in a group discussion:
Looking at the standards surrounding industrial Internet, it's difficult to judge which one to use for app layer device to server signaling … . [A] number of “clubs” ITU, 3GPP and IETF (Coap) seem to have their own efforts to standardize. There are old school industrial standards (for serial comms bus protocols and number of message queue protocols) and then Qualcomm is pushing Alljoyn etc. for signaling with the Linux foundation. With the standards jungle, I am starting to think we should forget about trying to pick the right one. Just go for something modern and low power [like] IPV6.
There are, however, initiatives seeking to create IIoT standard frameworks. At least two such efforts seem to have some traction, in that they’re backed by large companies (with deep pockets) and, in one instance, the federal government. But these efforts are still in their infancy.
In 2013 nearly a dozen companies including AT&T, Cisco Systems, GE, IBM, and Intel announced that they are working with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to draft an Industrial Internet framework and identify some open source projects within that framework. The effort, according to news reports like this one from EE Times, "Connecting the Global Internet", seeks to tackle five specific architectural initiatives:
- Co-engineering cyber and physical systems
- Identifying cyber-security issues and solutions
- Addressing concerns about interoperability
- Identifying ways to maintain robust wireless connections
- Setting standards for real-time data collection and analytics
In December 2013 another consortium was launched. The AllSeen Alliance, touted by members as the “broadest cross-industry consortium to date to advance adoption and innovation in the Internet of Everything (I0E) in homes and industry,” boasts a phalanx of consumer-focused high tech manufacturer members – LG, Sharp, Panasonic, Haier, Technicolor , and others – led by Qualcomm. (Alljoyn, another Qualcomm-led initiative, is the software framework and core set of services that enable interoperability among connected products and apps within AllSeen.)
AllSeen’s goal: To include more functionality and interactions across brands and sectors, from connected homes and automotive to healthcare, education, and enterprises. It too is proposing an open source framework, “consisting of a code base of various modular services, that [will] enable fundamental activities such as discovery of adjacent devices, pairing, message routing and security,” according to the site.
Then there is ISIOT, the Open Source Internet of Things, a Silicon Valley-based organization with the goal of developing and promoting open source standards for the Internet of Things. The group’s vision: “To connect any application to any connected thing using any M2M [machine to machine] technology."
Its prospects? Beyond a handful of founders, there doesn't seem to be any "big" backing -- corporate, governmental, or otherwise.