Two examples of the Internet of Things in new and unexpected places


When I started working for Sun Microsystems in 1996 I was asked to help out on a project at an international shipping company. The shipper wanted to be able to track a package’s progress, based on barcodes, through their system from pickup to delivery and all the stops in between. The bigger goal was to create the first global shipping logistics system and use the collected data to improve the company’s processes.

A few years later I found myself working with a New York City based supermarket chain discussing how they could use data from cash registers and the receiving areas at multiple locations to streamline ordering, stock tracking and shelf arrangement.

In both of these cases the problem wasn’t the analysis of the data but in the collection and transmission of the data to the aggregation and analysis system. At that time Internet technologies were not as developed as they are now so there was a reliance on radio transmission and batch file movement in order to move the data from place to place. Little did we know at the time that we were setting the groundwork for what we now call the Internet of Things (IoT).

Gartner defines the Internet of Things (IoT) as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states of the external environment.”

Another way to look at IoT is a large network of interconnected data sources, be they sensors, or other objects that transmit data. This data is then aggregated and analysed to create efficiencies and to gain knowledge that can affect an enterprise’s bottom line. Sorry, my data bias is showing.

One of the most often used examples of IoT is “Embedded Sensors in a Bridge” as depicted in the following drawing based on the WS02 IoT reference architecture.

In this example, the health and wellbeing of a bridge is monitored by sensors embedded in the bridge structure. These sensors communicate with an aggregation service via a small device communication protocol, in this case MQTT. The aggregation server collects and formats the information and then periodically transmits it via the Internet to be analysed. The data can be used for any number of purposes, from alerting drivers, to road temperature changes, to scheduling maintenance, to ordering emergency road repair.

While the above example illustrates very well the basic definition of IoT, it is limited to certain industries and applications. What about other industries that don’t seem to run based on data originating from a sensor array - or at least don’t seem to?

Here are two examples where one wouldn’t expect to see IoT concepts in use but might in the very near future.

Financial services – options trading

Anyone who has been around Wall Street long enough has heard a similar adage to “If there is a thunderstorm in India the Dow Jones drops twenty points”. While this is meant as a comical description of the financial market’s volatility it might be “more true” than we expect. In many cases options trading decisions are made based on conditions (weather, political, economic) in the regions of the world where high value commodities are produced.

Consider the following example:

Instead of embedded sensors in a bridge the raw data is transmitted via HTTP from weather stations and weather satellites around the globe. Instead of structural defects, the events being processed are weather events that can effect production of high value commodities or effect political situations around the world.

In this case the analysis is very different, and the applications that perform the analysis are focused on more macro-level events than on the micro-sensor based data in the bridge example, but the effect of these events is no less critical to the competitive advantage of the data consumers.

Medical research – tracking hospital, clinic, and doctor produced data

Another possible example of IoT outside of the ‘traditional’ use cases could be in the field of medical research.


Globally, the pharmaceutical industry is growing at exponential rates. More diseases have been eradicated in the past 20-30 years that in all of previous human history.

This growth in economics and in effectiveness is fuelled by medical research. But what medicine works in one region of the world does not always work in another region. What if we could aggregate data about health trends according to region and globally analyse that data quickly and effectively?

Here the data comes from hospitals, clinics and the apps that can be added to doctors’ mobile devices. The research facilities can receive and also publish data back into the cloud for others to use.

The Internet of Things may have started by tracking shipments via barcode, but it has grown into a highly useful tool for gathering data from large to very large sets of producers. The examples given above are just a very few of the possible use cases that can be solved by IoT. All it takes is some creative thought about how to solve the problem.

Read more of David's articles on CloudTech here. in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

The show is co-located with the AI & Big Data Expo, Cyber Security & Cloud Expo and Blockchain Expo so you can explore the entire ecosystem in one place.

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Steve Kirwan
15 Dec 2015, 6:42 p.m.

Nice article David and some interesting points. One point that i would like to pose to the wider audience is the growth in the number of M2M devices across a number of industry verticals and the challenges it will create in driving secure data and information flows and how that data is harnessed and developed via analytics into real time and or meaningful decision making information. The growth of IoT will certainly drive BD analytic requirements but will also create hugh demands for storage, just look at the growth driven by health care data! This will further fuel the demand for public and secure cloud based services but how will IT respond to the security and EA demands and the protection of the integrity of the expanded enterprise, hopefully they will embrace with open arms and not be seen as the anchor chain that can slow down the real business potential.