Sensors & Sensibility

December 5, 2013 | Author: Suhas Sreedhar |

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What if your eyes and ears stopped working? What would you do? How would you cope?

Just like you, the Industrial Internet is a complex entity that relies on its own eyes and ears to function: sensors. We sometimes overlook how important sensors are to the growth of the Industrial Internet. Sure, connectivity and big data show us the cutting edge of computing technologies, but all that flowing information originates from sensors. If we don’t have reliable sensors, we don’t have reliable information, and we don’t have much of an Industrial Internet. So just how reliable are sensors today, and where can they improve?

Generally, when creating a sensor, designers know its range and its limits. This means sensors, for the most part, either work as planned or don’t. There might be some gray area regarding sensor data quality, but even this ultimately boils down to getting what you expect from a sensor or not, and when you don’t, the results can be crippling.

Take California’s smart highways as an example. They rely on embedded road sensors and cameras to optimize traffic flow. For various reasons about a third of those sensors have stopped working over time. The outage has rendered the highway monitoring system non-useful, unable to generate real-time traffic data. The takeaway from this case is that any major Industrial Internet solution needs to be robust enough to deal with its own components breaking. In addition to monitoring whatever process the solution’s designed to monitor, it also needs to monitor itself.

Smarter sensors will help make the Industrial Internet more self-aware. For a long time, sensors integrated into architectures in highly specific ways. Now, they’re beginning to become more connected, leveraging cloud services and integrating seamlessly into Industrial Internet architecture. They’re also becoming platform-independent and standardized. This is important, since software-defined machines are expected to lead the next wave of Industrial Internet innovations.

Sensor standards are already developing in areas of machine-to-machine communication. For example, the Message Query Telemetry Transport protocol (MQTT) is a messaging standard already used in some medical devices that lets sensors easily share data between each other, servers, and computing systems. Refining and building out these sorts of standards will be crucial to the expanse of the Industrial Internet.

The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” remains relevant in the fast-expanding world of the Industrial Internet. If we’re truly going to see an era of smart, self-aware, machine networks, then sensors–the eyes and ears of the Industrial Internet–need to keep evolving, not only in what they detect and how well they detect it, but in how they relay that information back and forth through hyper-connected, big data platforms, and ultimately to us.