The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning is causing digital disruption like never before, with companies automating tasks and using technology to increase productivity.
However, over the next few years, the Internet of Things, a market that's already worth billions, is set to affect even great societal change. The connected home aside, IoT and its related innovations will transform a range of areas, among them: logistics and transportation, city planning, finance, smart cities and smart government. In fact, much of this transformation is already happening.
London is not only the English capital, it's also one of the world's most important business and financial hubs. But it's feared that the city's increasing population is putting a strain on its infrastructure. In fact, reports suggest that 10 million people could inhabit the city by 2030.
However, smart city technology could transform the city and ensure the growing population doesn't pose a threat to its stability. For instance, the Mayor of London manages a specialist board made up of city officials and technologists to explore ways that technology can find solutions to some of London's most complex challenges around public transportation and city planning. Examples of innovative systems include the introduction of self-driving pods at Heathrow Airport to tackle congestion, electronic ticketing systems, and free WiFi on the city's Tube system.
Last year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan appointed Theo Blackwell as the city's first ever chief digital officer to manage such projects. As part of the Smart London Plan, Blackwell and his team have already overseen a number of key projects. One example is the rollout of body-worn video cameras at the Metropolitan Police Service. Law enforcement officials are using this technology to gather evidence in real time. As well as this, City Hall has teamed up with the likes of the Alan Turing Institute to use air quality sensors to fight pollution.
"I've been clear in my ambition for London to become the world's leading smart city -- and I want to know how this technology is affecting Londoners' lives and to understand in what ways we can build on this with new technologies in the future," explained Khan recently. "We want London to be the global home of the data economy, to seize the benefits of new artificial intelligence, and inspire a new generation of inventors and developers to make our city even better."
The rise of smart cities
Birmingham is another British city that's drawing on the power of connected technology. The Big Data Corridor Project, which is funded through the European Regional Development Fund, is an example of a cutting-edge project currently being undertaken in the city. Supported by Birmingham City Council, Aston University, EnableID, Birmingham City University, Innovation Birmingham and West Midlands Combined Authority, it's helping businesses improve their efficiency and develop innovative projects by harnessing the benefits of big data.
These organizations are looking to develop an information analysis and visualization platform that takes data from a range of sources, including transport, energy and healthcare. It will also draw on new technological implementations, such as weather-adaptive street lights and optical fiber sensing. By 2019, it's hoped that the project will have supported 125 local businesses and created around 56 jobs.
The positive impact of smart city applications is also being felt further afield, in developing parts of the world. In May 2017, the Rwandan capital Kigali forged a partnership with satellite communications firm Inmarsat to deploy an Internet of Things network. It's helping more than 740,000 of the city's citizens and making its presence felt in areas such as education, healthcare and utilities. The idea is to turn Kigali into one of Africa's most forward-thinking, properous cities.
Inmarsat Enterprise President Paul Gudonis said at the time: "Kigali is taking the lead with its smart city project, creating an IoT ecosystem where both private and government organisations can experiment with this technology in a vibrant and lively city. The project will therefore begin to take the potential of this exciting technology beyond futurist visions and into a real world scenario and we look forward to seeing the creativity of Kigali’s many entrepreneurs, students, and businesses unleashed on the IoT network."
The automation technology revolution is having a major impact on the logistics industry, too. IoT technologies are making it easier for companies to track and ship products across the globe. Intel is a pioneer this area. It's been working with industrial automation firm Honeywell to develop IoT solutions for shipping and logistics firms.
The Connected Logistics Platform is the centerpiece of their partnership. With this software, companies can keep an eye on assets as they travel from country to country. This helps them tackle theft, damage and waste. The system uses a truckload of Internet-enabled sensors and a WiFi gateway, and provides firms with insights such as temperature, pressure, proximity, shock and tilt. After announcing the partnership, Intel said: "By analyzing data from thousands of shipments, logistics service providers will be able to predict and avoid routes where damage or delays are likely, establishing a more reliable distribution network."
British technology startup Stonelin is developing similar technologies. With the help of Orange Business Services, the firm has created a connected sensor that allows businesses to track company vehicles. Using GPS tracking, the solution provides information such as the vehicle's location and driver performance. The firm said the sensor can also be utilized in the healthcare industry.
Nigel Blackaby, director of conferences at PennWell International, believes that technology will transform the power sector too. He tells us: "Now, with the power system looking more like a complex network of distributed energy resources including batteries and renewable generation, the fast exchange of data and the capability of AI and machine learning will enable this system to be optimized to maintain grid stability.
"Utility companies are now seeing that the data has a greater potential value than Kwh and understanding the power of digitalization to integrate and connect more resources onto the network, like electric vehicles and IoT connected devices. IoT is creating new opportunities, necessities and incentives for collaboration and lowering the market entry barriers for those with novel value propositions and new business models that will affect producers, consumers and prosumers.”
— Nic Fearn, technology journalist