Avnet’s Lou Lutostanski says the promise of full IoT connectivity has been slow to arrive, but it’s real and it’s coming. It’ll just take a little more education, simplification, and standardization to make widespread adoption happen.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been the talk of the town for the past few of years. So where is it? IoT applications are now active in every market but implementation has been more gradual than many in the electronics industry hoped.
“Things are still not quite simple enough for widespread adoption. Many disciplines are ready and eager to take advantage of the benefits of IoT, but implementing it needs to become less complex and more secure,” said Lou Lutostanski, vice president, Internet of Things, Avnet. “As a distributor, our legacy has been on the parts side, but we realized that in order for developers to fully engage with IoT’s potential, we needed to take a more advisory role, to help them make the best decisions about those parts as well as the software and sensors needed to execute these capabilities.”
Lutostanski says that many businesses are already using IoT for asset tracking, equipment monitoring, supply chain visibility, building management, and other automated and data-gathering functions. He even says that businesses that are not connected to the cloud won’t be in business five years from now. “IoT has not been over-hyped. It has tremendous potential for every industry that is actually greater than estimated,” he said. “For some industries, it has already been transformative.” the internet of things
One example is Lutostanski’s favorite IoT application: ride-sharing apps. “I use Lyft or Uber just about every week, and I love them. I travel a lot and I used to rent cars or take cabs. Now, thanks to the IoT, I have this app on my phone that connects me to a ride. It takes a device, a telecom provider, GPS units for tracking riders and cars, software on the back end for an interface, routing, scheduling, and payment — that’s the Internet of Things in action, and it has put tremendous pressure on cabs and rental car companies.”Similar transformation is occurring in medicine and other areas where data and devices can be linked to create efficiencies. But Lutostanski says roadblocks to implementation exist, including lack of standardization, a need for greater education about the technology, and hardware offerings that need better integration.
“Sensors are one part of the system that are becoming much more important. Sensors are very smart, and if I were a hardware manufacturer, I would be focused on connecting them and making sure they play well with all the other elements in a system. Things can always be smaller, cheaper, faster, and more efficient. But they must also work together.”
Standardization would help too, but standards bodies move more slowly than product development because multiple disciplines, products, and interfaces are involved. Avnet wants to help developers move forward without waiting for standards to come into play, says Lutostanski. “Right now, our role is to make things simple. We can guide them towards parts that are popular and well-supported and are made by credible companies that have been around for a long time,” said Lutostanski. When standardization does come, he says, these are the products that will be most influential.
Another hurdle is the practical need to bring existing equipment into new connected systems. Companies have already invested billions of dollars in a wide range of machinery and devices. Many of these have IoT potential but pre-date the availability of software or hardware that can access and use the data collected by that equipment. Lutostanski says that Avnet is working with companies to bring that older equipment online.
“If we have to wait until everyone has brand-new equipment, it will take years. But it is very possible to retrofit devices and enjoy the benefits of the IoT right now, using that legacy equipment,” he said. “You aren’t redesigning from scratch. You can apply artificial intelligence and capture the data those machines already gather. We help our customers figure out what’s already there. In most cases there is data that can be used if you can find a compatible interface and get that data to the cloud.”
An example: Exercise equipment can track data such as user speed, length of time used, and number of times used. But without the IoT, that data is trapped in the machine. An IoT interface that can be added using a simple connector can link machines with an app or software that can track and monitor usage.
“This retrofitted solution could operate on Wi-Fi or LoRaWAN protocols, it could be wired, wireless, or a combination of both. The point is to get the data off the device and into the cloud, and then use software to draw insights from AI. The AI piece is key — we are starting to see the term AIoT — the Artificial Intelligence of Things. By applying AI, you get much more value out of your data. Our role is to help people figure out the best way to connect the unconnected.” the internet of things
Avnet has invested heavily in software and security to help facilitate IoT innovations, data collection, and AI, and the company is taking an active role in education, developing training and curriculum materials, and teaching developers how to get data to a gateway or platform. The company’s developer communities, hackster io and element14, have been instrumental in this initiative. Through discussion and competitions, the two million developers that take part are teaching one another about connected technologies and challenging themselves to create new applications.
“It is amazing what they come up with. If you look back 20, 30, 40 years ago, people had fantastic ideas, but they couldn’t execute them because the technology wasn’t there,” said Lutostanski. “Now it is here. Technology is no longer a limit.”