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How Wearables are Contributing to the IoT

The Internet of Things is a network of (Internet-) connected objects that have been made “smart” with embedded sensors. These devices collect data about the physical world around us, about processes and the health of both people and machinery—data which is then interpreted and shared with other machines and people via cloud-based software platforms. Accenture calls it “a universe of linked devices, services and people.”

Cloud computing, edge processing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence—these are the technologies that meaningfully connect all our billions of things, forming a complete IoT solution. An IoT solution is a system of connected devices and technologies used to do something like predictive maintenance, where the failure of a piece of equipment can be predicted and the right person automatically sent to repair it before a break down occurs.

In enterprise, IoT solutions can boost productivity, streamline business operations, cut operating costs, generate new revenue streams, and deliver better customer experiences. How? Here is Microsoft’s action plan for transforming an organization with IoT:

  • Build things: IoT begins with your things, with strategically adding sensors to devices
  • Control things: Deploy IoT solutions that automatically control, monitor and manage your things (your assets,) allowing you to capture real-time data about them
  • Analyze: Apply advanced analytics to convert that raw IoT data into new business insights
    • Traditionally, the tremendous amount of data from machines and legacy systems in the enterprise has been siloed, existing unfiltered in separate stacks. Data analytics can connect individual sets of data, helping companies derive actionable insights, close gaps in efficiency, and even develop new business models, products and services.
  • Act: Transform those insights into action, to real changes and improvements in your organization

So, where do wearables come into play? In Build and Act. Wearables are hands-free tools for collecting data about people (workers, customers) and their surroundings (environmental factors, machines;) and for sending information and insights gleaned from sensor data to human actors (workers on the ground.) Wearables make IoT insights mobile, putting information in the hands of the doers – or before their eyes via smart glasses – in real time, on the spot, and at the source of the opportunity.

The Internet of Things makes concepts like the connected workplace/workforce, smart supply chain, remote monitoring, and predictive maintenance a reality. Syncing data from various sources to optimize and streamline equipment performance and human activities has applications in many sectors—on production lines, in the field, and on the jobsite. But let’s begin above the clouds, looking at a few of the ways IoT technologies will make Aviation and Aerospace smarter:

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In every organization, there is (hu)man, nature and machine: The workforce, the working environment, and the equipment and tools used to carry out the company’s services. In the aviation industry, you have workers in factories building and servicing aircraft, in airports getting passengers and luggage onto planes, and in the air piloting and taking care of travelers.

Take a Boeing 747 and outfit every single component of the plane (engines, flaps, landing gear) with sensors providing real-time performance data. If there were a problem mid-flight – say with one of the engines – that information would be immediately relayed to ground crew (possibly via a wearable device) so that when the plane lands, airport engineers can be waiting with the right parts and tools to deal with the issue. One of those tools might be smart Augmented Reality glasses, with which the engineers pull up schematics and other information for the specific engine in question right in their field of view, overlaid on top of the machine as they inspect and repair it. Should they need help troubleshooting or require information about a part, the service technicians could use the same glasses to get immediate assistance from a remote expert or parts supplier. (In this scenario, smart glasses were probably also used to guide factory workers during the initial assembly of the plane, helping to reduce manufacturing errors that lead to issues in the air.)

Airlines like Virgin Atlantic are implementing similar efficiency-boosting IoT solutions to enable faster plane turnaround. Some are also tracking maintenance equipment so their engineers always know where a machine or tool they need is located, which also helps with faster turnaround. And faster turnaround means more reliable, on-time flights, which means improved customer satisfaction.

Locating objects in real time seems pretty simple and obvious, right? We think of the aviation industry as incredibly high-tech, so the inefficiencies companies in this sector deal with can be surprising. But the tracking/monitoring doesn’t have to stop with repair tools or the plane’s functioning during a flight—there are things in the airport and aviation data from different systems that can be sensor-ized and integrated to improve aircraft performance, airline operations and the passenger experience.

As described above, using sensors to continuously monitor aircraft components allows for the detection of maintenance problems in the air that can be addressed immediately upon landing. Real-time tracking reduces the need for unscheduled maintenance and associated costs, as maintenance systems can be regulated and airline carriers can properly plan for downtime. But a complete IoT solution enables even more visibility and proactivity: Data analytics can comb through sensor information, hunting for anomalies in engineering systems, and incorporate data from outside systems (ex. air traffic control, route restrictions, weather, fuel use, on-the-ground operations, etc.) giving a better overall picture of a flight beyond a single part that needs replacement or repairing.

In addition to real-time aircraft information, connecting sensors throughout an airport – as London City Airport has done – can help ensure flights take off and land on time. Sensors can be used to track passenger flow and behavior through the airport, to track luggage from the terminal to the plane, and to monitor employee activity. IoT combines and assesses all this data, sending insights to the right people on the ground or in the air who can take action and prevent delays. The right person might be the airport staff member closest to a customer problem at check-in or to a gate where additional employees are needed to speed up boarding; or it might be a customer—delivering the most up-to-date flight information and navigation assistance to help travelers get through security and to their gates on time via their mobile devices.

The end goal is seamless plane turnaround, good customer service, and, of course, safety. Wearable devices can convey critical aircraft performance and flight information to airline and airport employees in the air and on the ground. They do this in a hands-free and often heads-up manner. Whether viewed through smart glasses, on smartwatches or even smart uniforms, the information is highly accessible (glanceable;) allowing for immediate comprehension, action and response.

An IoT wearable in aviation can be as “ordinary” as the uniform worn by EasyJet cabin crew and ground staff—essentially a jacket “made smart” with sensors, lights, scrolling tickers and built-in microphones to provide visual guidance and basic flight info to passengers and for direct communication with pilots and fellow crew members. The mics can also be used to get expert assistance in diagnosing technical issues; and an air quality sensor and barometer monitor transform employees into tools for monitoring the work environment. A range of wearable form factors equipped with various sensors can collect biometric and environmental data to keep aviation workers safe—one example would be using a fatigue-detecting device to ensure pilots are alert and flying at their best. So in addition to providing convenient information, wearables also contribute to the Internet of Things in aviation by collecting data on people and places.

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No matter your industry, the first step for an enterprise looking to make its operations smarter, is to identify pain points. Start with the problem, not the technology. With IoT technologies, we have a greater ability to collect data on every asset and process and “connect the dots,” helping to automate tasks, make factors that impact operations more visible, optimize employee management, provide just-in-time and even preventative information, and more. So, what is the problem? Where in your business do you waste the most time, lose the most money, experience the most errors? What is the source of inefficiency and what information do you lack? Then start applying technologies, using the Internet of Things to see, learn, act and improve.  

photo credit: Pai Shih Jet Engine via photopin (license)

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