The Internet of Things (IoT), or the Industrial Internet, has begun to impact almost every industry. Worldwide, experts are predicting that every facet of business and life will be touched, if not revolutionized, by IoT technology in the coming years.

General Electric (GE) has a unique perspective on how far-reaching these changes can be, as they operate in a wide range of business segments. I had a chance to speak with GE thought leaders in three diverse industries to get their views on how this technology is already affecting operations, as well as the more profound opportunities to come.

Smart machines in the skies

Dave Bartlett is the Chief Technology Officer for GE Aviation, which is among the world's top suppliers of aircraft engines. There have always been sensors in aircraft engines, and sensors are a vital component of IoT technology, providing the eyes and ears for intelligent machines. The current state of the art technology has many engines putting out up to 5,000 data points per second during flight, with software analyzing them both on the plane and on the ground. By applying the right analytics, any anomaly in engine operation can be detected as it occurs. 

“When you make aviation more efficient, and then multiply those fuel savings by the close to 40,000 engines that we are flying around the world, all of a sudden you start to get really big numbers.”

This real-time monitoring and analysis of engine function not only provides real gains in safety and maintenance scheduling, it also allows for unprecedented fine-tuning in the pursuit of fuel efficiency. Aircrafts use incredible amounts of fuel and, for passenger airlines, fuel can account for as much as 50 percent of total operating costs. In these circumstances, even a one percent increase in efficiency can be huge.

“When you make aviation more efficient, and then multiply those fuel savings by the close to 40,000 engines that we are flying around the world, all of a sudden you start to get really big numbers,” says Bartlett. “There's obviously an environmental benefit as well as the cost savings.”

 Bartlett foresees the use of IoT technology expanding outside of the plane and into other areas of aviation as well. “Recovery from unexpected delays due to weather or crew changes continues to be a challenge for the industry.  Being able to better predict such delays and respond quickly means fewer disruptions.  I envision a future where many of the delays experienced by passengers today, will no longer be the case."

The information super-pipeline

Christina Waters is the Canadian Oil and Gas Software Leader at GE Oil and Gas, and she is excited about the potential of IoT technology to bring a marked increase in efficiency to Canada's energy industry. There is so much data available that is not being put to its best use, and she hopes to change that.

“Human error is reduced and you get an immediate increase in efficiency.”

“Roughly 23 percent of global machine-generated data is considered useful, but only 0.5 percent of it is actually being analyzed,” says Waters. “Connecting data from the reservoir to the production side is a huge opportunity in terms of cost savings to the producers, enhancing safety of operations, and maximizing the overall economic benefit of this resource to Canadians.”

One new technology being introduced in the field is an augmented reality hard hat that allows workers to look at a valve or control system and immediately be provided with relevant data from both upstream and downstream points in the system. Simultaneously, the hard hat will be relaying new data back into the system for use elsewhere. “If you look at a gauge, the helmet automatically reads the gauge and uploads it in real time to the data system,” says Waters. “Human error is reduced and you get an immediate increase in efficiency.”

Front-line workers in fields like oil and gas are also intimately familiar with the advanced technology from their personal lives in a way that previous generations never were, which makes for a very smooth introduction of new technologies into the workplace.

Better health through information technology

Jörg Debatin is the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of GE Healthcare, a world leader in medical technology, particularly in imaging technologies like X-ray and ultrasound. He believes that one of the biggest opportunities for IoT technology in healthcare lies in enabling individualized, or precision, medicine. Genetic and physiological variations between people mean that most treatments work better for some than for others, and the optimal treatment for any patient is always going to be one tailored precisely to that individual.

“If you want to make the most of precision medicine, you need the ability to take advantage of large amounts of data,” says Debatin. “The Industrial Internet gives us the ability to transfer and process any amount of data. Often the amount of data is too large to be digested by a single mind. We need the technology to filter out the relevant data and thereby transform data pools into valuable information that will guide the subsequent therapy.”

"It will open up an entirely new world of healthcare, with more ready access to quality healthcare for all.”

There are already ultrasound machines in developing countries that, through IoT technology, automatically upload imagery to the cloud for real-time analysis. Similarly, in other diagnostic fields, the technology is making it possible for expertise and data processing to be shared across large distances seamlessly.

“The potential is huge,” says Debatin. “It will allow us to democratize medical know-how, taking it out of academic medical centres and leveraging it in a world-wide manner. It will open up an entirely new world of healthcare, with more ready access to quality healthcare for all.”