In our last article on the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of internet-connected appliances and devices collecting and sharing data via internet technologies, we looked at three sectors that faced transformation – banking, human resources and government.
The benefits of advanced connection in those sectors are manifold, with potential increases in loyalty, business efficiency and customer engagement. Given the incredible variety of devices being connected to the IoT, from toasters to Teslas, it stands to reason that the advantages that come from them will be just as diverse.
This certainly holds true for IoT’s use in the three industries examined below: mining, real estate and health.
For the safety of mine employees, employers can track their staff through sensors and trackers, invaluable if an incident occurs or if workers stray into restricted, unsafe areas. Goldcorp’s Éléonore gold mine in Canada uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags mounted to the helmets of their underground workers to track whereabouts.1
IoT can also be used in the resources sector to track the health of machinery. Shutdowns in a refinery can cost millions per day, with 23% attributed to unplanned maintenance and 46% of shutdowns from machinery breakdown.2 Sensors can provide real time data on the state of pipes, pumps and assorted machines, enabling a more proactive approach to maintenance.
Efficiencies in operational costs also flow from connected systems. ‘Ventilation-on-demand’ systems allow mines to adjust the amount of air flow dependent on the people and machinery in particular areas. In some cases, leading to a saving of between US$1.5-2.5 million a year over conventional ventilation systems.3
Rio Tinto’s use of autonomous vehicles in its Australian mines, where its fully automated iron-ore trucks and trains, have improved fuel use by 13%. Not to mention the safety benefit; with trucks the size of two-storey buildings, removing humans from their vicinity is an obvious advantage.4
There are of course still challenges in implementing IoT solutions in the mining sector. Take, for example, the story of the oil and gas company that installed advanced process control systems in its refineries one by one, only to find out they weren’t compatible with each other.5
The so-called moniker of ‘smart buildings’ has been in use for at least a decade, but just what makes them smart is changing. In a commercial setting, IoT can serve to make property work for its tenants. With heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) lighting and security systems hooked up to sensors and an internal building management system, real efficiencies can be made in reducing energy costs.
In Australia, it’s estimated that the building sector consumes 20% of the country’s total energy consumption. With those same properties thought to be 30% inefficient, that’s not only a large monetary wastage, but also unnecessary environmental impact. And energy is only one data point, with sensors, buildings can monitor anything, from which rooms aren’t used, to how much coffee is being consumed – all of which can then be used to make efficiencies.
In the building sector too, IoT is not implemented without obstacles. The hack of Target in the US was infamously done via their HVAC system. By phishing the 3rd party’s login details, they were able to then exploit the systems and gain access to customer credit card details. Subsequent research suggests that around 55,000 HVAC systems connect to the internet in some form and the majority of them have exploitable flaws.6
When it comes to residential property, IoT is contributing to user experience in a different way. Here, the connections being made are augmenting the traditional buying and selling process. Connected wifi beacons are allowing houses and apartments to “talk” to potential buyers and renters as they pass within their proximity allowing buyers access to photos or floor plans.
Augmented reality when viewing a house allows buyers to see property customisations, insert their own furniture or change a paint colour, and realtors the data of where viewers spend their time – helping to position the property and its selling points with better accuracy.7
When life and death are outcomes of potential change, risk takes on entirely new levels of importance. Adding technology to hospitals can be hazardous and complicated, but at the same time, they promises efficiencies in operation and enhanced patient care.
The use of augmented and virtual reality are already being trialled in surgery, allowing individual MRI and CT scans to be rendered as visualisations on patients, and veins to be seen ‘through’ skin, aiding surgeons in the accuracy of their actions.8,9
Wearable and implantable tech can not only get patients out of hospital earlier – freeing up time and bed space – but they help in the administration of medication or post-care regimes through remotely monitoring vitals. Moreover, the data gained by connected patients, hospitals and systems can lead to meaningful predictive analytics, as seen in a Texan hospital that reduced post-heart failure readmission from 23% to 12%.10
Hospitals also face the problem of misidentifying patients, potentially leading to catastrophic errors. RFID bracelets are being used to ensure correct identification, and subsequently to give the right medications (or non-allergenic food).11 IoT tracking can also be used for tissue and blood samples, finding machinery, or identifying whether a single-use tool has been used before. It can even let doctors know if tools have gone through sterilisation processes. In a busy hospital environment, such seemingly small bits of information have the potential to be fatal, particularly in a chaotic emergency situation.
Implementing IoT security, however, is an incredibly daunting task when patient lives are at stake, and the more things connected, the more exploitable access points there are for hackers. Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, was considered such a terrorist target that the wifi to his implanted defibrillator and heart pump were turned off, and while the ordinary man may not be a high profile target, as we’ve seen with ransomware attacks, anyone is fair game.12
Ironically, doctors themselves also pose a challenge. One study’s findings found that only 15% of doctors had explained available wearable or health app options to their patients.13 As the immediate point of contact for patients, this is a large IoT stumbling block.
For the mining, real estate and health sectors, the Internet of Things offers incredible value. There are significant efficiencies to be gained in all, and while cost reduction is a central benefit, there are also wider societal implications. For mining and property, IoT efficiencies can lead to substantial reductions on environmental pollution. For healthcare, safety and human life will be the real winner.
As with all digital transformations, there needs to be forethought, planning and expertise behind IoT implementation. Close to 75% of IoT projects fail.14 The complexity of the projects, lack of expertise, cultural obstacles and the time taken to implement them have all been found to be deciding factors when it comes to IoT success.
A connected reality can benefit everyone, particularly in these industries, but with the cost of failure so high, there simply must be intelligence behind their implementation.
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