Stories about smart homes using artificial intelligence to watch security and power and otherwise being capable of making a daily life better have reached everyone's ears, while the Internet of Things (IoT) for business is still a pro league. Only some companies can successfully manage manufacturing remotely by collecting data from data sensors and uploading job files to machines, despite the fact that this year the number of enterprises which adopted IoT technologies grew up by one third, compared to 2019. What is holding the progress back?
Major retailers have been taking advantage of IoT for a while now. For example, stores use sensors to not only watch customers, but also monitor product on-shelf availability and equipment operation. The data is transferred to a cloud service for employees to analyze and interpret the results. Amazon has been working on biometric identification for a long time to enable face-initiated payments. Visitors take products they need and leave the store. Cameras recognize the products and the shopper to automatically charge their bank card. Shopping takes less time and involves fewer encounters – even eliminating contacts with salesmen – meanwhile ensuring a safe customer experience.
However, robots cannot replace all sales personnel when it comes to a bit more sophisticated tasks, as we can see from Amazon’s experiment with robotized stores. The company tested its first Amazon Go stores back in 2016, with 10 such stores currently operating in the U.S. No cash desks, cashiers, consultants or queues there. At the entrance, shoppers scan their Amazon Accounts and at once find themselves among smart sensors. The system tracks what goods shoppers take from shelves and how they move across the store, and automatically debits the necessary sum from the buyer’s account once they exit the supermarket. Despite the marvelous idea and company’s attempts to improve the system, the stores regularly face difficulties as tracking more than 20 people moving across the store turned out to be a real challenge for the cameras. If a shopper takes an item, reads a tag and then puts the item back, the system can lose sight of this item because of a changed location. In addition, you’ll hardly find alcohol in such a store because alcohol sales require shopper age identification.
AI improvement and education efforts may take a long time before innovators can introduce new generation stores operating without cashiers or other personnel.
City farm operator
Smart technologies simply shine where it's possible to work without people's company – in greenhouses, for example. Basically, employees just set plants and come back later for harvesting. The plants are cultivated by computer, as it controls lighting, heating, fertilizing, and watering. Hydroponic farms allow settings to be changed remotely. For example, you can order to cultivate basil instead of lettuce and supervise few staff members.
However, unmanned agricultural enterprises supplying people with food are still far from reality. Even a modern combine harvester driven on autopilot and equipped with satellite communication cannot complete harvesting without the operator’s control.
But where does IoT-based manufacturing automation thrive? The answer is occupational safety and advice-giving systems that allow management to leverage video analytics and thus control work performance and personal protective equipment (PPE) usage. For example, a module for a hard hat can work as an IoT device being part of Digital Worker integrated solution.
No employee shall be facing danger alone or lacking information about the whereabouts. An IoT module for hard hats is an essential upgrade to ensure field workers’ safety. Such smart hard hat receives information from PPE and smart safety devices connected via Bluetooth, such as bodypack biometrics, smart bands, mobile maintenance and repair terminals, and portable gas analyzers. Equipped with optional proximity sensor, the hard hat informs whether a worker wears it, alarms if a worker forgets to use PPE or if a heavy moving object approaches – a machine out of a worker’s sight. The audible alarm warns a worker about impending danger to avoid it safely. The module records impacts/falls and instantly communicates it to an operator. If employees witness an emergency, they can use the alarm button built into a module.
In its own time, the world will see that automation can be not just smart, but wise – a man-machine symbiosis, when either robot or IoT device strengths are combined with those of a human. A solution shall support employees rather than replace them. People are endowed with emotions and can make decisions fast thanks to flexible mindsets and capability to act out of the box and thus will remain an irreplaceable and essential driver of manufacturing growth.