Public Relations Tactics

Internet Everything: A Conversation With IoT Expert Justin Grammens

June 30, 2017

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Imagine a day where everything, from your car and your clothes to the trees outside your home, is connected to the internet. This future refers to the IoT, or the Internet of Things.

According to Justin Grammens, the founder of data analytics consulting company Recursive Awesome and internet trends publication IoT Weekly, more than 20 billion things will be connected to the internet within the next three years.

Grammens and I talked prior to April’s IoT Fuse, an annual Minneapolis tech conference he helped create, about IoT’s future role in the business world and at home.

What do you see as the landscape for IoT?

The Internet of Things extends to a world where everything is connected to the internet: your car, your office chair, streetlights, garbage cans. Look around and think about how ordinary, everyday objects could be improved if they had intelligence.

What excites you about IoT?

There’s a lot to be excited about. It’s not only the wider spaces that have potential, but the close and very personal ones as well. For example, wearables such as Fitbits and Apple Watches are all becoming smarter and feeding data that promises to help make our lives better.

How did you get your start in IoT?

Around 2010, I started playing with an open source hardware software platform called Arduino. I was amazed at how easy it was to write software to control hardware that would connect the internet to the physical world. In 2011, a co-worker and I started a local user group called Arduino.MN and quickly discovered there were a lot of people working in their garages and basements using not only Arduino, but a whole host of other free and open-source platforms to do amazing things.

In addition to Recursive Awesome, you co-own a connected products development firm called Lab 651. What does Lab 651 do, and what was it like to start it?

Lab 651 helps businesses bring their smart, connected products to the market. We are experts in offering product and industrial design services, embedded and firmware engineering, and mobile and Cloud-based web application development. By having these capabilities under one roof, companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 corporations come to Lab 651 for help with building products.

Starting your own business is an extremely intense process that many people don’t [undertake] out of the fear of what could go wrong. While owning a business is one of the most difficult things I’ve done, it’s also been one of the most rewarding, and I have never regretted it.

What do you think are the most common problems people want solved with IoT systems? For example, I love the ability to remotely adjust temperatures before I arrive somewhere.

I like that example. However, let’s take that one step further. What if the system automatically raises the temperature factoring in your location, estimated travel time and current temperature? This is an example of a human task that will eventually be done by a machine with artificial intelligence.

Google uses our phones to give us real-time traffic data to improve its maps, but what if that was fed into your car and automatically able to alert you to slow down because of an impending accident ahead? Or even re-route your vehicle? This would increase road safety immensely, as well as traffic flow.

Can you comment on the power of gathering and analyzing data?

In the space of an office building or factory, companies are using sensors to monitor the vibration of the machinery to predict when a machine may fail. Turning off a machine before permanent damage occurs can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars. General Electric (GE) is already employing some of this technology in aircraft engines, [which] are constantly logging information and adjusting themselves based on real-time usage data.

With more data available than ever before through IoT, how can people determine what information really matters? Is there a process or an approach to prioritizing data that you would recommend?

Up until now, the mantra in the industry was to ‘collect it all as often as you can.’ I see value in that statement, since you might end up with data that’s not worth anything [now] but could become extremely useful in the future. However, you have to weigh that with the cost, power and communication limitations that these devices are under.

I typically try and home in on what is absolutely needed today from a data standpoint, and then ask what might be nice to have in the future. We can build hardware that contains all the sensors someone may want [both] today and [tomorrow], but then, through software updates, fine-tune what we will send. As the product goes into the market, we might only read from half the sensors, but after people use the product and we start to understand the market, we may release updates that turn on or off various sensors.

Do you see jobs being transformed by IoT? For example, maybe HVAC companies can run diagnostics on their systems from the office before sending workers out on house calls.

Absolutely. Allowing for a remote view into appliances is one area where we’ll see changes. In fact, some day you might arrive home and the replacement part for your connected refrigerator will be sitting on your porch. In that case, the refrigerator knew it had a problem and went ahead and ordered the part!

Is Minneapolis beginning to form into an IoT cluster?

[It’s] not only the Twin Cities. In a broader sense, Minnesota is absolutely forming into an IoT cluster. The reason this is happening is because of our diverse economy. We have a strong retail presence with Best Buy and Target, and a strong med-tech presence with Medtronic, Boston Scientific, the Mayo Clinic and others. Our agricultural sector, logistics and industrial sector are all strong too.

IoT touches so many areas that in order for it to grow and become a game changer you need to have multiple vertical industries diving in and doing innovative things. It’s where these industries overlap that massive breakthroughs will happen and you’ll see disruption occur.

As humans rely more and more on technology, how can IoT help improve our experience?

Today, many people are solely focused on the devices and what data to capture. However, in the future, when you have this data and machines can start analyzing it much better and faster than any human could, we’ll see some real benefits.

Recently, a machine was trained [in] what cancer cells look like, and it taught itself to make diagnoses based on data fed to it. Machines are much better at pouring over all this data than any human.

What’s next for IoT? Do you see a day where sensors are implanted in our skin to connect humans directly with the internet?

Companies are already selling smart clothing [for] shirts, socks and shoes. I’ve even seen soccer balls and basketballs that help trainers understand ball flight and pressure. What scares me, however, is [how] this data might end up being used.

The legal rules around personal information coming from something implanted in you are still a little murky and the last thing we all want is Big Brother watching over us.

Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com.

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