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Machine 2 Machine

Published: 02/07/2014 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2014 » July/August 2014 » Special Reports » Home » Features »

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It’s part “Jetsons,”part“Minority Report,”part“Wall-E.”And it’s coming to a home, street, hotel or airport near you. What is it? The Internet of Things has been a phrase bandied about over the past few years but no one really took note – until now. 

As Apple unwraps connected home communications systems that move beyond devices to appliances; as Google puts driverless cars on the road; as airports find ways to help parkers find spaces or read faces as they walk through a terminal, the Internet of Things is making its way into the model of what we do and what can be done to do it better, faster.

While at its most basic, perhaps explaining the Internet of Things is as simple as this: your refrigerator talks to you. Well, not talks exactly but the home of the future is getting wired up to tell you when you are out of milk or need more coffee beans. Beds of the future will be able to sense where you need support, when you need to cool down or heat up; and when you are ready to wake up, a sensor-fitted bracelet (Jawbone actually makes these now) will talk to the coffeemaker to have the brew ready for you; it will talk to the curtains to make them part for the morning sun, even start the shower. 

George Jetson never had it so good.

“It is all part of the connected life,” said Wim Elfink, chief globalization officer for Cisco Systems, in a recent radio broadcast. Barry Einsig, Cisco’s head of transportation, trucking and railroad, noted in a recent interview with Business Traveler USAthat the goal of the Internet of Things is to be as mobile as possible. 

“So whether you are moving from auto to parking lot or from cab to mass transit to hotel – all of these things are critical links on our journey whether traveling or in our own cities,” Einsig says. “While that journey requires connections between differing modes of transport, it also should be connected through data so that people will be able to make better decisions.”

Here & Now

The Internet of Things is not pie in the sky. We are already seeing airports taking a swing at futuristic operations in experiments such as London City Airport. Last year the airport became the first in the world to begin testing “machine to machine” technology around a variety of functions affecting passengers.

For instance, the airport has worked on tracking passengers with a mélange of face recognition and crowd-sourcing software, and GPS that is already available in smart devices. An example might be a traveler who pre-orders food online or through their Smartphone who would be able to have it delivered upon arrival at the departure lounge. Or take real time baggage monitoring – a passenger that checks a bag but misses the plane will not precipitate a security delay while that bag gets located and extracted from the cargo hold. Rather, the bag will flow in real time with the passenger and won’t be loaded until the passenger boards. 

Facial recognition software at London City Airport allows the facility to monitor the flow of passengers to see where they are and predict and prevent queues. The goal is to set a target time from walking in the door to reaching a departure gate – and that should be no longer than 20 minutes even in busy periods. 

And of course sensors can be used to enhance the retail environment and shopping experience. Airport boutiques and kiosks will access data through cameras and sensors to monitor buyer behavior and offer shoppers customized suggestions based on observation and previous purchases, more likely through phone pings than Minority Report-style seductive whispers. Passengers with a penchant for buying Coach or Tumi, for example, will be recognized, through their facial clues or smartphone signals and receive a message. 

“We are not seeing this technology roll out so strongly in the US,” says Brad Kutchins, partner with airport consultant group, Kutchins & Groh. “But the Internet of Things technology is becoming part of the discussions at airport conferences and questions are being asked – why can’t we do this or why can’t it be like that? In a small way, Global Entry technology could be seen as an example. You have a scanner there that reads your fingerprints in seconds and then you fly to the head of the line.”

Building Out a New Road Map

According to Cisco’s calculations, some 10.5 billion objects are connected to the Internet and that number will grow to 50 billion by 2020. Some 80 new “things” connect into the digital sphere every second and current estimates hold that 2.7 percent of “things” in the world will be connected in the next five or six years.

Einsig sees this applying to travel and transportation in a variety of ways: from driverless cars, to pre-reserving parking spaces or finding a space ahead of time on your phone, to finding the best way to get where you are going with real time information about your environment. 

“Major hotel chains would be ecstatic to be able to navigate their guests from the airport to the hotel with seamless trip planning information. We are already seeing driverless cars and we envision a time when a traveler will not have to think about of any of the ground transportation planning. Real information will lay out the plan, whether car or light rail or some other conveyance to or from the airport, taking into consideration current factors such as weather, traffic, speed, distances, and parking in a flow that is safe and effortless for the traveler,” says Einsig. 

“We are seeing piloted programs coming online for marking and reserving open parking spaces at airports – where you can pre-schedule your space before you leave the house. However, there are a lot of issues around building an architecture for the Internet of Things that have to be worked out before we can see the true potential of this concept.”

By architectural issues, Einsig means the protocol language that must be standardized to create the web of things– how all these smart gadgets will actually talk to each other, in much the same way as the familiar Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, allows all the communication to happen on the Web.

Connected Vehicle technologies will be using Dedicated Short Range Communication – wireless communications that are in development to allow, for instance, driverless cars from different manufacturers to communicate with their native environment as well other cars from other manufacturers and then a variety of road sensors in a standardized way. 

“We are working on a converged network versus a legacy world of single networks – say, aviation which has a network built for a single purpose,” Einsig adds. “We are building out a whole new road map where everything connects to everything else. We are developing architecture that can start to take information at signal lights, for instance, and route autos, trains and buses in real time and send that data back to management teams. As those standards are becoming complete, we will know more about where we’re going and how to implement new solutions and infrastructures for cities in new ways.”

Go Go Gadget

Hotels, too, are looking forward to the advancements technology will bring to their industry and are starting to pilot programs where gadgets speak to gadgets in an Internet of Things concept. Starwood Hotels has unveiled technology in its Aloft brand where smartphones can be programmed to unlock hotel rooms. Disney rolled out a smartband worn on the wrist that allows a guest’s data to connect to theme park gates and park attractions and also manage access to hotel accommodations and amenities. 

DataArt’s chief innovation officer, Artyom Astafurov, has posted company blogs about how the Internet of Things will be showing up for the hospitality industry:

Machine-to-Machine technology is already taking flight for a number of large hotel chains and luxury brands.

Larger chains have the in-house technical tools or resources to leverage M2M, and have already been upgrading guest experiences with it.

Sensors are being built into mini-bars for auto-billing and alerting the need for refills. Climate control options will be highlighted through a smartphone.

M2M is creating new experiences for guests from unlocking the guestroom with a mobile app that acts as your key, to controlling the blinds, but there are a few technical roadblocks yet.

UK-based Geraldine Calpin, global head of digital at Hilton Worldwide, is leading programs that are integrating the guest experience into real-time efficiencies through digital technology. 

“We have to be relevant and personalized and make life easier for the guest. But it’s about the guest, not about the technology,” says Calpin. “If you can come out with something that is easy to use, beautiful to look at and makes the journey simpler – that is what is going to make a guest loyal.”

Calpin envisions a couch-to-room experience where the future guest is browsing travel options on an iPad to a world where that guest is enticed to book a trip, choose the room desired, check-in by phone and arrive at that room with the air-conditioning set at the desired temperature, perhaps the drapes are closed and bed lamp is on because it was a late night flight.The desired beverages are stocked in the mini-bar and the favored music or preferred TV show is turned on.

Perhaps the guest is notified of friends or contacts who happen to be in the area, or alerted to a room service promotion that would be welcome at that very moment. The next morning, the treadmill would be reserved and waiting in the gym at the time requested. 

“It is possible to imagine that many things in the room and the guest experience could be controlled digitally some day,” says Calpin. “Watch for how this concept will begin to play out in the mobile and digital innovations happening at Hilton Worldwide this summer.”

If there is an elephant hiding in plain sight within this evolving digital frame of connectivity, it is security – something companies such as Cisco are openly addressing. 

“Security and privacy are areas of concern that as an industry we have to solve,” adds Elfink, in talking to NPR radio. “For example – transparency: who is owning your data, who is getting your data, and who is managing your data is all going to be essential. And we will come to a proposition that people can opt in or can opt out. If you don’t get transparency from a privacy point of view, this is not going to take off.”

Whether or not refrigerators become the infiltration targets of the future, concerns for consumer data mining in this sphere are taking a back seat to testing the limits of technology and loving our gadgets – perhaps a little too much. 

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the huge annual consumer technology expo in Las Vegas where the latest in worldwide gadgetry gets showcased before it gets pushed through the distribution funnel, much discussion was given over to the state of M2M technology. However, if there was a theme to be gleaned from all that went on at CES, it was this: the Internet is personal. Perhaps the Internet of Things which is giving us a long and intriguing gaze into the future is really just building a connected roadmap back to ourselves.  

By Lark Gould


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