Not a person but a thing: today, your car, your navigator, your refrigerator, etc. Tomorrow, your floor washer/dryer or sweeper. Why not? Thanks to and through Internet, also things can “speak” to one another to provide information, exchange data, request assistance, etc.
If you heard someone say the word “IoT” while strolling down the street, you would surely think of a gleaming white yacht and perhaps even imagine the scent of a salty breeze. This word of questionable pronunciation is really an acronym for another kind of sailing: the “virtual” kind that lets people and things link in a web. IoT stands for “Internet of things”, a phenomenon that is still fairly unknown in Italy but one that has already been applied to many objects of daily use and is destined to grow further as a part of a formidable technological and economic bet in the services sector.
What “Internet of things” means
This expression indicates a family of technologies that makes objects capable of “dialogue” with one another through data exchange and aggregate data access. Different objects that we normally use for a common purpose can engage in dialogue directly and exchange information to create complex response to our needs with noteworthy savings in personal and environmental energy in the process. The IoT system has created a fundamental paradigm because it combines many different technologies – from IT for interconnection in a web to object identification technologies, not to mention the world of sensors, image analysis, and computer vision – in order to extend the network’s potential to every object that surrounds us. This is the paradigm at the basis of “smart” technologies.
We might not even know that we are already dealing with “smart objects” but this revolution has already come to various sectors, such as smart-home, smart-city, smart-car and smart-grid. The function served by IoT objects is essentially monitoring (retrieving information to produce data on an object or the surroundings) and control (especially in the possibility for “things” to be remote-controlled).
The field of domotics (smart-home) is the one most directly involved in experimentation: burglar alarms or air-conditioners can be programmed by cellphones; house lights can be switched on or off as required by the activity in progress in the home; electrical appliances that decide themselves how to work. Intelligent refrigerators capable of dialogue with the foods they chill and even scanning their barcodes to check their best-by dates and quantities will soon be here (internal web system) and report the situation to the user’s smartphone as he or she is doing the shopping. The electrical appliance itself will even be capable of contacting the servicing center whenever malfunctions occur or maintenance is required through the internet connection to the manufacturer.
Also cities are starting to get “smart” (in other words, interconnected) and dialogue with citizens. You can already download Apps that show you traffic and public transport conditions in real-time, and progress is being made even at municipal level. A study by the Internet of Things Observatory on 116 cities (51 in Italy, 65 abroad) observed 258 technologies applied, from public illumination (remote-monitoring and remote-control of the streetlights) to waste collection. The most commonly-known IoT technologies are probably smart cars: automobiles connected to an integrated connection system in which information is continuously exchanged. Among these, many vehicles are connected in a web for insurance reasons. There is a growing number of contracts that allow companies to collect statistics on driver behavior and, on the basis of a calculated average of driving vices and virtues, propose policies formulated to measure. A model of car that calls for help by itself in case of accident is already under design.
The term smart grid instead means the “efficient” connection between an information network and an electric power distribution network for a more rational use of energy while a minimizing or alerting users of any overloads or variations in the voltage delivered at the same time.
This revolution demands a deep change in social attitude and a progressive convergence of the industrial system, ICT technologies, and communication infrastructures. In order to emphasize the centrality of systemic interconnection, they are even thinking to change the acronym for “Internet of things” that erroneously places interest on things, into “Internet of Everything” (I.o.E).
According to IDC Italia (a marketing and research agency), in the coming years, devices, sensors, applications, and data centers will dialogue more and more in heterogeneous technological contexts in which evolution will be guided by the capacity for experimentation and collaboration of the most innovative companies. The potential is so vast that only the future can tell how many and which other examples of application and use tomorrow’s companies will prove capable of creating for the connection and automation of company processes to the benefit of their clients and employees.
The new technological possibilities for smart and interconnected products and the data they generate will open up a new level of competition. In order to seize this exceptional opportunity to generate value, producers will have to reconsider the ways they conceive, design produce, and manage their products.
On the worldwide scene, always as envisioned by the IDC, it is estimated that the Internet of Things market will double in 2018 to a value of 4,600 billion dollars, with an even higher increase in Europe (+21.3%). The convergence of clouds, mobile devices, big data, social media (the Third Platform), and sensors is creating new opportunities for companies, who are able to offer their clients and employees new services and ways to interact that put things, machines, processes, and people together and more and more connected in the web. Innovation will take place both in Digital Life and in the professional and corporate dimension.
We are currently, in fact, being offered an opportunity to be seized in the present, to create something new and as yet unexplored market spaces. The world of industry must wake up and realize that we are entering a different era in which men and women need no longer adapt to technology but one in which technology can and must be adapted to human beings.
How is Italy reacting to IoT?
The Milan Polytechnic Observatory on the “Internet of Things” has calculated that the market linked to IoT worth one billion and fifty-five million Euros (85% of which in domotics alone) is destined to grow and increase its share of the market even further.
This is where the important implications lie also for the cleaning industry, which has already begun investing in terms of IoT technology projects but which is still only beginning to understand the transformation of the market linked to its products and the advantages to be gained by applying the IoT system to its entire productive chain, such as the automation of certain processes, for example.
In the general context of a certain insensitivity to the “internet of things” phenomenon, we must admit, however, that Italy already has a number of avant-garde companies in the sector, such as the products made by Arco, such as the “Gynius” line equipped with “S.D.C.” (controlled dilution system for the correct formulation of detergent solutions) and the revolutionary “S.C.C.”, System Cleaning Control system, the first interactive detergent control system designed for final users. The company has also developed Apps that interact with clients and recommends – for example – the most appropriate product for the type of cleaning in question, while also making estimates and indicating the alternatives possible by choosing products of other brands.
In reality, few people know that an “IoT powered” cleaning machine whose “concept” was explained to us by Afidamp Servizi General Manager Toni D’Andrea is already on the market.
This is the “iSINERGY” range of washer-dryer machines designed and produced by ICE (International Cleaning Equipment), a creation of the Chinese industry that only up until recently copied our technologies and the shapes of our machines and is now a leader in innovation. The machine has an Italian heart, however, and has been on sale for little more than one year. This washer-dryer is “loaned” and arrives at the user’s premises completely sealed without any possibility to access its internal mechanical parts but equipped with everything required for operation (brushes, batteries). Its activity is constantly monitored: we can read the number of hours of use, its location, its state of conservation, and its functionality. Thanks to the presence of a tiny slot card, this machine can tell us anything about itself we need to know (monitoring action) and to be remote-controlled.
The fundamental and revolutionary point of the adoption of this technology regards the concept of purchasing itself. The final consumer who comes to possess a product no longer exists. The product remains the property of the producer who only “loans” it to the user. What is effectively being purchased is the service that the given machine must perform as guaranteed by the seller’s Customer Services Center through perfect operation. It’s comparable to what currently happens with certain cellphones: you pay a regular fee to use it, but the device is never your property, so that if it malfunctions or breaks the producer provides to its repair or replacement.
In this system that envisions a direct line between the people who make and the people who use the machines, the dealer’s role changes completely because it is no longer linked to the act of sale but instead becomes an extension of the producer. The dealer becomes an active territorial supervisor 24 hours around the clock for “post-sales” service by ensuring prompt and efficient customer assistance service throughout the area assigned.