Building Global IoT & Replacing
the Maintenance Man in Texas
Every August, I have the pleasure
of traveling to Austin, TX for National
Instruments’ (NI) conference (NIWeek).
This year, the 21st annual conference,
held from August 3rd through the 6th at
the Austin Convention Center, brought
together more than 3,800 of the brightest
minds in engineering, research, and
education from a wide range of disciplines
– from telecom and robotics to automotive
and energy – all hoping to find a new
piece to their engineering puzzle to help
accelerate productivity for software-defined
systems in test, measurement, and control.
What I find most useful, and fascinating
for that matter, are the keynote
presentations that kick off every day. They
provide you with the highlights from the
exhibits and sessions you will experience
throughout the week in short, fast-moving
brain dumps that make it slightly difficult
to process without a hot, dark brown
performance-enhancing drug slowly
cooling by your side. Caffeine!
I found the keynote on day two to be of
particular interest, as it covered industrial
Io T (IIo T) and discussed how LabVIEW
System Design Software was the platform
for IIo T and big data long before the
buzzwords entered the lexicon.
Building out Global Io T
By now, most design engineers heard
the excited estimations calling for 50
billion connected devices by 2020.
In a segment dubbed “5G in the Io T,”
Dr. Andrea Goldsmith, a professor
of electrical engineering at Stanford
University, discussed how the explosive
growth in demand for wireless devices,
faster data, and more reliable, predictable
networks will impact future industries.
While many of the predicted industries
impacted were, for lack of a better term,
predictable (driverless cars, health
and wellness – including textiles and
implantables – and automated factories),
she also discussed the impending
advances in remote surgery.
Powered by low-latency communication,
high-quality visuals, real-time sensor data,
and tactile response times, remote surgery
stands to benefit anyone without proximal
access to a suitable surgeon. While this
technology stands to be very disruptive in
the medical industry, we still have some
development ahead of us. As Goldsmith
says, “We can’t even get You Tube to work
reliably over networks.” Given my success
watching the latest episode of Engineering
Newswire in my office, 15 feet away from
where we shoot it, and 10 feet away from
where we upload it, I’m still reticent to
let a surgeon in my body from anywhere
beyond arm’s length. Goldsmith also
noted opportunity in remote construction –
similar to remote surgery, but with bigger
toys in a larger play area.
According to Goldsmith, future
networks will run efficiently and wirelessly
on software-defined wireless networks,
but the biggest challenge is the amount
of supported devices, particularly very
low-power, low-data rate devices, in body
sensors (that last a decade), as well as
dense deployments and access points.
A stuttering House of Cards episode
typically had me fired up over connectivity,
but the prospect of remote liver surgery
gave me a bit more perspective regarding
the implications of a more powerful Io T
Watson Replaces the
While other segments provided an
interesting look at the present and near future
of IIo T – you’d be well-served to investigate
the Industrial Internet Consortium’s efforts
in providing a framework for IIo T – I found
Greg Gorman’s “Predictive Maintenance”
segment hit closest to home. Gorman is the
director of product management for IBM’s
Io T engineering solutions department, which
is working with NI on a predictive solutions
maintenance testbed. The testbed addresses
cloud integration, interoperability, security,
and the scalability of end-to-end analytics.
Essentially, the testbed merges edge analysis
with weather and social data to take quicker
action on the edge. Currently, processing
power is outpacing network bandwidth, but
the essential idea here is that the solution
would collect information from multiple
resources and feed it to Watson, IBM’s
“cognitive system enabling a new partnership
between people and computers,” which will
be able to predict future business conditions
and adjust accordingly, like a maintenance
precog for you sci-fi enthusiasts eagerly
awaiting the AI apocalypse.
The testbed could lead to a solution for
increasingly taxed nano and microgrids (as
well as the national grid). The only reason
this solution hits particularly close to home
is, as many of you know, I cut my teeth next
to some of the more colorful maintenance
personalities as I worked throughout my
college career, and I’d hate to see a time
when Watson causes Junior and Angel to
be out of a job.
Overall, the trip to Austin proved fruitful,
and I encourage you all to attend at
least once, if for no other reason than to
experience the brain dump that is NIWeek.
Above all, the one thing NIWeek proved
to me is that, for those who think we are
exhausting Io T as an opportunity as well as
a buzzword, we have only just begun.
What are your expectations for Io T?
And have you ever been to NIWeek?
Share your thoughts and experiences,
and email me at
or tweet @djamesmanny.
David Mantey, Editorial Director