General Electric Expands Internet of Things to More Industrial Equipment

The Internet of Things — a network that connects devices, from sneakers to massive industrial oil- and gas-drilling equipment, and runs the information they provide through big data-analyzing software — has been over-promised and under-delivered. Yet tech companies are still lumbering toward such a network.

General Electric recently took a big step, more than doubling the vertically-specialized hardware/software packages it offers to connect machines and interpret their data. The company hopes to make its mark by significantly reducing the amount of “unplanned downtime” that industrial equipment undergoes, thereby bringing about economic benefits.

Targeting industries including oil and gas, wind power, airlines, railroads and health care, the company figures that even if it drives its clients’ costs down by 1 percent, the effects will be more than enough to offset the cost of its products and probably enough for the companies to pass some savings on to consumers.

“Industrial data is not only big, it’s the most critical and complex type of big data. Our greatest challenge and opportunity is to manage and analyze this data in a highly secure way to deliver better outcomes for customers and society,” Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, said in a news release.

GE-predix-edRealizing the Internet of Things will be a major infrastructure project. GE has focused, to date, mainly on how to make the conversation between industrial equipment orderly and comprehensible.

Even for that small piece, the company has partnered with some of the usual enterprise technology suspects. Intel is providing processors and management tools for the motley crew network. AT&T provides the Internet service, and Cisco software helps tackle the big data. GE brings knowledge of the industries and their equipment.

“At the end of the day, we see our strength in how to operate these systems, how the hardware and sensors work on these systems, and how you can take information and turn it into something that can add more predictive value for the [industrial] customer,” Brian Bradford, product marketing director for Smart Grid Solutions in GE’s Digital Energy division, told Singularity Hub.

Here’s how it comes together. The newly-launched PowerUp program, for example, consists of hardware and software upgrades for wind farm operators. According to GE, the smart equipment could boost a turbine’s energy output by 5 percent, which could boost profits by up to 20 percent.

Another new offering, called Grid IQ Insight, could affect how much power the United States wastes if the major utilities sign on. By monitoring electrical usage, weather history and equipment performance, the system can forecast problems that a utility grid might face, ideally resulting in fewer outages and thinner margins of surplus power. Because there’s no scalable way to store electricity, surplus power is wasted if it goes unused.

predix_feature_big_data“It’s not ‘Here’s the one technology that’s going to save the world,’ it’s ‘Here’s the process, the approach,’” said Bradford.

As Singularity Hub has previously reported, a functional Internet of Things will have to employ a common set of protocols for “things” to talk to one another. GE is hoping to position its software, Predix, as the lingua franca for secure machine-to-machine communication. To that end, it will open the platform to third-party partners and developers next year.

With these hardware/software packages embedded deep in the guts of industrial infrastructure, it will be hard for an average Joe to know if constant monitoring and big data analysis — the most touted benefits of the Internet of Things — have much effect. But if over the next year you read about dwindling surplus power, increased cost-effectiveness for wind power, or even less surplus fuel on airplanes, it might just be thanks to the creeping connectivity of the Internet of Things.

Images courtesy Cisco, G.E.

Cameron Scott
Cameron Scott
Cameron received degrees in Comparative Literature from Princeton and Cornell universities. He has worked at Mother Jones, SFGate and IDG News Service and been published in California Lawyer and SF Weekly. He lives, predictably, in SF.
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