BOSTON—The Internet of Things (IoT) is a big concept, connecting billions of devices on a planetary scale.
But Brian Walsh thinks the idea should be easy to swallow.
Walsh is CEO of Vital Herd, an Austin, Texas-based startup that wants to bring universal connectivity to cows, to which his company proposes feeding electronic pills that will sit in their stomachs and transmit their vital signs to farmers who can head off costly livestock illnesses or death.
Connected cows are among the odder applications of the IoT, which envisions letting consumers and manufacturers remotely observe and control products. But they define its usefulness, Walsh says.
Dairy cows and steers on feedlots are still monitored by sight for signs of problems. That approach “roots back to the cowboy days, and it really hasn’t changed,” Walsh says.
Electronically checking on cattle’s heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, temperature, and other vitals is a vast advance that can cut down on what the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates is nearly $2.4 billion a year in losses from animal illnesses that lead to death.
“A smidgen of an improvement in efficiency is actually very, very impressive on the bottom line,” Walsh says.
Walsh recently spoke at PTC Live Global just as newly acquired PTC division ThingWorx unveiled a new version of a rapid-application development platform that lets customers connect their products through a so-called “federated server deployment option”—meaning through the cloud, within their own secure systems, or with technology embedded in a device itself—and customize it using any of several programming languages, including Java, iOS, and Android.
“The Internet of Things is not a one-size-fits-all,” says John Canosa, chief strategist for connected products at ThingWorx. “It’s about using all the available resources.”
Like many connected technologies, it’s also increasingly about security, which accounted for many of the questions to ThingWorx executives from assembled analysts and journalists. Even dairy farmers want to safeguard information about the health of their herds, Walsh says.
“You’ve got these intersecting sets of circles that bring privacy and security into the mix,” Canosa agrees.
ThingWorx 5.0 can create an organizational chart that governs who has access to what information, and what they can do with it. “Just because you can see it doesn’t mean you can interact with it,” Canosa says.
PTC acquired ThingWorx in December for $112 million. When ThingWorx was started in 2009, president and general manager Russ Fadel says, most of the attention being given to the IoT was focused on the monitors and sensors it required, but not the applications they would need to synch up.
“You don’t put sensors in farmers’ fields unless you can help them reduce their watering,” Fadel says.
Like dairy farmers, the workers in the plants of ATI Specialty Materials gauge the efficiency of the manufacturing process by eye. The company makes everything from custom airplane parts to titanium replacement human hips, , the company’s manager of technology systems.
Connecting the machinery to a central monitoring hub—in ATI’s case, behind the firewall of its own servers—will mean getting a clear idea in real-time of where orders stand, and where there might be slowdowns in the process, says John Bowlin, the company’s manager of technology systems.
Fadel estimates that there will be a need for five million apps to support the projected 50 billion things that will be connected by 2020.