IoT Makes Digital and Physical Worlds Inseparable

Santa Cruz

How a 200-year-old invention illustrates the newest trend in high tech might not immediately seem clear. Until you scan it with an iPad.

That was the example used at the opening of the Boston-based IoT event LiveWorx, to demonstrate how physical products can be dissected to their digital cores and the resulting knowledge used to predict and resolve problems and improve designs.

Even for a bicycle.

The augmented display that lets a person with an iPad connect with sensors on a mountain bike can measure such things as steering angles, acceleration, fork displacement, and pedal speed. And it demonstrates how the Internet of Things is moving from collecting data through products including FitBits and Apple watches to acting on that data—and how the essential next incarnation of this fast-evolving movement will be the kinds of software that can help manufacturers do that.

“We need new technology platforms to enable this new reality,” said Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC, which has been assembling ways to provide them.

PTC announced it has acquired ColdLight, whose Neuron platform uses artificial-intelligence technology to automate the analysis of data and detect and predict failures and prescribe solutions. The deal was valued at $105 million.

“We help organizations to prevent problems before they happen,” Ryan Kaplan, ColdLight’s founder and CEO, told attendees.

Neuron will be combined with the IoT platform developed by PTC subsidiary ThingWorx, which the company has also acquired, along with Axeda, in an 18-month, $500 million shopping spree to expand its reach into the Internet of Things.

Among other things, using information in this way can avert product failure and downtime and show designers how to make improvements, PTC said.

A bicycle “is a good model for how you can do this for many, many products,” Heppelmann said. “Imagine the power of this concept if you were to project it onto a piece of a heavy equipment or onto an aircraft.”

Today, he said, products often begin digitally in the design phase and are converted into physical versions.

“They’ve been very separate up to this point, and very little information about what’s happening in the physical world ever makes it back into the digital world,” Heppelmann said. “If you asked questions like, ‘I wonder how it’s being used, I wonder how it’s working,’ and you listen, it’s just silence. Until something goes wrong.”

He said the Internet of Things is leading to “a new reality where digital and physical contributions are distinct, but they’re inseparable.”

In this reality, said Heppelmann, “The thing has a voice and it wants to be heard.”

The Internet of Things already has begun to let things speak, he said. The next step is to act on what they’re saying.

“There’s really a tremendous amount of information available to us now and there’s huge value in understanding the usage data of that thing, the design,” Heppelmann said.

PTC also announced a new product, ThingWorx Converge, a hub that makes data from the physical world shareable with companies’ existing business systems; and a strategic partnership with Servicemax, which will use PTC technology to provide feedback from products to technicians working on them in the field.

He said: “When you put what we have together, we’re in a position to set the standard for the way that service should be done.”

The company used a mountain bike fitted out with sensors to demonstrate the process, ridden onto the stage by a helmeted Rick Bullotta, divisional vice president of product strategy and technology and a cofounder of ThingWorx.

That wasn’t the only glitz at LiveWorx, which drew 2,300 people to Boston—up from 350 last year—and 5,000 more, in 91 countries, to its live stream.

A flying camera swooped above the audience and there was a conference “control room” behind a glass partition at the back of the stage in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center.

“We’ve given this bicycle a voice,” said Mike Campbell, executive vice president of the CAD segment at PTC.

Heppelmann said Coldlight’s and other technology now will translate what it says.

“We need to analyze what is the message encoded in those sensor readings that tells us what’s really going on,” he said. “This is a level of enlightenment that IoT delivers back into the digital world.”

View LiveWorx keynotes and breakout sessions.

 Photo by Brian Smith

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