When we used to buy something in the old days we took for granted the functions and characteristics that this thing had.
If I bought a TV, it was supposed to be a device that, when connected to the corresponding power supply and with the proper antenna or later cable connection, allowed me to watch a definite group of channels with a predefined schedule of programming.
I remember that the newspapers had a section where the day’s programming per channel was listed. So the TV was a thing built with a defined purpose.
Today we have Smart TVs, which are devices built to be part of a network of devices interconnected that enable it to let us watch TV through cable, through the internet, to browse the web, to show our movies and pictures, to have skype meetings, to manage our media collections…
So the Thing called TV is now a device that is not a Thing anymore but rather a platform to consume and acquire media or, in a more basic sense, information.
The Smart TV is a platform that enables media creators to offer us content as services.
The same thing happened with cell phones, they were devices whose function was to make and receive calls on the move and later on to exchange SMS.
Now we live with our smartphones, devices that when connected to the proper networks, enable us to exchange emails, to browse the web, to take pictures and movies, to record memos, to show us the time of the day, the weather, our day’s schedule, the latest news, the stock market value, to engage on chat or skype, to listen our tunes (sometimes streamed over the internet), and yes, also to make phone calls.
Once again a Thing is now a platform for services.
Tesla is making the first batch of what we would call Smart cars. When anybody buys a car, any improvement, repair of modification was supposed to involve some mechanical or electrical work.
But now a Tesla’s OS can be upgraded via the internet and with a software patch or app, offer better performance, better handling, more efficient use of the energy, a better entertainment system, a more capable navigation system, even some design glitches that previously would have required a massive recall of vehicles can be fixed without our knowledge.
They are even launching a product that is a battery that can storage electric energy generated by another Tesla related company called Solar City, which of course would be a service.
Tesla is reinventing the car as a medium to deliver services.
One of the main aspects of the IoT (Internet of Things) concept is that everything that becomes connected to the network stops being a Thing by itself. It becomes a sort of canvas where the service providers can offer their products as services. Thins stop being just Things, they become platforms for a plethora of services that the original designers maybe never imagined were possible.
In my field of work, Process Automation, the current topic of discussion is the Iiot (Industrial Internet of Things). What would happen with the current paradigm that this field is built on?
Process plants are controlled and maintained through DCS systems, a complex combination of computers, (servers and workstations), controllers, sensors, actuators and layers of software that translate the physical parameters measured in the process into information that enables humans and computers to keep the process working on optimal conditions and reacts properly when things start to get out of range. There are even safety controllers that remain in a standby kind of behavior that can overtake the control of the plant and drive it to a safe state.
In an IioT Smart Plant, there would be sensors for variables that we can’t even conceive today, generating vast amounts of data that would be incomprehensible by humans if they were not preprocessed and displayed in a way that humans can relate to. This is what is known as big data techniques and real time data analytics.
The devices would perform self-diagnostics, and in the near future some sort of self-repair. Upgrades would optimize the process to new levels of efficiency and maybe the controllers would become a kind of universal controller that via virtualization, enable its use as a DCS, PLC, PAC, RTU or SIS by just loading the corresponding software, which of course would be provided as a continuously upgradeable services, with these upgrades reaching the lower levels of the automation hierarchy.
In fact there is already a company that is developing such a solution.
And once again the Thing called a DCS will be transformed into a complex assembly of hardware and software that will serve as a medium for the Plant Control System suppliers to provide additional services, like more efficient batch cycle, better routing of materials in the chain of production, more accurate variable control on the delicate parts of the process, all of them available on demand.
I’m not stating whether this will be right or wrong, it will just be, in fact is already happening.
CaS (Control as a Service.) could be a consequence of the IIoT.
This is a revolution comparable to the industrial one, or the electrical one, because for the first time we will have enough information about ourselves and about our ways of doing things, that we will stop thinking that we are doing or making things, we are participating in a global network, totally interconnected that somehow must be kept under control.
Whatever we decide to do with these opportunities is up to us, that is, if we will be able to be the Smart Humans that the IioT will surely require to deliver its promises.
Mirko Torrez Contreras is a freelance Process Automation consultant who likes to get in touch with technology trends. He thinks this makes him look trendy,his family thinks exactly the opposite.
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