Seemingly the target of 50 billion connected devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020 is now somewhat overly optimistic. The estimate has been sharply estimated downwards to perhaps 20 billion interconnected devices. Quite a change from the original hyped up estimate.


Dear Colleagues

Seemingly the target of 50 billion connected devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020 is now somewhat overly optimistic. The estimate has been sharply estimated downwards to perhaps 20 billion interconnected devices. Quite a change from the original hyped up estimate.

The IoT
The IoT is the worldwide mesh of interconnected sensors and devices. Something that we as engineering professionals, particularly Instrumentation and Control ones, have been working with for years - initially with RS485, then Fieldbus – Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus and latterly Ethernet. All connecting up instruments, valves, PLCs and DCSs in a plant or factory environment.

 IoT is another example of a myth which as engineers we get confronted by on a regular basis. Why Myth? Well – besides the technology having been around for many years; it is currently hard to get real economically viable products to market.

There is no doubt that in the future – it will be economically viable. However, tread warily when investing your talents or money in this field unless you are convinced there is a viable economic outcome for the product. Naturally the financial types are vigorously launching companies to harness the IoT. However, most investors (with a few shrewd exceptions) in these companies aren’t finding the gold mine that they initially anticipated.

The Hype Cycle
Gartner’s hype cycle is well known – see the diagram below.  And we have seen it play out over the centuries. Initially, there is a whisper of something coming (Technology Trigger) and then a peak (Peak of Inflated Expectations) and finally after many years (decades perhaps?) the product develops into something useful (Plateau of Productivity). The IoT is yet another manifestation of this hype cycle playing out.

EIT Stock Image

Figure 1: The Gartner Hype Cycle

One significant hype cycle in recent memory that follows this diagram was the so called Dot Com crash where at the turn of the century we had Internet companies going through the roof producing zero value and it took a decade later before viable products and companies started appearing.

The STEM Myth
Associated with the hype of the IoT is the concept (popularised by governments particularly) that there is a ferocious shortage of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) professionals. Quite clearly if there was a shortage there would be sky high salaries for these types of jobs.

Which is not particularly the case if you consider the enormous amount of effort – time, money and hard work particularly - and experience required - before one can successfully work in this area.

Other Hype Cycles Which Should be Carefully Watched
There are a few other current hype cycles which have some time to play out. One of the notable ones is Virtual Reality. There is no doubt in the future, this will be big – however at present it is hard to come up with economically viable solutions.

Another hype cycle which is growing rapidly is the well publicised one of autonomous vehicles. Again, I have no doubt that in a decade this will be a viable technology (and save a million lives per year); but currently it is hard to come up with economically viable solutions.

Timing is the Key to Success
The essence of success with all of these hype cycles is trying to decide on the timing of when it will be a successful mature technology. The hard bit.

Joseph Campbell rightly remarked that:  Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve

Mackay’s Musings – 29th Nov’16 #628
780, 293 readers – www.idc-online.com/blogs/stevemackay