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Internet of things by Advantum

You can never get too smart – or can you?

What happens when you take a component item from the world of shipping – such as a container or a truck or a warehouse – and fit it with smart technology? It then becomes part of the Internet of Things. This next level in the internet evolution will bring new advantages – but also new dangers.

The internet has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we work, play, communicate and do business. So seamlessly has it been integrated into our lives that we often take for granted the significant portion of even the most routine activities like watching TV, talking with our loved ones or printing a document that is internet-based.

Consider now the Internet of Things (IoT) – the next level in internet evolution. IoT will ultimately turn anything into an intelligent or smart thing – ships, containers, trucks, warehouses, everything.


How? Firstly, by outfitting any ‘thing’ with technology that allows it to connect to an internet network. So, what are these things? In the context of IoT, a ‘thing’ should have the following:

  • Communication – the ability to send and receive information over a network
  • Identity – the ability to be uniquely identifiable
  • Sensor – should be able to sense things about its state and/or its environment
  • Controllable – devices should be capable of being controlled remotely (think the robot apocalypse).

Nearly anything can be made into a ‘thing’ on the internet. A container could be made into a thing by installing the appropriate sensor. Port workers can be things on the internet with wearable devices. Now you can imagine that your team member’s device could tell you where he (or she) is, what team members are with him and if he is in distress? It could alert the paramedic if there are any abnormalities in the vital signs while at the same time making suggestions on his smart phone of procedures or medications to take based on medication available in a smart medicine kit until the paramedics arrive. This isn’t science fiction – these devices actually exist.

The sky’s the limit with making things ‘smart’ and interconnecting them through the internet. We are familiar with smart cars, smart gardens, smart buildings, waste management tools – even land and sea are not excluded. For example, it’s quite easy to imagine how placing sensors in the harbor can be useful to environmentalists as they can monitor erosion trends, water levels, toxicity of the water (ships might be leaking oil and waste into the harbor). This seems far-fetched, even strange and unnecessary, but this could become the norm in the future. IoT is here and we need to position ourselves to capitalize on it.

Smart devices provide a way for businesses to collect more and more data about how products and services are used which open the way to better business decisions and, eventually, better products and services. IoT is still in its infancy; however, big companies like Amazon, Samsung and Google are making huge investments in IoT devices. In 2014 Google acquired Nest for US$ 3.4 billion. Nest specializes in home automation smart devices such as thermostats, smoke detectors and surveillance cameras. Since its acquisition, it has become one of the leading providers of smarter home devices. This could easily transfer to offices, warehouses and manufacturing plants.

Businesses also stand to gain tremendously from IoT in areas of security, shipping, location tracking and inventory control and in managing energy usage. An IoT device could monitor your equipment to determine its usage pattern and indicate signs of possible failure and schedule maintenance well in advance before it breaks down.

Security and privacy
Notwithstanding the numerous benefits of IoT, ethics, security and privacy are obvious concerns. As we become more interconnected, these devices increase our exposure to hackers and cyber criminals. In December 2015 the power grid of Ukraine was hacked. It was reported that workers watched helplessly as the computer system was remotely controlled to navigate to circuit breakers, open the breaker box and take the system offline.

Researchers at the University of South Alabama demonstrated how a pacemaker could be hacked to cause death (thankfully, this experiment was done on a mannequin). Then there is this matter of privacy. Who is collecting the data? What are they collecting? Who are they sharing it with? And is it secured at the data centers?

In trying to address these issues there needs to be a strategic approach to the information value loop. The solution must start with IoT devices. By default, these devices should have security built in. Additionally, companies should carry out privacy and security risk assessment. Companies should also try to minimize the type and amount of data collected and retained. It is going to be critical for companies to be able to demonstrate these precautionary measures to inspire consumer confidence in IoT products.

The future
The true value of the Internet of Things comes from the data that these devices collect, how we harness that data and use it to improve our services and operations. The proliferation of smart devices provides a way for us to better understand our operating environment, our clients and our industries. This wealth of data will inspire a massive leap in ‘big data’. There will be so much we can learn.

We can understand the relationships in the data to retrieve information and understand the patterns in the information to gain knowledge and finally understanding the principles of the knowledge to gain wisdom. Hence a wiser, safer, more productive and efficient shipping industry. We look forward to a future where smart offices, smart vehicles and even smart ports will be commonplace.