Plugging into the Power of Everyday Sensors
Taking everyday sensors and the data they generate online will advance the progression of the Internet of Things, where in the future virtually everything will have a digital footprint.
Chris Curran is a PwC principal and Chief Technologist for the U.S. firm's Advisory practice, where he is responsible for technology strategy, enterprise architecture and innovation, and the development of thought leadership reflective of PwC's point of view on trends and innovations in technology. He works directly with senior executives on their most complex and strategic technology issues, helping to explore the opportunities presented by emerging technologies, define the IT function and organization, deploy IT governance and management practices, and develop business and technical architectures.
Among his accomplishments, Chris has global experience helping CIOs be more innovative, and has helped design and lead the implementation of high-value technology initiatives for his clients, most recently in the property and casualty insurance, health insurance and consumer products industries. He leads the development and analysis of PwC's annual Digital IQ Survey, which measures how well companies understand and capitalize on the value of technology and leverage it to meet their business and customer needs.
Sensors silently surround us. Thermostats, alarm systems, traffic lights and even our phones…each contain sensors that detect changes in the environment such as light, sound, movement and location and are literally everywhere. We haven’t even begun to harness their full potential. Taking everyday sensors and the data they generate online will advance the progression of the Internet of Things, where in the future virtually everything will have a digital footprint.
Typically stories in the media about sensors are sensational, like sensors traversing a person’s blood stream to detect illness. However, sensors don’t have to be complex to be useful. Strategically placed sensors in ordinary places can give businesses invaluable insights into their customers and operations to generate revenue, streamline operations, deepen customer relationships and more.
Most everyday sensors are self-contained and serve limited, simple and specific functions. Consider a door chime that signals a customer has entered the store. Knowing when to look alert is great, but what if businesses did much more with sensors such as expanding their placement and collecting the sensor data over time for later analysis? There’s immense opportunity to collect and analyze data from the environment and compare it with other sources of information. When sensors are connected, and their data analyzed, they become apart of the Internet of Things and then new opportunities and innovations emerge.
For example, every time the door of a freezer is opened in a grocery store what do we know? We know when it was opened and for how long. We know the time of day, day of the week and month. But, what can we learn from this to improve the customer experience or generate revenue? Pinpointing what doors get more traffic than others can alter product placement strategies. We can compare door data to point of sale data to see how many people browse but don't buy. What about adjusting temperature to keep it even to account for the door being open? Then, we can even dig deeper to glean more useful insights into customer behavior and store operations.
We can watch how people access the doors for a few days and observe the kinds of things we want to learn – i.e. how long is the door open when people are browsing vs. purchasing? Then when we capture the data and surmise what's happening - instead of "the door was open for 13 seconds at 11:25 am Saturday" we might be able to say "a customer appears to be browsing before lunch on the weekend" and maybe eventually "we have a lot of browsing in the freezers on weekends around lunch, what can we do to increase conversion?" Even though wiring everyday sensors seems so simple, the data can tell us a lot.
As we explore the possibilities of plugging into the power of everyday sensors, we need to constantly keep in mind what we want to learn and why. Pretty quickly an army of simple sensors will generate mountains of information at an unprecedented pace, contributing to the Big Data phenomenon.
Connecting everyday sensors to the Internet opens the door to the possibilities of the Internet of Things. And, it doesn't require major investments to get things going. What can you learn from a simple sensor? I suggest to my clients that they tap into some sensors they already have available or they install new, inexpensive sensors to a few important objects or places to test the waters. The opportunities are limited only by imagination.
Chris Curran is an Advisory principal and Chief Technologist for PwC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the US member firm, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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