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In IoT’s early days, challenges, opportunities revealed

Brandon Butler | June 10, 2016
Challenges of deploying an Internet of Things use case outweigh the potential opportunities for many companies.

In 2010, two entrepreneurs in Boston came up with the idea of turning shipping containers into miniature plantations, and Freight Farms was born.

The company’s Leafy Green Machines, outfitted with LED lights and humidity-controlled ventilation systems, provide an ideal growing climate for up to 500 heads of lettuce per week, not to mention other crops such as herbs and micro-greens.

Since day one, the containers have been connected to the Internet so they can be monitored and managed remotely. “We’re able to improve the value of the container without customers even knowing it,” says Kyle Seaman, director of farm technology. Freight Farms remotely monitors crop production for each of its roughly 80 farms. Software updates are pushed to the Leafy Green Machines to more efficiently manage the crops, such as by adjusting temperature, humidity and lighting.

It’s a modern example of a company born in the Internet of Things age. Experts are convinced that IoT will be a massive shift, but they also concur it’s still very early days for this market. Last year research firm IDC predicted that the global IoT market would increase from $655 billion in 2014 to $1.7 trillion by 2020.

A fundamental shift

“IoT is going to fundamentally shift the way companies operate and the value they’ll be able to extract,” says Sidharth Haksar, corporate development executive at software company Autodesk. He, along with Seaman from Freight Farms, were panelists at an event hosted by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council in Boston this week discussing revenue opportunities for this market.

“IoT will drive more meaningful interaction with customers: Companies will get information in real time, which will better inform design decisions and help vendors create new product, service and revenue models,” Haksar says.

IoT is ushering in four fundamental shifts for businesses, according to Jeff Kaplan, an analyst at THINKStrategies, It allows businesses to: React quicker; predict future events; more efficiently design products; and create new business opportunities.

Consider Big Belly Solar, a Massachusetts company that launched in 2003 to produce Internet-connected trash barrels used in parks and beaches. Each barrel sends a signal when it is full and needs to be emptied, allowing waste management companies to more efficiently plan their routes.

Big Belly can play into all four of those shifts Kaplan mentioned. They’re able to react quicker: Waste management comes to pick up the trash as soon as needed, but no earlier. Big Belly can use historical data to predict when the barrels will be full. The company could more effectively build new barrels based on data (put a larger barrel in areas that need to be picked up more frequently). And the idea could lead to new business models (the barrels are solar powered and could sell excess energy, or could display digital advertising). The connected trashcan is ushering in an era of smart cities; IoT opens a world of possibilities.


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