New Order in Babel: Industrial Internet Consortium Will Make Machines and People Talk to Each Other

March 27, 2014

The Internet is no longer just about email, ecommerce or Twitter. “We are at an inflection point,” says Joe Salvo, manager of Complex Systems Engineering Laboratory at GE Global Research. “The next wave of productivity will connect brilliant machines and people.”

But before that happens, they must find a common language. “It’s still like the Tower of Babel,” Salvo says. “We need to bring them together in powerful new networks.”

That’s why GE, AT&T, CISCO, IBM and Intel launched the Industrial Internet Consortium, today. The open, not-for-profit group will work together to break down technology silos, improve machine-to-machine communications and bring the physical and digital worlds closer together. The members will be developing common architectures and advanced test beds for real-world industrial applications.

"I don’t think anything this big has been tried before" in terms of sweeping industrial cooperation, Bill Ruh, vice president of the GE Global Software Center, told the New York Times. “This is how we will make machines, people and data work together.”

Salvo, who will represent GE in the group, says that the consortium is really an ecosystem play to make the Industrial Internet an innovation engine. We need open standards to unlock the true value of the Industrial Internet.”

GE estimates that the Industrial Internet could add $10 to $15 trillion to global GDP over the next two decades. Although there are already some 10 billion connected devices, they represent just 1 percent of what’s possible. That number will grow to 50 billion by 2020.

Ruh says that the combination of operational technology ‑ the hardware and software that monitors and controls machines ‑ with the Internet and information technology that allows machines to “think” is already disrupting how industries operate. “This is not just about writing new standards and hoping people will pick them up, but delivering real solutions that allow us to advance the Industrial Internet,” Ruh says.

Ruh pointed to telecom networks, which tore down their own siloes and became connected. “We see that we can apply this as a parallel across other industries.”

GE’s Smart Grid system called GridIQ, for example, is already digesting diverse sets data from transformers, smart meters, the weather service and social media like Twitter to help utilities predict and prevent power outages.

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Wind PowerUp, a Big Data system from GE Renewables, will soon start working at five wind farms in Oklahoma, Indiana and Illinois. It’s sensors and algorithms could squeeze as much as 420,000 megawatt-hours of extra electricity from the farms’ combined 402 turbines. That’s enough to power 33,000 average U.S. homes.

But this is just the beginning. Says Guido Jouret, vice president of the Internet of Things Business Group at Cisco: “With 99 percent of everything still unconnected, connecting things over the Internet is creating the next industrial revolution.”