Milwaukee Companies Making an Impact on The Internet of Things

Jul 20, 2016

What would you do without the internet? These days, it’s probably hard to imagine being unconnected, right? Well, it might only be the beginning. Depending on the study, it’s estimated that by the year 2020, up to 100 billion devices could be connected to the internet. The movement is called the “Internet of Things” and  some local companies are part of the wave.

The general concept behind the Internet of Things, or IoT, is pretty basic.

“Taking things that are in the physical world and converting them into a digital construct so that you can do something with them," Erich Jacobs says. Jacobs is CEO of a company called ONKÖL. It’s a Milwaukee startup that makes technology to allow older people and people with disabilities to live by themselves, and with less worry on the part of their loved ones.

He says the drawback with existing “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” technology is that it immediately notifies first responders, even if that’s not what the person wanted. Jacobs says the system is just one way to use IoT technology. He says once information is captured digitally, it’s up to those using it to decide what to do next.

“To whatever wants to digest that data whether it’s a person, maybe you’re going to show it as a chart of sensor data, maybe you’re going to spit it out as a piece of 3D printing in the maker world or maybe you’re going to use that to go back and control something within an industrial complex,” Jacobs says.

“We’ve been working on this for decades," Dave Vasko says. He's director of advanced technology for Rockwell Automation.

Manufacturing is one of the industries expected to see the greatest impact from IoT.

"We’re reaching an inflection point now where the technology is here, we have the connected devices, we’re developing the standards to connect these things, and really we’re seeing differences. We’re seeing big changes,” Vasko says.

And plenty of them will eventually show up in your home.

“Imagine if every device in your home was connected to the internet and to your phone. What if the manufacturers that produced those devices could look at every water heater and determine when it’s going to break in your home before it spills out onto your carpet,” Vasko says.

Vasko says now think about the potential benefits of such internet connectivity to a manufacturing setting where the costs and savings are multiplied. Yet, industry data shows that only about 14 percent of manufacturers have connected their IT operations to the internet.

READ: Milwaukee is Looking to Adapt More Internet of Things Technology

There’s a good reason the adoption rate is low right now, according to Ethan Munson. He’s an associate dean in UW-Milwaukee’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Munson says companies don’t buy equipment very often.

“When they build a production line, they’re usually hoping that it will last for 15 or 20 or 30 years,” Munson says.

But as those lines reach their end, the manufacturers might well replace them with systems connected to the internet.

In the meantime, Munson says, planners are designing ways to prevent information and access from falling into the wrong hands.

“Most of the serious risks in say a manufacturing setting are not some guy in his car with a laptop breaking into the corporate, internet. A much more serious risk is internal workers who are dissatisfied who already have permission to access all of these devices,” he says.

As the Internet of Things ramps up, some estimates put the number of needed workers over the next few years at two million.