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GE targets "Industrial Internet"To smaller companies, looking for the next big thing is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. For large companies like GE, it's easier - because GE can plan far ahead and invest billions. When GE identifies a market, it's BIG and it means they are getting ready to dominate.
GE has announced that it is targeting the "industrial Internet" as the next big growth arena. In a recent shareholder letter CEO Jeffrey Immelt outlined the company's technology and market plans:
For a giant like GE, which makes everything from locomotive engines to light bulbs, this means products that are smart enough to help themselves. We've been writing about "the pervasive Internet" and IoT for years, and now GE is identifying it as a targeted growth arena.
Immelt says industrial demand for increases in productivity will help drive this market transformation, whether for healthcare or transportation or energy.
The size of this opportunity? Immelt says this market could be about $15 trillion by 2030. He estimates this to be the equivalent of adding another US economy to the world. I have never, ever come across any market forecasts of this magnitude. The Internet of Things era has begun. What do you think?
Industrial Robotics RevolutionIn the early 1960s when industrial robots were first introduced on assembly lines, they were designed to perform only the most rigidly predetermined set of repetitive movements. Even after a half-century of exponential growth in computational power, that's pretty much still how industrial robots operate today.
But here comes Rodney Brooks again, the MIT Professor of Robotics who helped launch Roomba, the popular home vacuum cleaner robot. Now he has left a tenured position at MIT to focus on his latest company: Heartland Robotics, now called Rethink Robotics. Venture capitalists have already gambled $32 million on the company. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was the company's first investor.
Says Rodney Brooks, today's robotics technology is going to look incredibly primitive in a couple of decades. He has told people that the company is working on the robotics version of the iPhone. Robots will be capable of being "trained" to perform repetitive tasks with their moving arms and grippers. Versatile software will be intuitive to use and will spawn a community of software "apps" which will be developed by a growing community of developers to serve a wide variety of operations or manufacturing tasks.
Rethink Robotics' Baxter is a two-armed robot with a computer-screen face with animated eyes. It stands about 3 feet and is currently priced at $22,000, but targeted to eventually sell for about $5,000. It is designed to do tasks such as loading and unloading, sorting and looking after other machinery, jobs typically done by people.
Most workers can learn to operate Baxter within about a half hour. Workers can "teach" it to do tasks by guiding the arms to an object; cameras embedded in the wrists can determine how to grasp the object. Baxter has a puzzled look on its computer-screen face when it is still learning; it nods when it understands. P> Most industrial robots are larger, one-armed machines whose tasks include lifting heavy objects, cutting metal or welding. They typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The price, ease of use and flexibility of Baxter could put it into lots of small and medium-sized business and rejuvenate conventional Manufacturing. Which, of course, will make Rodney Brooks' company a major success.
NanomanufacturingA decade ago, Business Week named Nanotechnology one of the "Ten Technologies That Will Change Our Lives." Today, it impacts almost every manufacturing segment - electronics, thin films, chemical synthesis, biotechnology, biomedicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food production, printing and publishing, advanced micro-lithography, plastics, metals, and many others.
Nanotechnology is based upon the ability to systematically manipulate and organize matter on the nanometer (less than 1 micrometer) scale.
Nanomanufacturing is the production of materials and the manufacturing of parts from either the "bottom up" from nano-scaled materials or "top down" in nano steps for high precision.
Today's nanotechnology-enabled products range from baseball bats and tennis rackets to catalysts for refining crude oil and ultra sensitive detection and identification of biological and chemical toxins. In the energy arena, nanotechnology enables high-efficiency, low-cost batteries and solar cells.
Nano-scale integrated circuits are faster, more powerful and more energy-efficient, and can be extended almost to the ultimate atomic-scale limits. Nano-scale integrated circuit chips are made from nano-scale logic gates connected by nano-scale wires. This is being used to exponentially increase information storage capacity at very low cost.
As more companies and institutions establish nanotech programs, they will require the tools for R&D and manufacturing. The growth markets will be for improved equipment designed specifically for nanomanufacturing processes.
The typical nanotech manufacturing products showcase includes various types of measurement and control systems; for example, positioning systems with travel ranges of a few millimeters up to a few hundred millimeters. Nano-positioning systems are based on frictionless piezo actuators and flexures that can convert electrical energy directly into mechanical energy with virtually unlimited resolution and accuracies down to the sub-nanometer level.
Nanomanufacturing is growing into a $1 trillion business. The National Science Foundation estimates that two million skilled workers will be needed worldwide by 2015 - over one million in the United States. Manufacturing companies: Make sure you're not stuck in old manufacturing paradigms. Automation suppliers: Nanotech products and markets should be in your growth development plans.
Human EnhancementI remember seeing a movie about an aging gunfighter, quick on the draw, who was losing his eyesight. But then a skinny little dude came from somewhere out East and made him a pair of glasses - which, of course, restored his sharpshooter prowess.
Technology continues to give humans what seem like superpowers. Human enhancement technologies (HET) are not just simply for treating illness and disabilities, but also for enhancing human abilities - capacities that are beyond the existing human range.
For some, HET includes human genetic engineering, the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science to improve human performance. Cochlear implants can restore some hearing for the deaf. Many scientists and researchers are working on restoring vision for the blind.
Wearable technology is becoming common - body temperature, blood-pressure, electro-cardiograms and other sensors. In Time magazine's latest issue (March 25 2013) "Wear Your Doctor" is one of the "10 Big Ideas".
Prosthetic limbs are becoming more advanced, allowing people who've lost a limb to live more normal lives. Oscar Pistorius competed and won against regular (non-disabled) athletes. The International Athletics Federation has banned some artificial limbs because of unfair advantage.
Muscle augmentation will soon be common. The military is working on Spider-Man suits that enable wearers to scale vertical walls. Advanced robotic suits enable workers to lift heavy loads.
Future neural implants could allow humans to manipulate real-world objects with their minds. Researchers demonstrated how a quadriplegic woman used electrodes in her motor cortex to feed herself chocolate with a robotic arm.
On the medical side, mental "enhancers" and physical stimulants are becoming fairly common. Today, many office workers start each day with a dose of caffeine or other energy-boosting drinks. There are pills and drinks to enhance cognition, mood, personality, physical performance, and even the biological processes of aging.
HET is spreading fast. It's even possible that employers will start to demand that employees "augment" themselves. Implications relative to work and human values are hard to predict.
Many are raising serious ethical concerns about technologies and drugs that allow people to work harder, longer, and smarter. Some suggest that at least some of these regenerative medicines and enhancement technology developments should be regulated.
What's your view?
Cyber SecurityRichard Clarke, a former cybersecurity and cyberterrorism advisor for the White House, has served three presidents as counterterrorism czar. He now operates a cyber-security consultancy.
Richard Clarke's story has all the suspense of a postmodern geopolitical thriller. It involves a cyberworm created to attack the nuclear centrifuges of a rogue nation‹which then escapes from the target country, replicating itself in thousands of computers throughout the world. It may be lurking in your control systems right now, harmlessly inactive - or awaiting orders.
The "weaponized malware" computer worm called Stuxnet was launched in mid-2009, and caused great damage to Iran's nuclear program in 2010. Then it spread to computers all over the world. Who made and launched Stuxnet in the first place? Most think it was a joint US/Israel effort, which has not been denied. Stuxnet may have averted a nuclear conflagration by diminishing Israel's perception of the need for an imminent attack on Iran.
Now Clarke states categorically that state-sanctioned Chinese hackers are stealing R&D from US companies. Says, Clarke, "We are losing our competitiveness by having all our R&D stolen by the Chinese. And we never really see the single event that makes us do something about it - it's always just below our pain threshold. In the US, companies spend billions of dollars on R&D and that information goes free to China."
Richard Clarke's warnings may sound overly dramatic until you remember that in September 2001 he was the man, who tried to get the White House to act on his warnings that Al Qaeda was preparing a spectacular attack on America.
Clarke delivered a famous apology to the American people in his testimony to the 9/11 Commission. He now wants to warn us, urgently, that we are being failed again, being left defenseless against a cyberattack that could bring down our nation's entire electronic infrastructure, including the power grid, telecommunications, banking and even our military command system.
When will a cyber-attack event occur that will demand a strong US counter offensive? Richard Clarke insists that it's not IF but WHEN.
eFeedbackDan Trudeau [email@example.com] has more insights on our discussion about smart machines that are eliminating human jobs:
"The real solution is a change in how we think about employment. Our current thinking is based around the manufacturing-based economy pioneered by Henry Ford, who realized the manufacturing process allowed more production with less man hours. Upon realizing this he did the opposite of what every 'smart' businessman would typically do: he paid his people more money for less time on the job. This created an economic boom that we rode for most of the 20th Century.
"Now we have another productivity boom. But, instead of following Ford's model, employers are pushing wages down while reaping the economic benefits of having to employ less people. It should be no surprise that we're stuck, because they've reversed the formula that made us so prosperous in the last century.
"Until employers start investing their record profits into their employee's earnings, we're going to be stuck like this."
"Adding laws limiting occupations after a career in government is not the answer. You cannot deny any person the right to find the work they want. What we can do is ensure that any and all contacts by registered lobbyists is made public and recorded. We can also inform our elected representatives that we do not want involved persons and companies donating significant money to their campaigns.
"We hear a lot about campaign reform but it just gets worse. Some sort of enforceable limit to campaign spending would be a start.
"I think that it is too late to be satisfied with simple term limits, but that would help. We also need to change how the compensation and benefits are set for the legislature. No one should set their own. Perhaps each state could support their senators and representatives. Perhaps the Courts could set the pay.
"But, what congress would pass these laws?"
"The answer to our dilemma is simply SIMPLICITY. Here are some simple ideas:
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