IBM’s Watson IoT is aimed at bringing together artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as machine learning, deep learning, machine reasoning, natural language processing (NLP), and computer vision and applying them to industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The platform collects data, analyzes it, and puts the data into a business context to solve specific problems that include asset performance, facility management, operations, product development, health and safety, and predictive maintenance, among others.
One of the big differentiators for Watson IoT is the use of IBM’s Blockchain platform for specific IoT applications, where IoT devices can send data to private blockchain ledgers that can be used for shared transactions with tamper-proof security. Rather than collecting, storing, and managing all of your IoT data centrally, the blockchain’s distributed replication allows businesses to access and supply IoT data in a decentralized fashion. Centralized silos can be expensive and difficult to manage, especially when applied to a data-hungry and data-sensitive area like IoT. Therefore, a decentralized, blockchain-based approach is beneficial for IoT.
As products move through a supply chain, from the raw material phase to the end product on the retail shelf, Watson IoT with blockchain can have sensor data stored and collected in blockchain ledgers. All of this data can be queried, audited, or analyzed for any business process transaction. There are many industries and use cases where this could be applied. Some of the major use cases include the following:
- Logistics: Tracking, monitoring, and reporting of container status and location. Uses location, temperature, handling, and carrier data streams.
- Food and beverage: Tracking food items from farm to packaging and shipping, identifying contamination, and reducing food waste. Uses location, refrigeration, soil, and weather data streams.
- Automotive: Logging of vehicle parts, warranty, and servicing logs. Uses vehicle sensors, bar codes, service shop databases, and other vehicular data streams.
- Appliances and electronics: Parts tracking and logging, servicing, and warranty service.
- Building management systems: Tracking, monitoring, and reporting of electric meter readings, water heater systems, and air conditioning systems.
Smart contracts can be applied to the blockchain ledger data to enable transactions and control of devices. Smart contracts are contracts that enforce themselves automatically when certain conditions are met. With smart contracts, the air conditioning can be adjusted in a building management system if a certain threshold is met for energy consumption or costs, or if the building is able to draw cheaper energy from the grid at a specific time. Smart contracts could also be applied for food and beverage items, marking the item as expired if it has been left out of refrigeration for too long. Similarly, smart contracts can be applied to automotive where a car could arrange for a servicing automatically once it has reached a certain odometer reading. IBM has showcased the use of blockchain and IoT in partnership with Samsung, which introduced the idea of an autonomous washing machine that reorders detergent, replacement parts, and after-sales service using smart contracts.
Watson IoT is a fairly new platform, although in a recent analyst briefing IBM showcased an impressive list of customers that are currently piloting its platform. The list included some of the biggest carmakers, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and telecom companies, among others. However, IBM Blockchain and its integration with Watson IoT is much newer, and IBM hasn’t really referenced any specific customers yet. One of the details that IBM talked about during the briefing was related to the implementation of blockchain on low-power devices. With the processing of blockchain being extremely challenging on these low-power devices, the blockchain processing is performed in the cloud. To solve some of the challenges around cloud connectivity and reliability in IoT environments, IBM has partnered with Cisco to enable edge computing and analytics. With this approach, Cisco routers can collect data at the edge, IBM can enable immediate IoT analytics at the edge, and data for longer-term analysis can be stored and sent later to the cloud during specific windows of network connectivity.