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3 min read

#TBT: From Predicting to Propelling the Industrial IoT

#TBT: From Predicting to Propelling the Industrial IoT

If you missed it, you should check out the recent press release about RTI’s growth in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It’s really a great time to be RTI! Sure, from a business perspective all the vectors point the right way. But for me, the most exciting things in that press release aren’t numbers.  I’m more amazed that we get to play with so many futuristic applications. Carbots? Renewable energy? Smart healthcare? Hyperloop? Flying cars? Wind turbines? CT scanners? We got ‘em all. And new things show up all the time.

How can a small company like RTI play in so many areas? It’s Thursday, so in honor of #TBT, I thought I’d take a look back and see how we got here.

For those of you RTI history buffs, we sold our tools business to Wind River in 2005. It was 80% of our revenues at the time. So, in 2006, we had some money and great people, but not much in the way of products. So, we started looking for new trends. What did we find? Here’s an excerpt from our 2006 vision paper called “The Data-Centric Future”:

Truly profound technologies become part of everyday life. Motors, plastics, computers, and now networking have made this transition in the last 100 years. These technologies are embedded in billions of devices; they have melted into the assumed background of the modern world.

Another step is emerging in this progression: pervasive, real-time data. This differs from the Internet in that this pervasive information infrastructure will connect devices, not people. Just as the “web” connected people and fundamentally changed how we all interact; pervasive data will connect devices and change how they interact.

Today’s network makes it easy to connect nodes, but not easy to find and access the information resident in networks of connected nodes. This is changing; we will soon assume the ability to pool information from many distributed sources, and access it at rates meaningful to physical processes.  Many label this new capability the “network-centric” architecture. We prefer the term “data centric” because the change, fundamentally, is driven by a fast and easy availability of information, not the connectivity of the network itself. Whatever the name, it will drive the development of vast, distributed, information-critical applications.

If you change “pervasive information infrastructure” to “Industrial IoT,” that was a pretty good prediction. Too bad the name didn’t stick, but I suppose “PII” sounds more like the second act of a play or a stuttering math teacher than a technology revolution. Anyway, we thought it was coming soon, but 6 years later, we were still predicting. An RTI handbook entry from 2012 (still before the IoT and before the IIC launched the Industrial IoT in 2014) expanded on this a bit:

There is amazing value in distributed information. Connecting people to information transforms society – news feeds, weather satellites, and the Internet are only a few examples – timely information flow drives value in every industry and every endeavor.

However, current technologies only connect people at human speeds. There’s an entirely new opportunity to connect machines at physics speeds. Just as the Internet connected people and fundamentally changed how we all interact, a new "pervasive information infrastructure" will connect devices at speeds fast enough to drive distributed applications. RTI’s people and technology are the best in the world at delivering that data to the right place at the right time. We fundamentally connect complex systems at extreme speeds better than any organization on the planet.

Our technology enables tens, or hundreds, or thousands, or (soon) millions of processors to work together as a single application. Why does that matter? Because intimately-connected systems can do things that weakly-connected systems cannot. They can request and access data from far-flung reaches fast enough to react intelligently. They can read deeply-embedded sensors, use that data to control high-speed machines, and feed the results to the enterprise for monitoring and optimization. This powerful connectivity is a fundamental transformation that will make currently difficult things commonplace and currently impossible things possible. We are already working on many of these applications. Our work will help astronomers probe the deepest reaches of space, protect passengers from injury on tomorrow’s roads, make our nation more secure from attack, and improve the efficiency of renewable energy generation. RTI is leading the new wave of large connected systems, systems that work together as one.

So how can we play in so many futuristic areas? Call us lucky or call us prescient, but the IIoT has been our target for over a decade. RTI is influential in the IIoT because we got a head start. We’re no longer predicting. We’re now realizing the future.

So, what’s next? Our new tagline is “RTI lives at the intersection of functional artificial intelligence and pervasive networking.” Think about that one for a while. AI and connectivity are perhaps the most important trends for the next 40 years. They will combine to bring new wonders to light in every industry on the planet. The IIoT is much more than a name or a connectivity technology; it’s a new infrastructure for, well, everything. Connecting things together is powerful. Connecting those things to smarts is a whole new game. Carbots will improve transportation, autonomous hospital devices will take better care of patients and smart networks will make green energy practical. But, these are just the ENIACs of the IIoT. It won’t be long until every device on the planet is part of a connected, intelligent infrastructure. That infrastructure will make everything more efficient, more useful and friendlier.  These are exciting times indeed!

In any case, it’s an honor to be a leader in the “new” IIoT revolution. It’s even more of an honor to be associated with the technical visionaries at RTI that put us there.