Breakthroughs in computing and telecommunications tech have given rise to a new kind of technology that is having significant impacts across the economy.
Smart technology is a broad term referring to devices that connect to the internet to share and receive data. These gadgets can communicate and coordinate with other devices. The definition includes internet of things (IoT) innovations, like smart sensors that allow companies to collect information on everything ranging from soil temperature to equipment performance.
If you have a home assistant — like an Amazon Echo or Google Home — you’ve already encountered some smart tech. In businesses, however, these advancements are used differently than in consumer applications. Here is how companies are improving their operations using new smart technology.
The supply chain is one of the industries that’s changing the most as the result of new smart technology.
In warehouses, smart tech can collect and analyze vast amounts of data. Smart devices, typically a fleet of IoT sensors, gather valuable information about equipment and facility operations. These details are then collated into massive data sets and analyzed by specialized smart systems and AI algorithms.
The predictive power of these massive data sets enables a wide range of logistics applications. Warehouses, retailers and others in the supply chain are using predictive models to forecast how much of a given product to stock based on historical sales and newly collected info.
Warehouses have also benefited by a new generation of robots outfitted with smart tech. Amazon’s use of autonomous robots is one of the best-known examples of this tech. These innovations include collaborative robots — cobots — that use an internet connection to move around the warehouse as needed, assisting in the picking and packing process, and using advanced machine vision tech to navigate the floor without human assistance.
For small businesses, individual smart devices are more popular. Advanced security systems can coordinate cameras, motion sensors and smart locks, allowing office managers to manage office security effectively. Smart thermostats and lighting can automatically adjust themselves based on user preferences and information like office motion data. As a result, they can turn themselves off if no one is in the office, which can make it easier to save on energy costs.
Mobile card readers also make it easier for businesses to accept credit cards, no matter where they are, making transactions more straightforward than ever. As a result, small businesses can bring new customers into the sales funnel and expand their customer base.
Heavy industry is one of the biggest beneficiaries of new smart tech. In this field, innovations are a key component of what industry leaders are calling a new Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0
Extensive industrial facilities that rely on expensive machinery can slow down due to equipment failure. Traditional maintenance schemes can catch most damage with regular checks — but regular check-ins can be costly and require downtime. Some machine issues may also slip through the cracks if they emerge between maintenance checks.
With the right IoT data-collection scheme, it’s possible to analyze machine function and predict when it will need maintenance. This strategy — called predictive maintenance — helps companies avoid the costs associated with preventative maintenance while avoiding machine damage and downtime that cause massive costs for industrial facilities every year.
Other tech streamlines industry workflows. Smart spectrophotometers, for example, can automatically send spectroscopic data and material analysis to factory file networks once a scan finishes. As a result, researchers won’t have to spend time managing files or manually recording test results.
The industry hopes to soon move on to Industry 5.0. Definitions for what this means vary. For many, it will be the increased use of cobots and collaborative systems that bring together man and machine, allowing them to work together as closely as possible.
While you may not think of agriculture as being a particularly high-tech field, the industry is one of the major adopters of this new tech. Much of the fieldwork in agriculture is done the old-fashioned way — by hand, often for long hours and in harsh conditions. These procedures include testing soil conditions and managing irrigation systems that deliver water to crops.
Smart agriculture, combined with other high-tech strategies like precision agriculture, primarily focuses on delivering resources — like water — exactly where they need to be and only as necessary. Field sensors and spatial information technology — like GPS — collect information on growing conditions, offering farmers a real-time window in soil conditions with no need for manual testing.
This tech allows for more eco-friendly watering strategies, and fertilizer use ensures optimal growing conditions, resulting in the best possible chance for a good crop yield. Some automated irrigation systems can even take advantage of this data and automatically adjust soil moisture levels as needed. This smart ag tech, as a result, also streamlines some of the tedious work of growing crops.
When implemented, these smart watering systems help cut down on a farm’s water use. This reduction is essential, as the field of agriculture is one of the biggest water users in the United States, and ag runoff generated by watering crops can contribute to local pollution. Reducing water usage can significantly reduce the impact that ag has on the environment.
Limited internet access in rural areas, however, remains a serious roadblock to wide-scale adoption of smart ag tech. New pushes to expand rural internet connectivity may help bring smart tech to farms around the country. Several new bills recently passed in the House and Senate, along with the rollout of 5G that partly targets underserved portions of the U.S., may be enough to fill in the patchy networks that don’t currently provide coverage to rural areas.
Smart tech is having significant impacts on just about every part of the economy. In sectors ranging from agriculture to heavy industry, smart technology is optimizing work, enabling remote operations and helping companies collect minute-to-minute data on everything ranging from soil conditions to equipment function.
In the future, as pushes for improved internet access boost connectivity across the country, even more powerful applications of smart technology may become the norm.
About the author: Lexie is a digital nomad and web designer. When she’s not traveling to various parts of the country, you can find her at the local flea markets or hiking with her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and connect with her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.