IoT + End-to-End Visibility = No More Lost Luggage

Events, High Technology, Innovation Posted Apr 14, 2016 by Liza Vilnits

People make mistakes. But so do machines. We need each other to better evolve and push boundaries in the tech world, which is the first thing I learned at MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge’s Connected Things 2016 event.

Connected Things banner 2016Connected Things focused on what’s real and happening today – at scale – with the Internet of Things (IoT) from within industries benefitting from the technology, including (among many others) healthcare, manufacturing and transportation—three widely varying industries with different goals. Each uses “smart,” connected technology to recognize early conditions that could presage disaster, giving people the opportunity to intervene and forestall potential tragedy.

There’s still plenty of work to be done to refine the use of connected devices, as well as many issues related to policy. Common questions in the IoT evolution arose related to data ownership (as Barb Darrow explores), privacy and whether the data that’s produced can be trusted. Throughout the sessions I attended what seemed to be the common theme is that connected devices are helping people in all kinds of industries to do their jobs more efficiently by saving time and getting ahead of the eight ball when things have the potential to go awry. The newly explored end-to-end visibility not only provides value to the company but also serves the customer (or patient) more effectively.

Let me break it down for you based on the three sessions I attended so you have some real-world examples.

Manufacturing’s Metamorphosis

Manufacturing MetamorphisisIoT is changing the fundamental business model for manufacturing. As Christopher Buck of Digital Lumens explains, getting companies to think about investing in IoT architecture is a still a very new thought. When it comes to manufacturing, the reality lies in the fact that spreadsheets and data are still being hand-written – I couldn’t believe it! Not only is it a waste of time but it can easily lead to human error.

It was interesting to hear Harold Jensen of New Balance discuss the company’s partnership with Boston-based startup Tulip which connects sensors and equipment on the shop floor to a cloud-based platform for automatic production data collection and dynamic shop floor interfaces. As explained, it’s a simple way for all the mechanisms to be able to talk to each other. With the applications and analytics tools, engineers are alerted in advance of something going wrong with a machine (which I interpreted as more sneakers for everyone!).

Transport & the Creation of the “Glass Pipeline”

When it comes to tracking cargo, an example we can all grasp has to do with the way luggage is handled during travel. This session walked through an Air Canada case study where the end game was to create an IoT network to track each parcel from beginning to the end—what Air Canada calls a “glass pipeline”—using connected technology to give the airline unprecedented cargo visibility.

As moderator David Eagleson put it, “Capturing data is wonderful, but making it actionable is what leads to ROI.” And he’s right; it’s important to think about the value you’re getting out of your IoT devices, first and foremost. Air cargo is a premier service and with what Air Canada is doing, items that require specific temperature, pressure or humidity levels, are being tracked to ensure the numbers remain consistent. Think about cancer drugs for example: they have a short shelf life and may be sensitive to conditions such as heat and moisture, hence the importance of visibility into the journey.

lost luggageOf course this technology is also being used to better track regular luggage, too. I’m sure many of us have dealt with our bags ending up in the wrong destination. Well, when each piece of gear is tagged with a smart label, Air Canada employees can see when an item is about to get shipped to the wrong location and can immediately send an email alert or text notifying the appropriate loading staff person to catch it before it’s too late. No more lost bags? I like where this IoT thing is going!


Healthcare & Hospitals

IoT in hospitals is especially fascinating to me because the end-result of the application of the technology directly affects the health and well-being—maybe even the life—of people.

As the panelists explained, the data collected through wearables and other monitoring devices is an abstraction of that patient. Having an intellectual architecture and data in context is key to putting that information to use. And even beyond that, the real power is the machines seeing the other data, not necessarily the people seeing the data. As Brad Crotty of Harvard Medical School stated, what doctors are doing within the process is getting the data to the right person at the right time. By tracking a person’s medical records, one might recognize two medications that may not go well together, for example. This underscores the importance of gaining visibility into a situation before things take a negative turn.


As my colleague Mike Spinney points out, the IoT is not new, but the amount of innovation being invested in IoT is exciting, and the applications of this technology are helping to make life better in small ways today. That bodes well for big improvements tomorrow.