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What’s new in IoT sensors & what that means for operations?

28 May 2021

In today’s connected world, intelligent devices have become part of day-to-day life. From self-parking cars to the temperature and humidity devices that are automatically controlling the office heating, vents and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can now be found in houses, offices, production sites and hospitals.

They track proximity, motion, pressure and light and are providing businesses with an extraordinary array of information, from how people move around a location to the levels of energy consumption over 24 hours.

IoT improves the customer experience

To celebrate 100 million connections, Vodafone recently researched the way businesses are using IoT. We found that 95% of businesses see a positive return on investment from IoT, primarily from improving operational efficiency and creating new connected products and services. What is interesting is that these companies are not just using IoT to measure, monitor or track what’s going on; they are actively redesigning their businesses around IoT.

For example, in our research, one retailer is not just using IoT to monitor production processes to become more efficient, but actively looking at the customer experience and how better product quality and availability can improve it. Essentially, by using IoT – in this case, Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags to track production – the retailer can flag any potential quality issues with products before they leave the factory, ensuring customers never receive substandard goods.

Low-cost supply chain tracking

The speed with which IoT innovation is being adopted to drive real value throughout the supply chain is compelling.

Take smart labels, for example. They used Integrated SIM (iSIM) technology, which is specifically designed for low power IoT devices, making them cheaper to make and run. Bayer, a global leader in the Life Science fields of healthcare and agriculture, is already working with Vodafone on an iSIM project aimed at improving their customer experience.

Combining iSIM and low-power mobile connectivity allows Bayer to constantly monitor products through the supply chain and to take immediate action. For instance, if there’s a sudden change in temperature that would damage the goods, a notification is sent that triggers an action to resolve the situation.

Because the smart label is small, cheap and simple – and will work continuously for up to three years – the company can automatically track large numbers of goods across the world for the first time. Being able to trace and monitor products through the supply chain will help simplify their operations and ensure the high quality of their products from factory to delivery. Ultimately, it will help improve the customer experience.

Changing training and remote operations with haptics

Innovative sensor technology is not just helping companies to automate — the use of 5G haptics is also changing the way businesses approach high-risk situations to improve workforce safety. Familiar to video gamers, haptics replicates the sensation of touch using mechanisms such as miniature vibrating motors or ultrasonic emitters to produce the feeling of pressure against your skin. Using superfast, low-latency 5G means haptics can be combined with telepresence tech, which means actions can be undertaken remotely — for example, as a 3D figure in a holographic video call  — and a world of new applications opens up.

The easiest way to picture this is to consider how the barrelling force of a rugby tackle delivered by one rugby player in Coventry was instantaneously felt by another in London, despite the distance between the two, thanks to the combination of a haptic suit and the low latency of 5G.

For businesses, the combination of haptics and telepresence is incredibly exciting, especially for companies operating in hazardous environments. French company GoTouchVR is pioneering virtual reality (VR) flight simulators enhanced with haptics. This enables trainee pilots to become more intimately acquainted with the very feel, layout and physical proximity of the controls they’ll be handling in real life. Experiments are also being conducted on the way haptic telepresence could be used to train surgeons and even perform surgery remotely, which would provide huge benefits in those areas of the world that don’t have access to top-level clinicians.

Haptic telepresence could also have valuable applications in remotely handling toxic material or training individuals on highly sensitive equipment.

5G and the future of IoT

The speed and minimal lag offered by 5G will help companies take a far more strategic approach to connecting their people, places and things – providing new ways to control operations in real-time. From improving energy efficiency to virtual reality and the use of real-time video feeds, the next generation of IoT sensors will be used in tandem with an array of data sources to allow companies to completely change the way operations are imagined.

Find out more about 5G and IoT.

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