Digitizing the Edge: IoT Makes Good on the Promise of a Modified Coke Machine


IoT is a term that dates to as early as 1982.  What we now know as IoT was first understood to be simply a network of smart devices. A modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University was the first Internet-connected appliance, capable of taking its own inventory and reporting whether newly loaded drinks were cold.


Writing in IEEE Spectrum in 1994, Reza Rajiin more precisely described IoT as "moving small packets of data to a large set of nodes, to integrate and automate everything from home appliances to entire factories."  The term "Internet of things" was likely coined by Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble, later MIT's Auto-ID Center, as early as in 1999.


The generally accepted definition of the Internet of Things has evolved in parallel with an ongoing convergence of multiple technologies, real-time analytics, machine learning, commodity sensors, and embedded systems. Traditional fields of embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, automation (including home and building automation), and others all contribute to enabling the Internet of things.


Breathing a Digital Voice into the Physical World


Within this context, ubiquitous connectivity is becoming the norm. From people to places to things, we are getting to a state where everything is talking to everything else. Whether you order groceries on an Amazon app or your refrigerator automatically doing it for you, the physical world needs a digital voice. Physical things need to tell us where they are and what their condition is. The physical world is the EDGE node.


Connectivity is becoming ubiquitous even in the most distant parts of the world. Increasingly sophisticated sensors are becoming increasingly commoditized. They are being placed on more and more physical devices at cheaper and cheaper prices. Battery life of five to seven years is common. This digital transformation creates Intelligent Digital Ecosystems by giving voice to all things physical.


Real-Time Visibility Drives Operational Excellence


Rapidly evolving consumer consumption models and the “Amazon Effect” are driving demand for improved visibility and responsiveness in global supply chains. The most impactful IoT-at-scale solutions are positioned at the intersection of two profound shifts in technology & commerce: “Digitization of the Edge” and “Digitization of Commerce.”


This intersection is also the site of a material weakness common to all industrial enterprises: inadequate visibility into distribution operations and processes. This is a ubiquitous pain point. Surprises are constant, Supply chain systems historically have consisted of a series of discrete steps – each one requiring manual intervention. This has all but ensured continuing duplication, compounding error, increasing shrinkage and escalating costs.


The digital transformation brought about by IoT holds the promise of eliminating this constant downward spiral by converting the entire supply chain into a completely integrated ecosystem.


The most powerful solutions stream real-time insights into supply chain operations by combining sensors, edge intelligence and predictive cloud applications. For extended enterprises, these solutions must also conform to the most stringent enterprise-grade requirements for scalability, resilience and security. The result must be an enterprise ability to monitor, measure and manage the supply chain in real-time – whether the assets are indoors, outdoors or in-transit.


The most prominent industrial pain points tend to be those in need of the greatest efficiencies and return-on-investment -- long-legacy industries like manufacturing, construction, pharmaceutical and food & beverage.


The Early Adopters Are Beginning to Realize the Benefits


Among the first to begin to see the fulfillment of the IoT promise are warehousing and distribution facilities, as well as related pallet leasing and 3PL which can now make their operations more streamlined and efficient. Access to real-time data from each stage of the supply chain is particularly crucial for warehouses and distribution centers. It enables them to:

  • eliminate manual counting of inventory
  • track inventory efficiently to limit losses and maximize asset use
  • optimize and plan warehouse capacity
  • measure environmental factors that could affect inventory 

The result for the enterprise is improved predictability, extraordinary return on investment and material cost savings that go directly to the bottom line.


Another capability that has become a reality through digitization is the ability to store, process and organize data from dispersed geographies all in one place – the cloud. Besides the ability to access this data from anywhere, it has empowered industries to correlate and analyze data from different sources in real-time, thus providing powerful actionable business insights.


Internet of Things is a term that is becoming universally understood – in large part because it is digitizing and transforming the distribution industry. Even though the concept of digitization of commerce is mature, research shows companies have deployed IoT solutions to solve only some of their industrial needs. These enterprises can leverage IoT and edge computing to its maximum potential to improve productivity, create safer working conditions and trim costs intelligently.


IoT has evolved significantly since 1982. And we are just beginning to make good on the promise of that Coke machine. Learn more about how Cloudleaf is enabling the digital edge and in-turn helping “Digitize the Physical World.”