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We are fast moving towards a future where cities will feature hundreds and thousands of smart connected objects, talking to each other, exchanging and producing meaningful data and insights, basically reshaping the urban landscape into intelligent and autonomous systems. Internet of Things will be at the heart of this technological transformation, as sensors and digital tags will find their way into various physical city infrastructure, monitoring traffic, weather, crime and even rat infestations! However, it’s not just hardware IoT and sensors that will provide city planners and authorities to gain more visibility into the working and management of a city. Smart connected products or ordinary consumer products tagged with digital ID’s and digital twins can open up new dimensions in how we imagine Smart Cities to function.

For the sake of painting a picture of the role of connected products within Smart Cities, let’s consider a pharmaceutical company supplying critical drugs to a city. Enabling every drug product at batch and serial item level to have a digital twin of its physical self will allow for exchange of product related data to happen between manufacturer, the supply chain, the city authorities, end consumers and the products themselves. Read on to see how the pharmaceutical industry could look like in the not so distant future.

Smart Logistics & Traceability: Digitally tagged consumer products such as medical products will paint a clearer picture of each item’s journey from the manufacturing facility to the hands of a customer, resulting in intelligent movement of products characterized by autonomy. Each time a product moves, whether it’s from the factory to a truck, or from the truck to a warehouse, its location and movement will be logged against its digital twin in real time with the help of a scanner, RFID reader, smartphone or other connected devices.

So, when situations arise where brands or smart city authorities become aware of substandard or defective products in circulation, the process of factoring on the production source for them and a faster and leaner product recall will become easier by tracing back to the relevant point in the product’s journey.

Smarter Production & Distribution Channels: Smart connected products will help in procuring the right amount in the right place at the right time. Complete visibility at all events of the supply chain will allow brands to better predict demand in respective locations in a city. Better predictive ability will help them to create seamless intelligent systems capable of efficiently managing production and distribution channels, ultimately leading to reduction of wastage by preventing accumulation of unused medicines.

In fact, brands will be able to predict demand on a much larger scale than before. They will anticipate when a particular medicine is supposed to run out at the city-level and trigger production cycles for the particular product.

Smarter response to Public Health Crises: With IoT powered smart products, the engagement and the monitoring does not stop at the customer level. Even after the product leaves the shelf, customers can input valuable data through the digital twins which can be mined into to tailor smarter responses to public health emergency situations.

For example, city authorities will be aware of exactly how many medical products are in inventories across the city by keeping track of their movement across every touchpoint in the supply chain. In situations where a contagious disease breaks out, public health officials will be instantly alerted by hospitals that are also hooked onto the network. By keeping track of the quantity and location of stocks of medicines dispersed across city, public health officials will always be prepared to tackle such high priority situations as they can more efficiently assess and redirect required medicines to appropriate locations.

Even smarter, cities of the future could be prepared for seasonal illnesses by predicting their onset based on algorithms derived from a mix of data from weather forecasts, hospital reports and product supply chains.

Smarter Citizens: Digital twins will give rise to smarter citizens, who will be capable of using smartphones to digitally interact with the packaging in order to obtain accurate information pertaining to authenticity, ingredients, color-coded expiry dates, instructions for use (IFU) etc. Not only will digital twins of medical products enforce transparency, but they will help in improving health literacy by weeding out counterfeits and providing easy-to-read and user-friendly formats to dispense IFUs.

Medical products empowered by IoT will also lay the foundations for a multiway communication channel between consumers, manufacturers, and city authorities, especially aiding researchers to collect and analyze feedbacks for clinical trials and development of new cures.

Smarter ways to tackle Counterfeits: Falsified medical products take the top spot in the fraudulent products market, being worth US$163 billion to $217 billion per year. Falsified, substandard and unlicensed medicines and medical devices pose a serious threat to public health. Counterfeit medicines are on the rise and no place remains untouched by them.

However, medical products with digital twins can have vast implications in fighting the war against falsified medical products. The sophisticated digital tags on these products can act as a unique identifier, at the same time providing a user-friendly way to verify their authenticity. Both retailers and consumers just need to authenticate the product using the digital tag which will allow it to confirm the product’s genuineness by running it against an online database.

Going one step further by taking advantage of a highly connected ecosystem, fraudulent products can instantly be reported by consumers directly to manufacturers and city authorities. City authorities can thus keep track of regions in the city reporting counterfeits and crack down on the sources for such illegal operations.

The goal of smart cities is to create intelligent urban spaces and infrastructures to improve the lives of their citizens. But the first step towards this goal is to set up digital twins for products to bring them onto the Internet of Things platform. For these automated and intelligent systems would be impossible without various products generating and transmitting data about themselves. At this point, we have barely scratched the surface with IoT’s potential to create smarter cities, and smart connected products will lead the way in laying the foundation for the cities of the future.

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Internet of Things is the talk of the town over in construction, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and home automation. But we are yet to fully tap into the potential of IoT driven solutions to trigger disruption in and deliver value to the consumer retail industry.

Enabling smart attributes and inter-connectivity to store assets can have a plethora of exciting applications: engaging customer experiences, leaner and more efficient store operations, products and services as well as opening up of new streams for revenue generation. According to Zebra Technologies, 7 out of 10 retail brands will be investing in IoT technology by 2021 and a few have already begun rolling out IoT powered smart stores and services. With more and more retailers looking to reimagine every aspect of their supply chain with technology, let us look at some future possibilities for IoT in the retail industry :

1. Creating Experiences with Lighting

Lighting devices are an ubiquitous presence inside any retail store and connected smart lighting can do more than save energy. Emerging technology is exploring avenues to utilize connected and automated smart lighting for retail displays to create superior customer experiences and indoor positioning, expanding the horizon for an experiential store.

Retail giant Carrefour partnered with Philips to install LEDs in one of their hypermarkets in Lille, France. Enabled with Visible Light Communication (VLC) technology, these LEDs emit a code which is readable by any camera on a smartphone, connecting the smartphone to a digital experience provided by the store. Customers can then locate items on their shopping list using the indoor positioning activated by the LEDs, experiencing an in-store navigation system.

2. Smart Packaging and Digital Labeling

Under the constant pressures of demands for more consumer transparency and capricious regulations, brands and retailers are running out of space on the physical packaging of products to put relevant information. IoT will play a major role in the future of the labeling and packaging industry as brands turn to technology to solve challenges related to packaging.

QLIKTAG Software is providing solutions using their IoT platform to enable all products to have a globally unique identifier “QLIKTAG” and hence a digital twin, allowing “dumb” products to have a presence in and participate in the Internet through smart devices. These digital tags, consisting of barcodes, QR codes and Data matrix codes, pave the way for a vast variety of digital interactions like better stock and inventory management throughout the supply chain, product traceability all through its lifecycle, consumer transparency in multiple languages, product authentication, consumer feedback, insight and analytics as well as better consumer engagement experiences. Brands also save on costs incurred in reprinting and repackaging as these digital tags allow real time edits and updates of label content remotely.

3. Smarter Inventory Management Solutions

The future of retail will see increased integration of technology into brick and mortar stores and a more connected ecosystem giving rise to sophisticated experiences for both customers and retailers. IoT will enable the development of smarter inventory management solutions that will be capable of detecting and solving out-of-stock situations on its own.

WiseShelf is converting shelves in retail stores into smart shelves to address the issue of shelf out-of-stock incidents. Equipped with light sensors, the shelves can detect when an item is removed from the shelf and send alerts to the management application through WiFi when it assesses low levels of stock. Apart from leading to more efficient restocking operations and inventory management, these smart shelves are also freeing up employees to engage in more customer interactions. They are also providing key data and analytics on popularity of products, enabling better design of store layout in accordance to foot traffic.

4. Automated Events Of Supply Chain

Plenty of countries are plagued by an ageing population and rising labor costs and retailers as a result are turning to digital solutions to reinvent supply chains. Panasonic in partnership with Trial Company Inc. conducted a demonstration experiment for an automated self-checkout system with RFID tagged shopping baskets and products. The smart shopping baskets are capable of calculating the total cost and the number of items in the basket due to the RFID tags, generating your bill when you place it on the checkout counter. Not only does it allow automated billing, but on being placed on the self checkout counters, the bottom of the basket can open up releasing all contents into a bag, which the customer can collect and leave.

5. Facilitating Omni-channel Retailing

In order to consolidate online shopping practices with in-store ones, retailers are looking to ingrain technology into physical stores for a seamless customer experience. Ralph Lauren launched interactive fitting rooms in its flagship store in Manhattan, furnished with RFID tagged interactive mirrors. Powered by retail technology platform Oak Labs, the mirrors automatically detect and display the clothing items brought into the room along with available sizes, colors and recommendations for a complete look. Enriching the entire digital experience, customers also have the option to call an associate on the floor to the fitting room, to bring more items to try out for example.

6. Reducing Food Wastage and Spoilage

IoT could have vast implications in reducing global food wastage and spoilage, especially at the retail level. Wasteless, a startup from Israel, has successfully implemented IoT enabled digital pricing labels in an international Spanish retail store in an effort to reduce food waste. Using data regarding expiry dates encoded into the barcodes or RFID tags on labels, Wasteless’s platform enables a dynamic pricing system with the cost of the product dependent on its freshness, becoming cheaper as it nears its expiry date. The platform has led to reduction of waste by 33%, better inventory management and monitoring of products in terms of their expiry dates to reduce out-of-stock incidents as well as improved sales by allowing customers a more dynamic pricing range to shop from.

7. Food Traceability and Quality Control

The entire food supply chain will see a transformation as IoT enabled sensors and smart devices will become more common to track and optimize each supply chain event. With more demands for fresher food products and sustainable sourcing, these sensors will be able to collect and transmit relevant information like location, temperature etc to all supply chain stakeholders in real time. Consumers buying at retail stores can scan digital tags like QR codes, Data matrix codes or RFID tags on packaging to get assurance about the quality and provenance of the food product.

Zest Labs is working to improve real time visibility for farm to shelf at all levels of the supply chain. Their unique ZIPR code (Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing) enables real time tracking and monitoring of the actual freshness of each pallet of food product, using a combination of wireless IoT sensors and cloud based predictive analytics and machine learning. The result is in supply chain managers being able to make better decisions about sending a particular pallet across a certain distance based on its freshness, thus preventing food spoilage in-transit.

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