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All ‘Things’ Considered

Michigan’s role in bringing value to the Internet of Things 

By Audrey LaForest 

Page 48

Everyday products — from the lamps and coffee maker in your home to your car and even the floors you walk on — are increasingly getting connected to the internet and communicating with each other.

These connected, physical devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT), a fast-growing market where global spending is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020, according to research firm International Data Corp, and its infiltrating nearly every industry.

As businesses in retail, health care, manufacturing and automotive prepare for a fully connected future, Michigan is positioned for an essential role in the making of these “things.”

“Manufacturing and design is the core of Michigan’s economy,” said Rick DeVos, founder and CEO of Start Garden, a Grand Rapids-based venture capital fund and startup ecosystem. “This has been true for more than a century. In order to maintain its leadership position in the national economy, Michigan’s industrial leaders have to look beyond their own walls and proactively seek out new technologies and business models that will introduce new value and have an impact on people’s lives.”

Mike Morin, Start Garden’s chief operating officer, said the line between what’s digital and physical is going away, and Michigan companies can bring new value to consumers.

“We don’t necessarily have to be the people who invented the sensors,” he said. “I think we’re going to be the people to figure out how to most effectively use them in a meaningful and profitable way.”

The Seamless Consortium: Collaborating with Startups

Last March, Start Garden and its partners — Steelcase, Faurecia, Meijer, Amway, Priority Health and Spectrum Health — formed the Seamless Consortium, a collaboration of major global enterprises that are working with IoT startups that enter its Seamless Accelerator program. The 12-week program focuses on commercializing technologies for early-stage startups that converge with the built environment where Consortium partners are global leaders.

The first cohort of Seamless included IoT companies such as AlSentis, a touchtechnology company based in Holland, Mich.; Haas, a Chicago-based company that’s working with Chicago and Grand  Rapids fire departments for early detection of emergency vehicles; and Scanalytics, a Milwaukee-based company that uses intelligent floor sensors to monitor foot traffic and analyze consumer behavior. Robert Huber, vice president of innovation at Faurecia, said the automotive parts manufacturer has already had success partnering with a Seamless startup.

Hoana, the Honolulu-based company that’s working on LifeBed, a sensor-rich product that can track a patient’s vital signs and alert hospital staff to any changes without the need for wires or connections, shared its sensor technology with Faurecia for use in the Active Wellness seat in automobiles.

“(The sensors) can monitor your heart rate and respiration rate,” Huber said of Active Wellness, the connected seat that monitors things on a real-time basis. “It’s also unique because they can do it in a road environment, which is not easy to do when you think of all the vibrations and potholes. … They can eliminate all of the noise … and get accurate data.”

Hoana’s sensor technology, Huber explained, can cross into industries outside of health care and automotive, such as office furniture companies like Steelcase.

“So, there’s a great example of a technology that came through Seamless that’s going to impact all of our industries, and we can collaborate and help to create a more comprehensive system that can bring value to the end consumer,” Huber said. “The focus on user experience has to continue to grow and be a strength of this region.”

Connectivity and Optimization: Translating Data to Results

Grand Rapids-based Modustri, a company that provides innovative solutions to solve problems for the heavy equipment, transportation, infrastructure and energy industries by applying leading edge technologies, has seen firsthand how mobile and sensor technology is changing behaviors and enabling companies to plan further ahead. “Putting computers into things isn’t a new idea. The auto industry has been doing it for decades,” said Brian Steketee, Modustri’s founder and CEO. “The difference is the intelligence and connectivity of these devices, as well as our ability to track, analyze and make sense of the data they produce.”

Optimizing and maintaining equipment are among some of the greatest challenges for business owners and fleet managers, Steketee said, with a machine’s undercarriage representing up to half the maintenance costs of a machine over its lifetime.

But instead of allowing the machine to “wear to the point of destruction,” he said, companies can proactively monitor wearing parts by utilizing smart, connected weband mobile-based measurement platforms, such as Modustri’s HDE product suite (now known as CWMS or Cat Wear Management System), which includes solutions like the Wear Measurement Device and the HDE Inspection Application.

“By taking this data to their dealer before their machines start showing signs of trouble, they’ll save thousands of dollars by proactively monitoring undercarriage wear rates and … further understand the health of their equipment.”

Through predictive maintenance, Modustri is propelling equipment manufacturers like CAT to bring new value to their dealers and customers, Steketee said, which “builds awareness, increases efficiency and lowers long-term ownership costs of heavy equipment.”

“Michigan companies that are engaging with this smart, connected future are at the forefront of enabling smarter business operations, leaner supply chains, new business models and more informed decision-making,” Steketee said.

As demand for smarter, more connected items grows, Steketee said, Michigan is well-positioned to develop the next generation of products and to be a leader in this IoT era. But to succeed, it’ll take a strong investment community, partnerships between Michigan’s legacy enterprises and smaller startups, and a renewed focus on the local talent and value that already exists in the state’s development community.

“Michigan has to transition itself from just the place that makes things to an economy that designs and creates people-centered environments that serve people whose lives are highly integrated and are constantly in transition,” DeVos said. “If we understand that life is the hand-off of people between environments, we can begin to answer the more detailed questions that will lead to success in the era of the Internet of Things.”

Audrey LaForest is a metro Detroit freelance writer.