LAS VEGAS — You may have heard about the internet of cows, but we may soon see the internet of beds and the internet of nursery equipment. That was one of the predictions of Chris Lanier, Microsoft’s director of internet-of-thing commercial sales in a presentation Wednesday afternoon.
The internet of cows, a 2015 development, used Microsoft data analytics and machine-learning services to help dairy farmers track the health of their herds through WiFi-connected pedometers. The internet of nursery equipment was a reference to Mattel’s Microsoft Cortana-powered Aristotle home hub aimed at kids and parents, Lanier said later in an email.
As to the internet of beds — well, we’re just not sure. Whatever it might be, between voice-responsive refrigerators and radiation-proof boxer shorts, we’re getting hard to surprise. Lanier declined to provide details. (Update: Here‘s the apparent answer.)
He spoke at the AT&T Developer Summit on “Building solutions with Microsoft Azure IoT,” essentially providing an overview of Microsoft’s cloud-based IoT offerings. IoT refers to using sensors to collect data and then using cloud-based services to compile and analyze that data. Microsoft is pursuing IoT hard with its Azure public-cloud service, as is market-leading Amazon Web Services.
Between 30 billion and 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet within the next few years, Lanier said, and nearly 75 percent of companies are checking into IoT’s possibilities.
“We once thought we’d see the most opportunities in manufacturing, supply chain and fleet management, and there are massive opportunities there, but we’re also seeing them in agriculture, retail, finance and healthcare,” Lanier said. “It’s very exciting, and it’s here today.”
He stressed that IoT implementations can be built by hand or by using preconfigured offerings, available from Microsoft alone on Github or through its collaboration with AT&T. With preconfigured offerings, he said, “You simply do some fine-tuning on the device and the input side, and do a little bit of fine-tuning on the output and KPIs (key performance indicators) you want to watch, and you very quickly get time to value.”
Microsoft has generally moved strongly toward being more open under CEO Satya Nadella, and that’s true in its approach to IoT as well, Lanier said.
“Many customers suppose that when we talk about IoT, we’re talking about Windows-based devices,” he said. “We absolutely understand that the vast majority of IoT devices won’t be running Windows — they couldn’t even run Windows. So we have wide support for iOS, Android, virtually every version of Linux, real-time operating systems, REST APIs. And you can use the development language you want.”
Within the past few months, Microsoft has upped its IoT game, Lanier said, introducing:
- Available curated security audits of IoT infrastructures
- A rules-based engine that directs sensors’ data to various destinations depending on its content, eliminating the need for code to accomplish that
- A gateway software-development kit that allows some analysis of sensor data at or near the sensor, rather than requiring all data to be submitted to a centralized location for analysis
- A growing number of vendors whose devices play well with Azure, numbering more than 175 today.
Lanier said one unnamed Microsoft customer has added sensors to its elevators that let it monitor their health and perform maintenance before problems occur.
“We see this across very many types of scenarios: office chairs, printers, refrigerators,” he said.