2014 Mobile Future Forward Summit: The Golden Age of Mobile

Tom LeonidasBy Tom Leonidas, Jr., P.E., MBA

I recently attended the Mobile Future Forward Summit, held September 24th in Seattle. The annual event, in its fifth year, is a gathering of preeminent thought leaders in the mobile industry, envisioning the two to five year future of the industry and discussing the challenges and opportunities for shaping it.

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The Connected Intelligence Era

The mobile industry is skyrocketing in growth. The number of market players with market share of $1 billion per month or more jumped from nine to 35 in the last two years, and the number of digital retail players over $1 billion is increasing each year as well.

The theme of this year’s conference focused on “The Golden Age of Mobile,” a new cycle in the mobile market where machine intelligence is being combined with connectivity. To achieve this vision, the mobile industry is working on improving the interference environment, and wireless companies are focusing and investing in improved wireless network performance. Wireless devices will become multi-spectrum to work seamlessly between licensed and non-licensed frequencies, that is, a wireless mobile network and WiFi.

The wave of growth for mobile wireless is “connectivity adjacencies,” or putting mobile wireless technology in other devices, such as robots, automobiles, wearable health devices, and others. Industry leaders expect that we will see more robots and robotics enter our space, in both manufacturing capacities and in our homes. These devices will have enhanced intelligence and mobile wireless connectivity.

People + Computers

Connected intelligence does not herald the “robot takeover” of dystopian future tropes. This integration is rooted in the idea that people and computers are more powerful together. When computers first came onto the scene, they could beat a Grand Master at chess. Today, a ‘good’ human player with a laptop can beat the Grand Master. The paradigm is changing from thinking that computers will replace people to where people will exploit machine intelligence.
Qualcomm has developed a real example of this in their Micro Rover, which Matt Grob, Qualcomm EVP/CTO, presented at the conference.

micro rover

Image via QualComm.

The rover is 3D printed, powered by a smartphone, and controlled with an app. While this device itself is more a proof-of-concept than a useful piece of equipment, it reveals how the core technology of a mobile smart device’s computing power, combined with the agility of apps, can be adapted to the growing reach of robotics.

Industry Opportunities and Advances

It used to be that computer hardware drove applications. Today, the capability of applications drives innovation in the hardware and the network. The Internet of Things (IoT) movement, focused on connectivity between elements in the environment around us via real-time sensors, is getting focus and investment. Once connected, these elements can monitor information and intelligently convey that information to different sources for myriad purposes.

These kinds of advancements are changing the paradigm towards a “one ecosystem,” model of integrated hardware, networks, and applications; one can no longer take each component as a separate entity. Coupled with the diffusion of mobile wireless capability in devices, there is real opportunity for advancement in numerous different industries, for gains in efficiency, cost savings, and user experience.

Automobile Industry

The automobile industry shows huge interest and investment in sensor technology and wearable headset technology, such as Google Glass, for their potential to automate driving and improve safety. However, in a future where technology and humans will work together, developers are adapting the technology to human proclivities. For example, the technology and software in the self-driving Google Car allows very precise reaction time, enabling it to optimize the distance it leaves between itself and the vehicle ahead, say, a semi-truck.

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Self-driving car test: Steve Mahan, via youtube.com.

In a world where humans control their vehicles, a majority of drivers normally overcompensate and add more distance between their car and a semi. The Google Car’s level of precision can be discomforting for a driver, so Google has programmed it to add an additional 12-inches of cushion distance between the car and a semi-truck.

Industrial Sector

The industrial sector of the economy, which invests $32 billion annually in its manufacturing plants, has not previously embraced technology, mobile wireless, and the internet as other industries have, and is just now discovering how it can transform itself. The potential influence of technology is huge, and focused on software, analytics, and sensors.

For industrial applications, asset efficiency is key. Sensors monitoring real-time component performance as well as historical life-cycle information can predict component failure and improve maintenance downtimes, thus saving cost. The goal is to mitigate if not completely eliminate unscheduled maintenance, which is a considerable cost burden to many industries. Unscheduled maintenance costs the airline industry $45 million per day. Bill Ruth, VP of Global Software for GE, shared that GE and its customers could benefit substantially from the sensor-driven performance optimization of its turbine engines; a 1% fuel savings translates into a $5 billion a year savings for their customers. Impact like this is driving a rapid increase in putting real-time sensors in equipment.

Using technology for “outcome-based services,” is another focus in the industrial sector. GE provided an example of their use of sensors and technology in LNG plants, enabling them to now provide performance guarantees of 98% uptime over a specified number of years.

Transportation Industry

Hank Skorny, VP/GM of Software Services at Intel, shared that Intel is involved in a pilot project in Europe installing various traffic and acoustical sensors on street lights, turning them into monitoring points. The idea behind the pilot is that real-time sensors like this can help mitigate traffic and help police and first responders get where they need to be faster. Video from traffic cameras is distributed across a mesh network, and the acoustic sensors can detect the acoustical signature of an auto accident or a gunshot. Funding for public safety and transportation is massive and is driving Smart Cities Initiatives. Most cities lack sufficient police and first responders, so initiatives like this could prove beneficial on a wide scale.

Healthcare Industry

There is significant investment in wearable sensors for health and wellness, with the current trend in healthcare continuing toward sensor usage for monitoring and treating more chronic illnesses. Sensors are being developed to help focus stroke or physical rehabilitation to the most needed area, based on the sensors’ ability to indicate which areas are improving and which are not.

A company named Anthrotronix is focused on sensors and mobile apps to monitor brain health. Their core development is CosmoBot®, a small robot currently being used to help children with disabilities make gains in mental and physical function.

Today’s healthcare ecosystem is a rigid and sequentially stepped system of Diagnose-Treat-Follow Up. Tomorrow’s healthcare ecosystem will by dynamic, with wellness aided by the use of real-time implantable and wearable sensors. Sensors could provide early outcome indicators, or treat a patient without them knowing it. For example, there is research in developing an implantable sensor that can be placed in the blood stream that would be able to predict a heart attack before it happens.

The next frontier of development and expansion also includes the addition of mobile wireless technology. The top mobile wireless carriers are investing heavily in wireless usage in the healthcare field.

Computing and Networking

Professor Shyam Gollakotu from the UW Computer Science and Engineering Lab showed their research project where they have developed a computer that requires no batteries or power supply, but rather harvests wireless power through ambient backscatter from other sources. The use of harvesting wireless power from the environment consumes 10,000 times less power than traditional methods of providing on-board power supply to equipment. His example was two hand-held computing devices performing a financial transaction where the devices were harvesting wireless power from a TV tower in the background. He also showed an example of creating a WiFi network where the wireless access points harvested wireless backscatter power from other equipment.

A Bright Future

We see a clear trend in the development of sensor technologies that will be able to provide real-time information enabling actionable, automated steps to be taken and used to improve performance of machines. In the case of people and their health, sensors will be used to improve our performance through real-time monitoring of health indicators, with a focus on prevention. The mobile industry is providing the transport mechanism to allow data to flow freely and securely, and embedded in almost any technology. It is indeed a ‘Golden Age’ for the mobile industry and technology!

For more information on how these types of technologies might influence or impact your business, or to share your opinions on the future, please feel free to contact me at tleonidas@woodharbinger.com.

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