Our friends at GigaOm published this morning an essay written by none other than General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt, who suggests that the next technological phase is something he calls the "Industrial Internet," so defined as "an open, global network that connects people, data and machines."
The concept is much like another we've tossed around here on SmartPlanet -- the "Internet of Things" -- but the focus is slightly different. Most technologists discuss an Internet of Things with regard to many connected personal devices, from toasters to televisions; Immelt's "Industrial Internet" speaks more to the addition of intelligence -- via sensors and connected networking technology -- to take mechanical devices to the next level.
For a conglomerate like GE, which makes everything from locomotive engines to light bulbs, that means products (and the production line they're made on) that are smart enough to help themselves.
The Industrial Internet leverages the power of the cloud to connect machines embedded with sensors and sophisticated software to other machines (and to us) so we can extract data, make sense of it and find meaning where it did not exist before. Machines -- from jet engines to gas turbines to CT scanners -- will have the analytical intelligence to self-diagnose and self-correct. They will be able to deliver the right information to the right people, all in real time. When machines can sense conditions and communicate, they become instruments of understanding. They create knowledge from which we can act quickly, saving money and producing better outcomes.
The technology for this is here today, but Immelt says industrial demand for increases in productivity will help drive this market transformation, whether for healthcare or transportation or energy. The size of this opportunity? About $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030, he estimates -- "the equivalent of adding another U.S. economy to the world." (Well!)
But there exist hurdles, including standardization (technologically speaking) and security (because the last thing you want is your subway system hacked).
Immelt says the so-called Industrial Internet era has already begun. What do you think?
Photo: Immelt in 2009. (GE)