The internet of things and digital transformation have a key role to play in achieving UN sustainability goals, a new joint white paper released on Monday by the IoT Alliance Australia and the Industrial Internet Consortium says.
While existing IoT projects already contribute to UN sustainability development goals (known as SDGs) as outlined in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2018 report on the Internet of Things Guidelines for Sustainability, the authors of the whitepaper say that when it comes to achieving these goals, IoT’s impact is more far reaching than would first be apparent.
There are 17 UN sustainability goals ranging from increasing health and wellbeing, ensuring peace and justice and reducing inequalities, to acting on climate change, enabling clean energy and water, and creating sustainable cities to the most visceral of goals: ending poverty and hunger.
The report, which has been authored by Peter Klement (Associate Partner, DXC Technology), Frank Zeichner (CEO, IoT Alliance Australia), Brian Subirana (Director, MIT Auto-ID Lab), Asif Gill (Director, UTS DigiSAS Lab), notes that although IoT itself is but one aspect of digital transformation, it is also the enabler of a wider range of related technologies.
From drones, artificial intelligence, cloud services and connectivity, to robotics and electric vehicles, IoT brings together a range of technologies that can contribute to achieving sustainability goals, say the authors of the whitepaper.
The white paper describes digital transformation as, “adapting to change using digital technologies”. As digital technologies mature, they can be applied to business methodologies to enable transformation.
This would typically follow a path from customer experience, through business model innovation, to operational excellence and employee experience, the paper says.
For example, customer experience can be improved by giving customers information on goods availability. This reaches into the business model by redefining how the business sells its goods, such as moving from selling flight hours instead of jet engines.
In terms of best-in-class operations, businesses can utilise IoT technologies to automate certain tasks.
The paper gives intelligent mining trucks operating autonomously as an example, but this concept could extend to autonomous taxis such as Tesla’s planned “robotaxis” as laid out by CEO and co-founder Elon Musk.
With Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, the use of IoT technology via its Full Self Driving software and integrated programming to fulfil the tasks of an autonomous taxi system certainly fits the bill this paper seeks to describe.
In industries where previously manual tasks are automated, this is where employee experience comes in – as businesses automate, there can be a loss of enjoyability in the work environment.
The paper however focuses on priorities of some industries, such as mining where safety is paramount and manufacturing, which values productivity. In these terms, the paper proposes that aspects of employee welfare can be monitored via sensors in vests or helmets.
Examples given by the paper include:
- Global Mining Operator: Mine sites are dangerous working environments and most organizations in the industry have a strategic goal of zero harm. Worker fatigue affects the safety of mine operations. Fatigue has many contributing factors and predicting it is difficult. Hence, guidelines are provided to the employees and preventative fatigue management programs are implemented. Available health data, including real-time sensor data in personal protective equipment can be correlated using machine learning to allow for near real-time prediction of fatigue risk. This is aligned with UN SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being.
- Industrial Equipment Hire Company: Amongst other assets, industrial clients hire diesel generators from an industrial equipment hire company for use in regular operations or whenever the electricity grid has an issue. Diesel generators have a large carbon footprint. Through sensor data and AI, generator fuel consumption can be minimized. Also based on consumption, carbon offset credits can be purchased to enable their clients to hire a carbon-neutral diesel generator. This supports UN SDG #13: Climate Action.
- Container Terminal Operations: Container terminals are traditionally dangerous working environments where people die. There is limited visibility around the corners inside the container stacks. Straddles are 65-ton vehicles that bring containers from point A to point B. Just imagine a straddle colliding with a forklift. An Australian operator equipped the container terminal with sensors and removed the straddle driver thereby converting them to autonomous straddles. IoT sensor data, combined with data analytics allowed the Australian operator to reduce its injury rate by over 95% within one year of introducing these digital technologies which supported UN SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being.
- Smart Farming: Sugar cane farming requires intensive work from farmers. Because of aging farmers and a younger generation avoiding manual work, farming faces a serious problem: a lack of workers. To solve this problem, an agriculture company in Thailand, with six sugar mills, four ethanol generation plants and around 5,000 contract sugar cane farmers, devised a smart farming solution, using GPS, sensors and autonomous tractors. This example illustrates typical challenges of adoption of IoT technologies in developing countries. The company needs to use expensive radio frequency, because IoT networking technology is not yet available in Thailand. Market adoption of smart farming solutions are difficult, due to the required investment, the difficulty of farmers understanding the benefits of the solution and not having the necessary skills to operate the solution. Solving those issues for IoT adoption in developing countries could contribute to solving the problem of a decreasing work force.
Bridie Schmidt specialises in writing about new technology and how it can help solve the problems of carbon emissions and climate change. With a degree in Communications from Macquarie University, and 20 years experience in front end web development, she has freelanced as a web and graphic designer since 2001. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. You can email Bridie at [email protected].