From medical breakthroughs to energy savings to increased crop yields, IoT is opening doors to new opportunities across every industry. In fact, according to the IoT Signals report, 88 percent of the companies surveyed said IoT is critical to their success.

As technology advances, IoT is becoming easier and more cost effective to deploy.  Microsoft Azure IoT continues to release enhancements designed to reduce complexity, enable repeatable solutions, and simplify provisioning at scale.

Below, we’ll explore how IoT is evolving and highlight some significant industry trends that are helping businesses transform and compete. To learn more, be sure to register for an IoT in Action event near you, and join the Microsoft AI@Edge community. Our next stop is on March 3/9 in Orlando. Register now!

The three waves of IoT evolution

Robyn Dunn, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft IoT, says that over the next three to five years, we’ll be seeing three waves of IoT evolution. The first wave, from which many companies are already benefitting, is connected devices that are gathering data from the surrounding environment and sending that data back up to the cloud. Innovations are making these implementations faster, simpler, and more secure.

The second wave, which is also currently underway, is the marrying of traditional IoT experiences with artificial intelligence (AI). According to Dunn, “One of the best predictors for getting ROI out of your IoT solution is the use of AI to generate insights from that data.” A good example is predictive maintenance which combines IoT and AI to help companies avoid equipment failures, increase uptime, boost productivity, and save money, among other benefits.

The third wave, which Dunn says is on the horizon, is devices interacting autonomously. Getting insights in an automated way lays the foundation for this third wave. But there’s a lot of cost and complexity. So, right now, Microsoft is focusing on creating solutions that require less customization and that are simpler and more affordable.

AI at the edge

One of the biggest trends right now is AI at the edge. Rather than relying solely on AI in the cloud, edge devices can now run AI locally to analyze and act on data, transmitting only what’s needed to the cloud for further analysis. AI at the edge offers multiple advantages, such as reduced latency and bandwidth requirements as well as real-time decision making.

The ability to perform inferencing on edge devices also helps solve privacy and regulatory challenges that arise when dealing with sensitive data sets, such as video data around retail shopper analytics. For example, retailers can IoT-connect security cameras that analyze and blur images locally, eliminating privacy concerns while also saving bandwidth by minimizing the data that’s uploaded to the cloud for further processing.

AI at the edge can even enable offline operations, which means, for instance, a farmer in a remote locale can use AI-enabled edge devices to monitor crops and take actions such as applying water or fertilizer without being cloud-connected. Together, AI at the edge and the cloud power expanded IoT usage scenarios, and by taking advantage of both, customers can achieve optimal solutions that maximize ROI.

Perception AI

Perception AI is all about detecting, analyzing, and acting on sensory inputs such as visual or audible signals. When combined with edge computing, perception AI can provide powerful benefits such as detecting issues in real time.

Today, vision AI is being used to analyze business data to make more informed decisions and is on track toward becoming commonplace within the next ten years. For example, vision AI can help retailers optimize in-store traffic flows. In security scenarios, vision AI can help identify and alert personnel to safety hazards and persons of interest.

Brownfield IoT

In many instances, it’s simply not feasible to replace existing infrastructure investments. Which is why many organizations are retrofitting their equipment with IoT sensors. These “brownfield” installations can save substantial money while accelerating return on investment.

Microsoft recently released a new guardian module that brings Azure Sphere security to brownfield IoT installations. The module facilitates secured operations between the device and the cloud. With a guardian module enabled by Azure Sphere, brownfield devices can deliver most of the security benefits of a device that has Azure Sphere embedded into its design. This means that companies can connect their existing equipment to the cloud with greater confidence and unlock scenarios related to areas like preventive maintenance and optimization. 

Expanding use cases

Businesses are leveraging IoT and AI technologies to deliver greater value, optimize operations, and increase security. For instance, cities are adopting solutions to keep citizens safer and manage infrastructure, facilities, and assets more cost effectively. The City of Houston is a prime example. They’re on a mission to create a safer, more connected, more resilient city.  Projects span transportation, public safety, disaster response, smart buildings, and more.

Healthcare is one of many industries that is taking advantage of IoT and AI. According to the IoT Signals report, 66% of all IoT initiatives in healthcare involve tracking patients, staff, and inventory. Other common use cases include remote device monitoring and service as well as remote health monitoring and assistance. For example, Children’s Mercy Hospital built an IoT solution on Azure Sphere that provides a more proactive way to remotely monitor babies born with congenital heart disease. Their solution collects vital signs and sends alerts if there are issues, enabling healthcare providers to deliver proactive care securely.

For more information regarding how IoT is enabling smart cities and smart healthcare, be sure to attend IoT in Action in Washington and Orlando.

Learn more at IoT in Action and join the Microsoft AI@Edge community

Are you ready to embrace the competitive benefits of IoT and AI at the edge? Register for IoT in Action, at a location near you, and discover how IoT is helping transform business across every industry. You’ll learn about the latest trends and future direction of IoT solutions. You’ll also connect with partners that can help you create a secure, sovereign, and flexible IoT solution that will position your business for success for years to come.

If you can’t make it in person, check out this collection of IoT in Action webinars. And be sure to join the Microsoft AI@Edge community which bundles together hardware, machine learning, and Azure services to help you start building solutions for the intelligent edge.

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