Sponsored: How Our World Is Changing as Companies Tap Into the Internet of Things

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When you bite into that grilled corn on the cob this summer, consider this: That delicious traditional treat is in many ways a product of the Internet Age.

Using emerging technology, John Deere is building farm machinery that not only plows and harvests, but also provides data to help farmers cultivate each ear of corn or bushel of grain ever more efficiently and cheaply.

Using computers, tablets or smartphones, growers can keep track of their equipment’s location, how many acres per hour they cover, how many bushels per acre their land yields now compared with past years, what’s in their soil, and when their machinery is due for maintenance. They can get the information while plowing the lower 40, sitting comfortably at home or attending their kids’ softball games far away from their fields.

Farmers today are under significant pressure to produce more with less, all while managing greater operational complexity,’ says Patrick Pinkston, a John Deere vice president. ‘Our goal is the same as it has always been: helping producers be more efficient and effective, and ensuring that they’re more profitable.

The next technological evolution

Pinkston’s remarks are part of a newly released report, the second in a series, by insurance giant AIG, about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it’s changing our world. In its first report, AIG explained how the Internet of Things, though still in its infancy, is the next big evolution in technology, offering new opportunities but also new risks. While 10 billion to 20 billion devices are now connected to the internet, that number could swell to 50 billion in five years.

The Internet of Things is far more than Fitbits tracking your steps or egg cartons telling you when it’s time to restock. AIG’s new report presents 11 case studies of companies transforming our world by tapping into the Internet of Things.

Of course, the Internet of Things has created upheaval. As it changes customer expectations, companies that once saw themselves as rivals are working together, changing the way they present products and services to you, the report says. Company risk managers have a tougher job than ever before. In an AIG poll, they named disruptive technology and cybersecurity as the top two concerns that keep them awake at night. But where there are risks, there are also opportunities.

‘While some companies may be losing sleep, others are capitalizing on the fact that twice as many U.S. consumers were optimistic about the Internet of Things than were fearful,’ writes Robert S. Schimek, CEO of AIG Commercial, in the report’s introduction.

Reducing on-the-job hazards

AIG studies the Internet of Things in part because changes in businesses operations could change the types of insurance they need, or AIG could change the insurance products it offers.

Take worker safety, for example.

AIG recently invested in Human Condition Safety (HCS), a startup company using the Internet of Things to help keep workers safe on the job, especially those in energy, manufacturing, warehouse and distribution, and large-scale construction.

More than 20 percent of worker fatalities in 2014 occurred in the construction industry, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) figures cited by AIG. The ‘fatal four’ — falls, electrocutions, strikes by objects and being caught in or between objects — accounted for nearly 60 percent of construction worker deaths.

On a construction site, if a worker wearing HCS sensors enters a danger zone — such as a blind spot around a piece of heavy machinery — the system can warn the worker to move away safely or automatically shut down the machine, AIG says. Site managers can use sensors to determine when to suspend work when severe weather is approaching.

Measuring and minimizing driving risks

The Internet of Things is starting to address access to transportation and its risks.

If you sign up for car2go in a major city, you can grab a Smart ForTwo car when you need to get around town instead of using your own car and paying for parking. Daimler, the carmaker, turned to IBM to help launch car2go, the on-demand car-sharing company, the AIG report notes. Using a smartphone app you can locate a car, reserve it and unlock it. Once inside the car, you enter your PIN on a keypad to start your trip and be on your way. The cost – which depends on the number of minutes of usage – is automatically charged to your credit card.

In addition to providing the convenience, sensors and wireless communications allow car2go to monitor individual vehicle performance and analyze data. Driver-specific data make it possible to offer insurance policies customized for the driver and trip instead of traditional policies based on data aggregated for all users, AIG says.

Daimler is also using the Internet of Things to make driverless Freightliner trucks. The first was unveiled last year in Nevada. The truck’s Highway Pilot System uses radar sensors, cameras and other devices to detect objects and lane markings and take over steering, braking and accelerating from the driver. AIG notes that a recent Daimler study found that assistance from onboard technology significantly reduces driver fatigue compared with driving a conventional truck. Besides improving safety, automated trucks will boost fuel efficiency by communicating with infrastructure and other road users, it says.

IoT transforming our world

Among the other case studies covered in the AIG report:

Whirlpool uses IBM Watson services to analyze how consumers use appliances, to fine-tune performance and to predict maintenance issues, keeping customers satisfied and reducing repair costs. A customer can even donate to the nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity via the appliance’s connections every time a load of laundry is washed.

Silverstein Properties, which owns commercial and residential buildings including 4 World Trade Center in New York City, deployed a mobile application allowing tenants to place and monitor work orders and requests, track the exact location of their building’s shuttle bus and receive emergency alerts.

US Bank is testing features that perhaps one day will allow a connected driverless car to pull up to a gas station and receive a fill-up without its owner needing to be there to swipe a credit card.

Microsoft’s Azure technology connects elevator provider ThyssenKrupp’s thousands of sensors and systems to monitor everything from motor temperature and shaft alignment to cab speed and door functioning. With real-time diagnostics, rich data visualization and Azure’s machine-learning capabilities, technicians can address problems before they cause a disruption.

‘The IoT will transform the world in which we live,’ AIG concludes. ‘Along with economic opportunity, IoT innovation brings with it new challenges and concerns that need to be taken into consideration. From cybersecurity to the ethics and liability issues that come with automation and loss of human control, companies must confront the contingencies that might arise.’

Discover the AIG report, ‘IoT Case Studies: Companies Leading the Connected Economy’, here.

What thoughts and concerns does the IoT spark for you? Share with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page or join in the discussion on Twitter with AIG’s #InnovativeTech site.

This article is the product of a partnership between Money Talks News and member companies of American International Group, Inc. Although this post is sponsored, the information and opinions expressed in the article constitute only my own beliefs.

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