The Internet of Things: What it is, and how it’s changing Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — So much of the world around us, is connected to the internet. Smartphones, smarthomes, appliances, even our vehicles use millions of sensors that fill the environment around us, that we can’t even see.
As the technology has aged, it’s become less expensive, and that means it is within reach for businesses looking for ways to enhance efficiency and improve products for consumers.
In recent years, as more things have become connected to the internet, a term has emerged: The Internet of Things. IOT is essentially is the phrase applied to all of the physical things that are connected to the internet, and more businesses are noticing its potential, and more state colleges know that it’s their role to make sure students are prepared to fill the need of these industries in Wisconsin.
Dr. Hal Evensen, a professor of Engineering Physics at UW-Platteville, recently held an Internet of Things Curriculum Workshop. Evensen’s goal was to not only collaborate with other system schools to see some of the things they were doing to prepare their engineering students, but also to bring in industry leaders to see what their needs were.
“We wanted to bring in industry, to find out what they’re trying to do now,” says Evensen. “What kinds of things do they wish new engineers had, what skills should our students be coming in with?”
Evensen expected just a handful of faculty and businesses to attend, but the response was overwhelming.
“We had much more than we were expecting,” adds Evensen. “They were telling me, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of this. Count us in.’ They see this as a really big deal.”
To many in the tech world, the internet of things is a new term, but the technology is not necessarily new, although its meaning is constantly changing.
A company in Sun Prairie, i3 Product Development, is in the business of improving products for its clients. One of Evensen’s former students, Morgan Lowery, serves as the company’s director of technology. While many of the products it develops are traditional, Lowery tells us about half are able to be connected to the internet, riding the wave to the IOT.
“We see a lot of larger very well established companies in that spot of, ‘Hey we have heard of the IOT, we feel like we need to do something on the internet of things, how is it going to affect our business?'”
The company has in recent years put together a sizable portfolio of products and product enhancements that connect to the internet, in ways the world only could have imagined 10 years ago. One product connects to grain carts on farms, to weigh crop yields and streamline massive amounts of data to a farmer’s smartphone or tablet.
Another product helps keep tabs on an elderly patient who may be battling dementia. Yet another allows an orthopedic surgeon to monitor a patient’s recovery remotely after a joint replacement, without requiring time-consuming, painful and costly office visits. These are just a few of the breakthrough type IOT-connected products that are life-changing.
“We’ve arrived at an age where we’re enabled to be able to do this kind of stuff,” says James Grogan, who serves as i3’s Director of Internet of Things (yes, that’s his job title!).
“You’re augmenting products with software, in order to add value to the end user. It’s amazing what we see here at i3. You know, every other new client that we talk to, we learn something new about a different way to implement this technology.”
That technology also means jobs. In fact the company has almost doubled its workforce since moving to its Sun Prairie location in 2015.
“We’re looking for mechanical engineers, software engineers, project managers, electronics and firmware guys,” says Grogan, “So we’re growing very quickly.”
Meanwhile on the other end, Evensen is hoping to provide students to keep up with that demand.
“This quickly went from a small academic exercise, and quickly grew into this big thing,” says Evensen. “I was really taken aback in a good way that industry was so interested in what we’re doing, because as an engineering educator, if we’re not, then why are we doing this? It’s really exciting to see.”
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