The Internet of Things in the real world Exploring IoT in transportation, agriculture, industry and more

27 September 2017

The Internet of Things touches diverse sectors, from agriculture to health to automotive. How is IoT helping farmers irrigate better? How are the lessons from retail being applied to health care? How is the auto industry handling all this data? Tanya Ott finds out how IoT is transforming the world.

JOSHUA KLAPOW: The creepiness of this could make even the most sane person very scared and somewhat paranoid: Oh, my goodness, who’s looking at everything that I do and what are they doing to me?
SCOTT CORWIN: Airplanes have been able to fly on autopilot for a very long time, and in the military, they’re increasingly using unmanned vehicles and doing so with great success. It’s not surprising that it would find its way into passenger automobiles.
GARY MCMURRAY: There’s going to be winners and losers. Unfortunately, that’s just the way technology is, and hopefully, whatever industries are displaced, there will be new ones come to fill it.

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TANYA OTT: We’re talking about the Internet of Things today in the Press Room. Strap on your seat belt because we’re going on a ride.

I’m Tanya Ott and this is the Press Room, Deloitte Insights’ podcast on the issues and ideas that matter to your business. By some estimates, there are 20 billion Internet of Things devices in the world. If you understand IOT, that probably doesn’t surprise you. But if you’re still a little confused about just what IOT is, here’s some insight.

The Internet of Things is actually a network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings, and other things—that are embedded with sensors and use software and Internet connectivity to collect data and exchange data with other objects. IOT devices are in everything from cars and smart thermostats to baby monitors and fitness trackers.

It’s early morning and the fog is out, the sun is just starting to come up, and I’m on my regular walk. I’ve got my recording equipment—which I don’t normally carry—the neighbors may think I’m a little crazy. I’ve got my fitness tracker, which I always wear. And I’m ready to rack up those steps. I only hit about 2,500 yesterday, so gotta do a lot better today.

Millions of us own fitness trackers or smart watches. We use them to track steps, heart rate, sleep patterns. They collect a whole lot of data that interests folks [such as] Joshua Klapow. He’s a psychologist and behavioral scientist. He says some companies use IOT data like your mom or grandma used to use Green Stamps. Remember those? You bought some groceries, got some Green Stamps, and then you traded them in for a prize. My mom bought me my first fancy bedspread with Green Stamps.

JOSHUA KLAPOW: When we looked at health care, we said, “Well yes, we should all be doing these behaviors because they’re good for us.” But from a behavioral standpoint, with many of these behaviors, there’s not an immediate payoff. There’s an opportunity cost in doing these behaviors. It cost money to get our prescriptions. We may have to take time off work to go for an annual physical. Exercise is fun for some people and not for others.

The question really became: Why shouldn’t we apply the same sort of influencing agents in health that we’re applying in the retail world? 

TANYA OTT: Why not harness data from fitness trackers to encourage average people like you and me to make healthier choices?

JOSHUA KLAPOW: So, if you hit this many steps, when you log your activity at a certain major pharmacy chain in this country, you can log those steps and earn discount points for purchases in the store. 

TANYA OTT: When it comes to IOT in health, it’s not just about wearables and steps. It’s also about what you eat. And increasingly, kitchens are “connected.” 

JOSHUA KLAPOW: At the most basic level, they’re warning systems. Much like our digital security systems. So if my refrigerator temperature starts going up, if it gets warmer and warmer, if it’s connected via the app, then I’ll get a warning that [says], “Oh look, your refrigerator is now at 70 degrees. There’s something wrong.”

There can be things where there’s different sections of the refrigerator that may archive certain ingredients or certain products. When those products are removed, much the same way that we now check out using SKUs and barcodes, same sort of thing—there is no more milk in the refrigerator. Where is it going? This is where everybody gets scared and here’s what I would say to people: Ultimately, until your refrigerator knows what you’ve ingested, you probably don’t need to be worried that your refrigerator is going to give you a guilt trip about what you ate or didn’t eat because it doesn’t know what you ate or didn’t eat.

TANYA OTT: Glad my fridge doesn’t know about the glass of red wine and the bowl of chocolate ice cream I ate last night!

All this talk about food makes me think of another industry where IOT is taking hold: agriculture. Will Sarni leads the Water Strategy practice at Deloitte Consulting LLC. 

WILL SARNI: The move right now is toward delivering water when the crops need it and where they need it. Underpinning all of this is data acquisition and analytics and the ability to really understand what is required with respect to water needs in the field and delivering that through technology.

TANYA OTT: To see it in action, I drove down to Camilla, Georgia, to meet with Calvin Perry. This is a part of the state where cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans are a $71 billion a year enterprise. 1

CALVIN PERRY: Most of these communities, without agriculture, would not exist. Their tax base is heavily geared toward the land that’s zoned for agriculture. It’s based on the farmer buying a new truck. It’s based on him buying feed and seed. The agricultural impact on the rural economies down here, it’s just amazingly high.

TANYA OTT: But there’s a threat.

CALVIN PERRY: The Tri-State Water War is definitely on the mind of growers here. We’re on the battle lines, so to speak, of that war between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. It’s been ongoing, gosh, for 20-plus years. But I think there’s some urgency now to get some resolution.

TANYA OTT: Calvin Perry and his team of researchers at the University of Georgia are armed with a powerful tool—IOT.  

CALVIN PERRY: Sorry if it smells like a work truck.

TANYA OTT: It’s fine!

CALVIN PERRY: Gets a little sweaty in the summer.

TANYA OTT: We drive down a dirt road, passing a corn field on the left. That is the center of innovation.

CALVIN PERRY: We have this four tower center pivot system fitted with variable rate controls…

TANYA OTT: Let me translate. You’ve probably seen one of these things in a field before. It looks like a giant metal skeleton of a caterpillar. There are segments—this one has four—that are attached to long legs and wheels that can roll around a field. Sprinklers on the spine of the caterpillar—if caterpillars had spines—turn on and off to water the field. There are about 7,000 center pivots in the southwest corner of Georgia. That’s more than half of all center pivots in the state. But this one is special because it’s outfitted with IOT. 

CALVIN PERRY: Okay, we’re at the pivot point. This is the control panel where the user interfaces with it. You set the amount of application in terms of inches applied based on how fast you walk the center pivot around the circle. The sprinklers simply apply water at a constant rate. You can vary how fast it walks and turn sprinklers on and off. We’ll see that in a few minutes.

TANYA OTT: An Ag Specialist named BJ is at the controls.

CALVIN PERRY: He uploads a map from his desktop software. It shows the whole field. He has the zones and the rates of water that he wants to apply on that thumb drive. Saves it to a thumb drive, brings it here, uploads it…

TANYA OTT: This well puts out 500 gallons of water a minute and BJ can selectively turn off specific nozzles on the system as it travels over the field. They use IOT sensors to measure and collect temperature, soil conditions, and moisture. Those sensors send that data to the Internet and ultimately to the farmer. It’s a far cry from how watering is traditionally done.

CALVIN PERRY: Many farmers simply go on a schedule—I’ve got a calendar. I look at it. I irrigate every three days unless I get rain. Or they may say, “The university says I should irrigate this much based on my crop being this age.” Or they may kick the soil and look at it. Or, worst case, they look out and they look for stress. That’s the worst. You’re already losing yield if your crop is visually stressing. We should be applying water in more site specific or precise manners.

TANYA OTT: With IOT, a farmer can apply just the right amount of water to every individual zone. Perry says that can save, on average, 15 percent of the water that would have been applied without the IOT-connected watering system. With more technology and more sensors, there could be more savings.

CALVIN PERRY: What we’re working on—and I dare say no one else is—we want to link, in real time, the soil moisture conditions in the field, through the Internet, back to this controller on the center pivot, so that it’s making changes in the application rate based on what the real-time conditions are in the field.  

For example, two days ago, we got a rain. A pretty heavy rain. Different spots in the field respond to that rainfall differently depending on their soil type. Depending on the topography. If there are zones that today need irrigation and others don’t, those sensors can give us that feedback. Do it auto-magically through the Internet, back to the controller, and then the controller will only apply just the right amount and just the right zones that today need water. Maybe last week it was in a different arrangement of zones. 

TANYA OTT: What’s the barrier? What’s holding up the idea of linking the sensors that you have over here to the variable rate?

CALVIN PERRY: A limitation is cost. Sensors are not cheap. Variable rate is not cheap. Technology has a cost associated with it. But it’s also the learning curve. Some growers, just like all of us, are a little shy with advanced, new technology. 

TANYA OTT: My grandfather, who passed in the late ‘70s, was a farmer in Iowa. He would look at this and would never have conceived something like this. I would love for you to take out your crystal ball. Put us 40 years, 50 years, whatever you want, in the future—where does this IOT in agriculture movement go?

CALVIN PERRY: Where I see it going? Easily, labor is a major issue in all parts of the world, so we’re going to see things that are more autonomous, where labor is not required. We’re going to see things that make decisions for us if we trust them to do that. Hopefully, the technology, as it progresses, will become so reliable that we’ll have full confidence in letting an irrigation decision or a spray decision or a lane decision—if it’s our car—happen for us. 

TANYA OTT: We’ve left the farm and now we’re in my driveway somewhere in suburbia. When I back out, there’s a camera that helps me make sure I won’t hit my neighbor’s mailbox. My car also has windshield wipers that turn on when they get even the slightest hint of rain. These days, the average car has dozens Internet of Things sensors. 2

SCOTT CORWIN: We are getting to the point that, in the not-too-distant future, through vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies and sensors and the ability to detect where things are, every vehicle will know where every other vehicle is, as well as where they are in relationship to the fixed environment they’re moving in.

TANYA OTT: That’s Scott Corwin. He leads Deloitte’s Future of Mobility initiative. What he’s describing is the birth of the autonomous vehicle revolution. Even though Google has driven more than 2 million miles in self-driving cars, consumers are more than a little bit wary. A recent survey of nearly 2,000 registered voters found that 43 percent of them believe autonomous cars are not safe. 3In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds were the only age demographic where more people thought driverless cars were safe than those who thought they were dangerous. 4

SCOTT CORWIN: The technology actually works, and it’s been demonstrated to work. Interestingly, there are some analogs. Airplanes have been able to fly on autopilot for a very long time, and in the military, they’re increasingly using unmanned vehicles and doing so with great success. It’s not surprising that it would find its way into passenger automobiles.

TANYA OTT: Right now, these cars are still in testing—on public roads in California, Texas, and a few other states. By some estimates, self-driving cars could potentially save up to 400,000 lives a year by eliminating human driver error. 5  

SCOTT CORWIN: When we get to a point when there’s a reasonable number of these vehicles on the road, and we reduce the number of accidents, a couple of things can happen: One is that the weight and mass of these vehicles can come down dramatically—particularly in urban areas where you’re not driving that quickly. In addition, the spatial distance between them can shorten because they will know exactly where they are in relationship to every other vehicle, and they’re moving together, and that will help with congestion. 

If you take weight and mass out of the vehicle, it allows for electrification; so battery-powered or electric vehicles become way more viable in the sense that you don’t need nearly as large a battery and you can go further on a single charge. Particularly in urban environments, you’re going to begin to see significantly greater electrification.

TANYA OTT: If there’s someone who knows about driving in urban environments, [it] is Gary McMurray. He lives in Atlanta—which earlier this year grabbed the dubious distinction of being the eighth most congested city in the world, with [an] average commuter spending roughly 71 hours in traffic each year. 6

But Gary’s not just an expert because he drives in Atlanta. He’s also associate director for industry at Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines. I ask him: 20 years from now, if I hovered above Atlanta, would I see what looks like a bunch of ants all moving at the same speed, surging and then slowing, surging and slowing…

GARY MCMURRAY: Right. And that’s how things would actually flow better. When you look at all the studies, they all show very clearly that if you can keep all the vehicles moving at about the same speed, the chances of a wreck drop dramatically and the volume through is much better. It’s when you start getting disparate speeds—that causes the problems.

TANYA OTT: Gary McMurray says right now the biggest challenge to this “future vision” of transportation is there are so many Internet of Things sensors—on vehicles, on roads—and that is a mountain of data!

GARY MCMURRAY: We’ve never tried to move data from so many different vehicles all at the same time in somewhat of a time critical manner. If I’m a vehicle driving down an interstate and there’s an accident or something’s happened, I need to be slowing down. That’s not something where you can tolerate a five second or even a few second delay because of the Internet—you’re a little blip in the wireless. This is something you need to know sometimes in milliseconds—that car in front of me just hit its brakes.

The other thing that makes that problem really difficult is when you have events—when you have weather events. All we have to do here in Atlanta is say the word “ice storm” and everybody’s blood pressure shoots up 20 points because we went through that experience years ago where the cold weather came much faster than anticipated. When the snow happened, it froze over immediately. We went from perfectly drivable roads to iced-over roads in 30 minutes.

How would a system be able to respond to that? You’ve got all of these situations occurring and you’ve got accidents occurring because of the ice. You’ve got so much congestion because everybody let out at the same time. Everybody let out at, I think, 1:30 or 2:00, the school systems, the companies. How would you handle that much volume instantaneously? And move around? That’s an incredible amount of data, an incredible amount of processing in a short period of time, and it has to be very dynamic because of the conditions that are changing. It’s a critical problem.

TANYA OTT: But, while some see problems, McMurray sees opportunity. He imagines high-speed traffic lanes where autonomous vehicles traveling 150 miles per hour carry the luggage of airline travelers. It would decrease the time it takes to check-in, clear security, and board a plane. And your bag could be delivered to your hotel or the front door of your home.  

GARY MCMURRAY: There’s going to be a lot of new businesses that come out of this. There’s going to be winners and losers. Unfortunately, that’s just the way technology is, and hopefully, whatever industries are displaced, there will be new ones come to fill it. If there’s anything history has taught us, it’s that we actually replace it with more jobs. We create more opportunities that provide a better life for people. I’m optimistic about these things. It’s still a great future.

TANYA OTT: With some caveats.

SEAN PEASLEY: The risk is definitely real. 

TANYA OTT: Sean Peasley is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Cyber Risk Services practice. He’s responsible for the consumer and industrial products group. His research partner, Irfan Saif, leads the Technology, Media, and Telecom practice. They’re quick to point out that even today IOT devices are so common, in everything from fitness trackers to factories, that they’re becoming targets.  

IRFAN SAIF: Industrial control systems have actually been compromised in a production environment. In that case, it was physical damage sustained. 

SEAN PEASLEY: There was an incident several years ago where there was physical damage to various different control units for a given nation state.

TANYA OTT: I’m sorry. Can I stop you for a second? Because you guys are obviously really familiar with this case and I’m not—and I know you probably can’t go into details…

SEAN PEASLEY: In the first case, a country’s industrial control system—[there was] a penetration of their environment and malware infected their environment. It infected the industrial control systems related to their nuclear enrichment program.

IRFAN SAIF: The second one was a manufacturing facility in Germany where there was failure with one of the IOT devices, part of the control system framework. When that device failed, it did not fail in a safe manner. It failed in a way that caused a furnace to stay open, which caused part of the plant to overheat. That caused a fire and it caused significant damage. So another different example, but an example of where not always data loss being the concern. There could be actual physical damage, loss of life—those kinds of things that could be the negative ramifications of cyber breaches with these kinds of technologies.

TANYA OTT: The Internet of Things. So much potential and a lot of risk, especially during the early years. We’ve just scratched the surface on all of the things company leaders should think about when considering deploying IOT. Many of the people you heard in this podcast today have so much more to say. We’ve collected some of their most interesting ideas and observations and you’ll find them on our website,

When you find something that makes you think—something that makes you smarter—be sure to share it! Tell your colleagues, tweet about it, and tag us at @DeloitteInsight. Note, that’s “Insight,” the singular—gotta save those characters. 

I’m Tanya Ott. Thanks for listening and have a great day!

This podcast is provided by Deloitte and is intended to provide general information only. This podcast is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information about Deloitte, go to