If there was a single conceptual buzz at the just concluded IOT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, Spain it was how artificial intelligence (AI) might allow connected devices, aka the internet of things (IoT), to analyze incoming data and react to it autonomously, an approach that is being dubbed AIoT.

While AIoT is still an evolving notion, it aims to build a closer link between information technology (IT) and operating technology (OT), a marriage that the OT side often has been reluctant to consummate. Real-life circumstances are driving the need, however. A somewhat extreme example that might be described as AI at the edge involves locomotives that are increasingly being operated remotely without the benefit of an onboard crew.

A remote control operator (RCO) costs significantly less than a trained engineer and may even handle a workload that formerly required two or three people onboard.

In certain regions of the world, the multiple locomotives used for a mile-long train may be out of touch for days with datalinks like cellular networks. The problem, relates Mark Kraeling, solutions architect for GE Transportation, is that the locomotives are sometimes the target of thieves, as each one may carry as much as 17,000 liters of fuel.

AI can autonomously monitor fuel sensors, and if it detects a sudden fuel drop, dispatch a drone from the locomotive to investigate – a move that often is enough to scare off would-be bandits in pickup trucks. (Can a weaponized locomotive with AI riding shotgun be far behind?) This is where the cyberworld meets real life.

Meanwhile, creating a direct link between a virtual asset and a physical one is the goal of a large-scale industrial IoT transformation at Volvo. According to Julien Bertolini, the marques’ IoT expert, Volvo has switched automation gears to an approach that grants autonomy to software users so that they can solve their own problems, as opposed to having it done by a centralized solution center. Any shop-floor user is able to connect to any piece of industrial equipment and visualize the data on a modern interface. The project is still ongoing as Volvo creates a digital twin for plant operations that will include the increased use of AI.

Ultimately, the goal is to allow AI to react quickly and autonomously to the mountains of data collected by sensors during the manufacturing process, for example. Applications also are foreseen in other fields like building security, well-represented by a myriad of companies on the exhibit floor. Generative AI is seen as the operating language for communication between humans and AIoT.

The IOT Solutions World Congress (May 21-22, 2024) also recognized a number of key innovations with Industry Solutions Awards. These included:

-Loctite Pulse for its use of sensors and an app that constantly monitors plant operations

-Barbara for its application of adaptive AI for the monitoring of chemical supplies at Acciona’s 89 desalination plants

-Calfer for an all-in-one automotive platform that addresses driver needs including insurance, parking, maintenance and refueling

-Topazium for its SkinGuard app for early detection of malignant skin lesions

-MClimate for a smart radiator thermostat that improves energy efficiency