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Making Connections and the IoT

Connecting with people is just as important to advancing innovation as technology.

Are you tired of hearing about the internet of things (IoT)? If so, you’re out of luck. Forecasts from industry experts vary a bit, but they all predict the billions of “things” connected to the internet will grow to tens of billions in just a few years. The IoT continues to grow by leaps and bounds because of the power of those connections.

DE has covered the early pilots of the IoT and today’s implementations. Leading-edge companies in vertical markets from every sector have begun to reap the benefits of connected products. The real-world use cases don’t always go smoothly, but the hype surrounding the IoT has always been justified because of the enormous possibilities inherent in those connections.

We’re still in the early days of IoT implementations. Experts expect the future to be filled with the types of cross-industry connections that will allow smart cities and self-driving cars to flourish. For example, traffic lights and street signs could communicate with self-driving cars to provide information on everything from traffic congestion to what’s around the corner.

As leaders in cross-industry IoT implementations have already found in smart city integrations in Singapore, Barcelona and London, it takes more than connecting products to reap the technology’s benefits. You also have to connect people—the people from different industries who can implement the integrations and the city’s residents who can make use of smart technologies to find an open parking spot, pay utilities via their phones or avoid traffic jams.

The Human Connection

Connecting with people is just as important to advancing innovation as technology. Materialise Co-Founder and CEO Wilfried Vancraen was presented with the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Innovators Award at AMUG 2018 last month. During an on-stage discussion that covered the company’s founding in 1990 to his outlook for the future, he shared a story that is the perfect example of making human connections to bypass technological adoption roadblocks.

During the Iraq War, Vancraen was frustrated with what he knew technology was capable of providing and its lack of widespread use. He had seen wounded soldiers benefit from 3D-printed prosthetics and medical devices via Materialise’s work with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., but knew there were many wounded civilians in Iraq who could also benefit from the technology.

He contacted Doctors Without Borders, but the organization was already pulling out of Iraq for safety. Through his connections at the University of Leuven, Belgium, Vancraen was able to contact a student in Baghdad. “Through wartime, the internet kept working in Baghdad perfectly,” he said. “We Skyped with each other and I hired him over the internet.”

The new employee began finding victims with severe injuries and bringing them to hospitals to be scanned. Materialise, with the help from many in the 3D printing and medical industries who donated time and products, expanded its team in Baghdad and began delivering 3D-printed prosthetics to patients there.

“During that time, we received, from this community, on an annual basis, approximately $1 million in gifts,” Vancraen said. The donations were collected in Leuven, where the company is headquartered, and shipped to Baghdad with the help of Doctors Without Borders.

Vancraen was able to connect technological innovations with the people who could benefit from them and the people willing to provide them—from 3,000 miles away, during a war.

The Conference Connection

With the justified news coverage of IoT security concerns, Facebook’s recent data breach and doomsday artificial intelligence scenarios as a backdrop, it might cause some people to pump the brakes on connectivity. But as Vancraen’s story illustrates, making the right connections can do the world a lot of good.

If you’ve been to an industry event, you’ve no doubt been urged to take the time to talk to fellow attendees. I would urge you to as well. If you haven’t been to a conference in a while, I would urge you to make the time. Online social networking makes it easy to connect over distances and time constraints, but it pales in comparison to meeting face to face. A gathering of engineers from different industries is the perfect place to make the types of deep connections that can help you solve product design and development technologies, as well as overcome the cultural roadblocks that often hinder innovation.

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About the Author

Jamie Gooch's avatar
Jamie Gooch

Jamie Gooch is the former editorial director of Digital Engineering.

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