Tag Archive | RSM

Sensory Swarms, an improvement for people or a threat for privacy?

It’s the year 2030 and you are walking with your friend to a cafe in a new city. You see this cosy little cafe and both of you decide to enter the cafe. As soon as you enter the cafe the hostess says: “Hello Mr/Ms “YourName”, we have a table near the back of our cafe as seen in your preferences.” When sitting down the hostess asks: “Would you like to order a Cappuccino, like last week, or do you want something else this time?”. You decide to order a Cappuccino and when you sit down you tap on the table to view the menu on the table. You get a list of recommended items in order to your preferences. You decide to order a tuna salad, like always.

This future event with your friend going into a cafe is pure fiction, however the knowledge of the cafe may be not. How is it possible that this café knew that you were in the neighbourhood, and how did it know what your favourite and preferred drinks/food are? The answer: “Smart Dust”

Smart Dust are tiny little microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that can detect i.e. vibrations, humidity, temperature, light, movement, magnetism, and chemicals. Tiny devices of 2mm each, work as an system to transfer data to each other. Each of those devices has a small “router” in them to send and receive information. The devices have a wireless range of maximum 10 meters. Due to the small range, it is necessary to have a lot of tiny devices close to each other to transfer data on a larger scale. Their energy source is solar energy, because they have a small solar cell and a small battery in them.

The idea descends from Kristofer Pister, a professor at Berkeley. When Pister presented the idea to his colleagues, his concept attracted the US military and Pister received funds to further his work. The first test was in 2001 were six tiny devices (MEMS) were dropped in a field to detect a military vehicle. The test was successful and they even managed to capture the course and speed of the vehicle. Last year a team of Michigan students successfully embedded solar cells in the MEMS to extend their life drastically.

There are many business implementations for Smart Dust. Pister accomplished to gather information about the weather in San Francisco with a radius of 21km using Smart Dust. Defence related implementations are also possible, such as battlefield surveillance and transportation tracking. Transportation tracking is also possible to control inventories. The tiny Smart Dust devices will take over RFID technology in that case. You can also think of product quality control. Some products need to be stored under certain conditions and smart dust makes it easy to monitor temperature, humidity, vibrations etc. There are more business implementation you can think of such as virtual keyboards, smart offices etc.

The main objective for the researches is to extend the life of the devices even more. When companies start to produce Smart Dust the variable cost of one device will be extremely low. The machines to produce MEMS will be costly at the start, but when this technology becomes feasible for companies it will be implemented on a large scale. Researches ask for caution when implementing this technology, because of the environmental impact. No one wants to live in a city with billions of devices floating in the air. Pister did inhale a device (MEMS) and said that it is equal to inhaling a fly. You will cough it up.

Another thing that researchers ask caution for is privacy. Smart Dust devices can measure a lot of things and they are still trying to implement new kind of sensors in the device. It is also possible that Smart Dust will contain microphones to listen in on conversations. Let’s go back to the introduction. It is possible that your clothes, Identity card and maybe yourself will contain Smart Dust which has information about you and will communicate it with businesses. Where camera’s are easy debatable, because they are visible, Smart Dust is not. People cannot see smart dust being there and don’t know if they will be monitored and for what purposes. Another problem is that information gathered by Smart Dust can possibly be stolen by hackers. You can also think of Smart Dust being used to spy on people or businesses. Someone can scatter some device in a house or conference room to obtain classified information.

Smart Dust is a technology with lots of potential and that’s why it entered Gartner’s hype cycle. It will take some more years to make this technology feasible for the market. Meanwhile the discussion how far monitoring of people can go with current technologies will go on and the discussion will intensify if Smart Dust will be implemented.

Kevin Schaap (358985)


M. Kahn, R. H. Katz and K. S. J. Pister (1999) “Mobile Networking for Smart Dust”, ACM/IEEE Intl. Conf. on Mobile Computing and Networking, Seattle, WA, August 17-19, 1999

S. J. Pister, J. M. Kahn and B. E. Boser, (1999) “Smart Dust: Wireless Networks of Millimeter-Scale Sensor Nodes”, Highlight Article in 1999 Electronics Research Laboratory Research Summary.

Hsu, J. M. Kahn, and K. S. J. Pister, (1999) “Wireless Communications for Smart Dust”, Electronics Research Laboratory Technical Memorandum Number M98/2, February, 1998.




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Big Data and Predictive Maintenance: Fast tracking past the Trough of Disillusionment

Last week Rotterdam School of Management organized their annual “Leadership Summit”. This year’s topic was Big data – what’s in it for me? Many examples were presented on how data with high velocity, variety, and volume can bring added value to organizations. What was left somewhat uncovered was how much benefit can big data bring. What is the monetary gain of collecting, cleaning and analyzing the vast amount of data points? General Electric recently held their “Minds + Machines” event presenting their vision on how data will change organizations. They organized a customer panel to provide insights on how they have benefited from GE’s software. Interestingly, GE’s customer cases happened to almost coincide with ones that Jens-Peter Seick, Vice President Product Management and Development at Fujitsu presented on stage, but provided some additional information on how much value can be gained. Let’s take a look how these two companies are adding value to other organizations through big data.

In his presentation Jens-Peter Seick from Fujitsu explained how big data is already being used for predictive maintenance purposes. Predictive maintenance allows machinery and equipment to be maintained based on their condition instead of a time-based schedule. This allows to save on costs as maintenance is only done when it is required. The condition is monitored using sensors and data logged by information systems and is analyzed using statistical techniques to plan and predict maintenance operations. These sensors form a part of the often talked about phenomenon “Internet of Things”, or Industrial Internet as GE likes to refer to it. Mr. Seick used the example of jet airplanes collecting gigabytes of engine data to relay to maintenance personnel in order to predict fleet malfunctions and be prepared with the correct parts available. As a GE customer, AirAsia used data collected from the GE engines in their fleet to route their planes on more efficient routes saving up to $10 million in fuel costs.

Mr. Seick talked about how offshore wind farms can relay information on their condition observed by sensors. It can then be combined with weather and other external data sets to predict failure points and find the right time to send out a boat for a maintenance operation. GE provided the example of an offshore oil rig that saved 7,5 million dollars by predicting a parts failure and allowing preventative maintenance to be done. Energy company E.ON has benefited from GE’s assistance with the data gathered from its wind farms, generating 4% more power in the turbines than previously.

By saving millions for its customers, GE’s annual revenues from its big data analytics efforts already tops $1 billion and they are continuing to invest heavily into the field. In addition to GE and Fujitsu other players in the field include all the big names from IBM to Microsoft. Professor Eric van Heck mentioned the Gartner Hype Cycle in his presentation at the Summit and pointed out the position of big data on the verge of falling into the trough of disillusionment. With so much interest and added value already brought to companies I can’t see big data staying in that valley for too long.

Are there any areas you know where big data is already being used effectively?


GE’s Customer Panel at “Minds + Machines”

Jens-Peter Seick at the RSM Leadership Summit 2014


Disruptive Technology: A real life example

Now everyone is working on the digital transformation project, I would like to share a real live example with you, which won’t be covered in one of the assignments. Last year I did a board year at STAR (together with Thomas and Raymond), where we where confronted with preparing the organization for an upcoming change caused by a change in technology.

As most of you will know, STAR is the Study Association of the Rotterdam School of Management. The propose of the organisation is to offer you value adding services to improve your student live. In these days, this is done via a wide array of different project, but the basis of the association is still the booksale. Most students join STAR because of the large discounts we can offer on the books. The €40 membership fee is for most students worth it’s money because is saves them even more money on their books.

This stable basis is about to change. With the upcoming growth of the e-books, the basis of STAR’s existence is threatened. It might take another 5 years, but sooner or later the students and the university will change to the use of e-books instead of the current hard copy books. Reading e-books becomes more mainstream every year and it offers professors new opportunities to customize their curriculum.

When the university will switch to the usage of e-books it will be hard for STAR to maintain it’s position as distributor of the books. Why would you need an another intermediate if you can get your books directly from the publishers? With the low margin on e-books the current cost advantage of STAR is not likely to continue to exist. And with the disappearance of the cost advantage, STAR’s competitive advantage will vanish.

Although it is unknown how fast the developments will go, the chance that STAR will loose it’s position as main distributor of books in the feature is almost certain. With loosing this position it will loose the main reason why people join the association, and that is the main problem. Not selling books anymore is no real problem. STAR does not make a profit on the books sold to the students. But loosing the main reason why people join the association is a real problem. STAR gets it’s money from being the intermediary between the students and companies. Without a large member basis, it will be hard to raise enough money to continue to continue organizing all the activities currently preformed.

Waiting for the changes to come and see what will happen is not an option. That’s why the past few boards of STAR have been working on new strategic options to gain a new competitive advantage.
Diversification of it’s value proposition is the first major change. More attention is drawn to the other 56 projects organized by STAR for the students of RSM, besides the booksale.  Among which, for example 12 studytrips, charity projects and the well known social events. Besides this, STAR is working on expanding its portfolio of value adding services, by offering discounts on other products and services besides books. You can think of discounts on summaries and language courses or a free second ‘kapsalon’ at ‘de Has’ after you get back form a night out.
The second major change is the modification of its membership model. STAR is working together with RSM to be able to offer a free or even automatic membership to all RSM students in the feature. This will make STAR less dependend of its booksale activities for gaining new members.

STAR celebrates it’s 35th birthday this year, and it will probably continue to be successful for many years in the feature. But to achieve this it will have to adapt to the changed environment because the the disruptive e-books technology.