The Internet of Things is Really a Thing in Germany

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves

Episode #173


Last month I spent nine days in Germany as a guest of Germany Trade & Invest, the foreign trade and investment agency of the Federal Republic of Germany. The theme for our visit was Industry 4.0, a worldwide initiative (conceived in Germany) to develop standards and protocols to integrate the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber-physical systems (CPS), and the Internet of Services (IoS) with large-scale data collection and analysis and machine learning.

In other words, it’s about smart, networked automation with smart, self-configuring components. We visited more than a dozen manufacturers, research institutes, universities, and startups across three German states, and saw smart assembly lines in action, using smart, networked processes and devices. We ended our tour at the fabled Hannover Messe (Hannover Fair)—the largest industrial trade show in the world. And it was massive. If you've ever been, think six or eight CESes (Consumer Electronics Shows) in over 5 million square feet of exhibit space in dozens of huge exhibit halls.

Hannover Messe was easily the biggest trade show I’ve ever seen.

This year there were over 5,000 exhibitors and nearly 200,000 attendees (including President Obama and yours truly):

Bob LeVitus at Hannover Messe

(Left to right): German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U. S. President Barack Obama, and your intrepid reporter.

I’ll get back to the Messe and President Obama later; for now, we'll start at the very beginning (which I hear is a very good place to start): Our first stop was at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Kaiserslautern, the largest AI research center in the world. There, we were introduced to some of the technologies behind Industry 4.0, including radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, real-time data collection and analysis, and cyber-physical systems (CPS) that make decisions on their own based on that data.

Next: IBM and Watson IoT

Page 2 - IBM and Watson IoT


The next day we were the first outsiders invited to visit IBM’s brand spanking new global headquarters for Watson Internet of Things (aka Watson IoT).

Watson IoT�s new Munich office offers an incredible view

Watson IoT’s new Munich office offers an incredible view.

After a fascinating presentation showing how companies today are using Watson IoT technologies to analyze the plethora of data generated by production processes, gaining deep insights to allow early and targeted process adjustments, which leads to increased productivity and reduced setup time.

IBM’s Green Horizons initiative is an example of IoT technologies gathering data from monitoring stations, weather satellites, and traffic cameras in Beijing China, which enables highly accurate pollution forecasts, down to the nearest kilometer and up to 72 hours in advance. It also allows accurate pollution trend forecasts up to 10 days in the future. Perhaps that’s why big businesses including Siemens, John Deere, and Fingrid (Finland’s main electrical grid operator) are already using Watson IoT to sift through and learn from the petabytes of data generated by smart components.

We were asked to refrain from taking photos, but Herr Waser graciously agreed to this one when he noticed how happy his MacBook and iPhone made me.

 I know Apple and IBM are friends and partners today, but I still got a kick out of watching the the head of Watson IoT Europe using his Macbook for this presentation.

I know Apple and IBM are friends and partners today, but I still got a kick out of watching the the head of Watson IoT Europe using his Macbook for this presentation.

You know me... before we departed I asked if I could play a quick game of Jeopardy against Watson. Sadly, I was politely informed that it (he? she?) doesn’t play games these days. Sniff. The Watson (IoT) of 2016 is a serious, cloud-based cognitive IoT service available to anyone for analyzing and learning from data collected by IoT, IoS, and CPS devices. 

One last thing: I forgot to ask about Watson (IoT) pricing, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't afford it.  

A brief aside before we depart Munich: My son was in Germany for Octoberfest a couple of years ago. Before I left he told me to look for some guys surfing in a river near the center of town. As luck would have it, I found them two blocks from my hotel, and he was right: It was spectacular and well worth seeing. Check it out:

I’m told they surf here every day (and night) of the year, regardless of the weather.

Next: Tales and Photos from the Show Floor of Hannover Messe

Page 3 - Tales and Photos from the Show Floor of Hannover Messe


After four days and nearly a dozen presentations and demonstrations, we headed to Hannover Messe (sometimes called Hannover Fair on this side of the pond), where this year’s theme was—you guessed it—Industry 4.0. We (the U.S.) were the Official Partner Country, and were represented by over 350 U.S.-based businesses as well as contingents from a number of US cities including Houston, San Antonio, and Victoria here in Texas (but curiously, not Austin).

It was like any other trade show, except much bigger, with more ginormous robots and other heavy equipment than you’ve ever seen in one place. Probably the coolest part was getting to walk the show floor with President Obama and Chancellor Merkal for a few minutes. I didn't get to talk to them, but I was close enough to have a conversation if it weren't for all the secret service agents, show personnel, and other journalists standing between us.  

You had to see it to believe it, so here are some of the better pictures I shot at the show with my iPhone 6s Plus (and, usually with an Olloclip Telephoto 2x or Olloclip Ultra Wide Angle lens):

Birds-eye view of (a sliver of) the show floor.

Another view of (a sliver of) the show floor. 

The Houston contingent.

President Barack Obama President Obama and Chancellor Merkel listening to Autodesk's booth pitch.

That's one big engine, don't you think?

Phoenix Contact used the Delorean from Back to the Future to make its point: "You won't need lightning with our fast-charging station." 

The Delorean's Flux Capacitor (I think). 

Some of the cognitive computing services available from IBM Watson. 

In this smart assembly line, the modules are self-configuring and can be rearranged at will.  

 The big news wasn't the tractor, it was that smart manufacturing provides up to 40,000 different configurations of it on the same assembly line. 

A smart glove for health care workers (my wife, a Registered Nurse, loved this one).

The body of an ultralightweight Audi R8, made even lighter through smart manufacturing techniques. 

This is laser-cut Roland, who was at least ten feet tall (the picture doesn't do him justice).

After 9 days and thousands of kilometers (like miles, but shorter), I learned a lot about Germany and its industries. What struck me was that all the stakeholders are on the same page regarding Industry 4.0, with the government—state and federal—committed to helping businesses large and small adopt these new production paradigms.

The result, best I can tell, will be higher quality goods and services, more customization options on more products, along with the lower prices that come with better efficiency. Getting a whole country to buy into Industry 4.0 is a huge and daunting task, but, as far as I can tell, Germany is not just doing it, they’re doing one hell of a job of it. 

And that's all he wrote...