- Register




30 October 2012

We didn't specifically plan it this way, but some of the stories which emerged this month provide some exciting glimpses into the future of automation.

In Rohrbach, Festo is managing to thrive as a manufacturing company, despite operating in a high value, high wage economy.

But what was even more interesting on my trip, was some new propulsion systems developed by the company’s Bionic Learning Department, loosely based on the way that certain animals get around. More on page 50 about some of these ideas.

Even more significantly, 6th June 2012 saw the launch of IPv6, a key enabling technology for the so-called Internet of Things, a day which may prove to be an historical watershed. In 1973, when Vint Cerf and his team put together the networking rules for what would become the Internet, they used an addressing system with 32 bits of addressing space – the well-known 192.X.X.X IPv4 system in use today. This gave the fledgling Internet the capacity for 4.3 billion individual addresses; far more than Cerf and his team could even conceive of needing back then.

Obviously, Cerf and everyone else severely underestimated the growth of the Internet and all the various ways it would be used.

Yet in 1996, with remarkable foresight, they put together a new addressing protocol, IPv6, with 128 bits of address space. That means IPv6 can accommodate 340 trillion trillion trillion (3.4 times ten to the power of 38) addresses. That should be enough for a while. But what is the Internet of Things? Whereas the Internet increases people-to-people interactions, the IoT will greatly increase people-to-object and object-to-object interactions. With the rapid development of IoT and the unique features of connectivity, such diversified communication technologies will become more significant.

As IPv6 becomes more widely adopted, individual devices will be able to directly connect to each other. Forget 5.5 billion mobile devices. Imagine the possibility of billions, even trillions of pieces of hardware connected to the Internet, all sending out signals.

Watches, pens, shoes, pacemakers – all will have their own IP address and will be able to send out signals. Not just the consumer world, but also the industrial world of automation, will be rocked by this capability. We look at this in more detail on page 42.

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.

The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did.

Maybe even more so.