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Amazon CTO talks IoT in science, retail and on the playing fields

Nicole Laskowski

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels is a believer. He gave his version of the dawn of the Internet of Things -- it's here! -- at the recent MongoDB World event in New York City.

Armed with data points, Vogels

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rattled off a list of examples of how the Internet of Things (IoT) is already changing how Amazon does business -- and it's a list that extends well beyond Amazon drones. Amazon Dash is a new connected device that Vogels calls "a magic wand." For those enrolled in its grocery delivery service, customers can either speak into the wand or use it as a barcode scanner to reorder supplies. Dash streams the information into a virtual basket, and customers can check out online or via a smartphone app.

Vogels' bigger point, however, was that the IoT is making inroads at many companies, not just at Amazon. Here is his rundown of how the IoT is already making an impact.

Scientific IoT

Sensors are on ocean floors today and the 2-megapixel camera on NASA's Curiosity rover is a connected device, Vogels noted. But genome sequencing might be the best example of how advances in technology, big data and connectivity are transforming science.

The Human Genome Project, launched in the 1990s, took 13 years and $1 billion to complete. In January of this year, Illumina Inc. brought to market the $1,000 genome, a benchmark for biotech companies. The Illumina machine generates the sequence of what makes up our genes (nucleotides) and sends the sequence into the cloud.

"The device doesn't spit out data that you keep on-premises," Vogels said. "It spits data directly into the cloud." A process, which originally took years, is now being completed in days, making things like the National Institute of Health's 1,000 Genomes Project and Ancestry.com's autosomal DNA test possible.

Consumer IoT

In the consumer space, Vogels said most examples "are all about changing behavior." He pointed to Dropcam, recently acquired by Google's Nest Labs for $555 million. The video monitoring and security device enables home owners to keep a virtual eye on the front door when they're away. "They are the biggest inbound video service to the Web these days," Vogels said. "Much bigger than YouTube."

He talked about mobile insurance apps that measure driver behavior, such as Driver Feedback from State Farm and Drivewise from Allstate. He mentioned the connected toothbrushes that help users keep track of dental hygiene. Oral-B and Kolibree both have products on the market and use Bluetooth technology to stream data from the brush to a smartphone app and provide, in Kolibree's case, "real-time feedback and long-term reporting to see how well you've done each time and how you have improved over time."

But the product Vogels described as "amazing" comes from Vitality Inc. The company created a medicine management device called GlowCap, which can be affixed to a prescription pill bottle and configured to a specific time schedule. "If you don't take your medicine, the cap will start to glow," Vogels said. If the bottle isn't opened within the next hour, the bottle "will start to play a little tune," he said. After two hours, a notification is sent via text, phone call or email.

Connected products such as GlowCap are "really effective in changing or adjusting behavior," he said, comparing data from patients using the product who missed almost no dosage against those who did not have GlowCap.

Industrial IoT

General Electric and its industrial Internet also made an appearance in Vogels' talk. GE's instrumenting sensors and jet engines -- popularized in the company's effective TV ads featuring a little girl's version of IoT -- to improve efficiency and practice preventive maintenance. But GE isn't the only industrial giant pursuing machine-to-machine communication, Vogels said.

Shell is instrumenting its 10,000 oil wells with sensors, which Vogels said will generate a petabyte of data each. A German industrial cleaning company called Alfred Kärcher GmbH & Co. KG utilizes Internet-enabled machinery, which uses data to keep tabs on usage and health of the machines, Vogels said.

Another example? Deconstruction based in Ellicott City, Maryland. "In the construction world, there are big problems -- whether the concrete is being poured at the right temperature or whether there's too much noise -- all kinds of things," Vogels said. "There is almost no way of tracking that data."

Deconstruction's mBuilder platform changes that. With the help of sensor technology, building project managers can help keep tabs on noise, vibration, humidity and temperature. "The data flows into an analytics engine that will give you a real-time view of what's happening around your building site," Vogels said.

Sports IoT

Data analytics has invaded the sports arena, but has the Internet of Things? You bet. "This is actually the scariest example," Vogels said. "Apparently a team that's really in synch, their heart rates go up and down in the same sequence."

Today, some professional sports teams are using real-time heart monitors to determine who is out of synch, and coaches are "taking them out of the game if [a player] is not in synch with the rest of the team," Vogels said