Visiting IBM’s Watson IoT Centre

As one of IBM’s partners, Sopra Steria was invited to attend the grand opening of the Watson IoT Centre in Munich. The physical location is of great importance to IBM, as it puts them at the heart of Europe allowing them to reach out to a large number of players in the manufacturing industry; a high-potential sector for IoT. During our visit we rubbed shoulders with some of IBM’s partners and clients such as PSA, Thales, SNCF and Airbus as well as officials from across the world, particularly China and Japan.

What is Watson?

Watson is IBM’s artificial intelligence system. Amongst other things, Watson understands and interprets natural language. By recognising the specificities of the person speaking, Watson will adapt its language so as to engage in a relevant conversation. For instance, its analytical capabilities mean that Watson can understand patient data (symptoms, doctor’s notes, family medical history, etc.), enabling a dialogue with the medical professional, to offer diagnosis and treatment options. With its applications being varied, Watson’s intelligence could be applied to other market sectors, such as transport, distribution, or meteorology for example.

A glimpse of the future in two days

The first day was spent getting feedback from companies such as Daimler and Bosch on their use of Watson IoT bricks to transform and digitalise their respective professions.

The Blockchain was also addressed, from securing the origin of parts taken from repaired vehicles to the traceability of transactions. The increasing and multiple uses of this technology show the extent to which it is a leading preoccupation for these manufacturers.

Another major subject addressed was the “digital twin”, whose concept is simple: integrating real-world data into digital models, allowing them to reproduce the real behaviour of their physical “twin”.

This feedback showed us that companies really need to manage their data as an asset in its own right, and become data driven companies. Data is now a precious commodity.

Cognitive rather than artificial intelligence

“Using a calculation system, artificial intelligence generally seeks to reproduce the human brain by imitating its thinking. Cognitive intelligence, really at the heart of IBM’s offering with Watson, isn’t trying to replace humans with artificial intelligence, but rather to work collaboratively with them by using one of the principles of AI; machine learning.” Serge Bonnaud, Software IT Architect at IBM Software Division.

Watson analyses human behaviour and thinking, to go on to make automatic decisions.

At the Centre, we only need to show Watson how to assemble parts, and it will interpret our movements to define a set of rules and transcribe them into information which can be understood by a robot. The robot will then assemble the parts as we showed Watson, but automatically and efficiently, without the need for programming it in a specific code.

Futuristic premises for humans

The second day was spent visiting the Centre’s premises, which led us deeper into the future of productivity. The workspace has been designed to adapt to what humans need; what we need in our everyday work life and surroundings, and not the other way round. Areas of note were the alcoves designed for conference calls away from noise, large meeting rooms and the codesign spaces. At the Centre, we saw a workspace designed in perfect harmony with current trends: creativity, innovation, and coworking (open innovation and codesign). This showroom gave us a glimpse into the digital company of tomorrow.

Watson’s intelligence offers assistance to its personnel

The notion of ownership doesn’t exist here. The desks aren’t allocated, and everyone is free to work where they wish. Upon arriving at the office, staff can interact with Watson to find a free desk, depending on what they might need that day. The spaces and their availability are light and colour-coded. For instance, when the person has chosen his or her desired desk, the light will go to red, then go back to white once they’ve settled in to work. The meeting rooms work in the same way, showing red when reserved, green when available, and white when occupied.

To book meeting rooms, this is done using an app that uses an optimised, centralised, smart system. For the Watson IoT Centre to be as interactive as possible, thousands of sensors are installed around the building, so the Centre can analyse movements and interactions, to activate real time scenarios.

Voice control is also worth noting here. We attended a meeting where the speaker successfully had Watson launch the slideshow which was prepared specially for that meeting. Integrating voice recognition into Watson shows the extent to which this technology is becoming a prominent feature, as we spotted in the some of the biggest trends at CES 2017, demonstrated by the omnipresence of Alexa in particular.

At Watson IoT Centre, each floor given its own purpose

Certain floors have been purpose-built to suit the different development stages of each project; the brainstorming stage, for instance, with spaces for creativity, codesign, discussion, and the exchange of ideas, as well a mini Fab Lab for IBMers complete with sensors and objects for modelling and designing.

IBM’s partners can use this building and receive support from the company’s researchers to help drive ideas quicker.

Other levels are designed for forecasting. Here, you’ll find Proof of Concept (POC) areas and demonstrators, working on topics linked to industry such as self-driving cars or connected health. Augmented and virtual reality headsets are also part and parcel of the tools used in these areas. Note that the cognitive aspect is still heavily felt here, particularly in the machine decision-making processes.

Throughout the building IBM shows what it’s possible to do, not only thanks to Watson but also because of the space itself. It’s a symbol of IBM’s transformation and ability to adapt to changes in industry and also to their clients’ needs.

Today technology and digital are very user-centric, based on UX and the user coming first. In the workplace, we’re seeing the same trend with a space that is purpose-built for personnel and their particular requirements. The building is a successful example of this apparent trend and IBM has created the working lab of tomorrow.

However, during the visit one important question was asked by clients and partners: how can we create and then quantify the value generated by digital tools? We are still lacking in solid indicators that can tell us if integrating these technologies has led to an increase in productivity, saving time, money and energy.

The cognitive aspect in IoT projects is still in an experimental phase, but there is high potential for application within an industrial context. Nonetheless, we still need to find a way of measuring the impact so that its application can be rolled-out more widely and made accessible in the near future.

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