AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel announced a consortium with the goal of creating fully networked industrial installations, including factories, power plants, hospitals, and more.

The Industrial Internet Consortium’s (IIC) ultimate goal is to create products to enable industrial networking.

The idea is to bring intelligence to machines used across every industry, everything from agriculture to mining, power, health care, and more, said Bill Ruh, vice president, GE Software.  

In order to get there, though, the members of the group first need to identify useful existing standards (for communications, device interoperability, data management, etc.), and to develop standards if necessary.

Ton Steenman, vice president of Intel’s IoT Solutions Group, said, “we are all building out our architectures, coming at them from our own points of view. We need to get alignment on architectures in order to move forward.”

Steenman noted that challenges will include security and privacy issues, but the biggest hurdle might be the challenge of scale. The Internet may end up including “50 billion devices by the end of the decade. The amount of data is going to be massive. Sensor networks will be 10-, 100- , 1,000 times bigger than any network infrastructure that exists today. It will be a challenge to bring all of that together.”

Ruh said that there is information technology (IT) and what he called operational technology (OT), referring to devices such as sensors, valves, engines, etc. “This is the first time the IT and OT guys are getting together. That’s a challenge.”

Even without all those challenges being solved, the members want to demonstrate proof of concept as soon as possible. To that end, representatives of the current consortium members are meeting today to select five test bed projects.

The IIC is coordinating with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NIST, and other government agencies. The Consortium noted that the Federal Government is investing over $100 million a year in R&D related to cyberphysical systems, and has been partnering with the private sector on a series of testbeds in areas such as healthcare, transportation, smart cities, and increasing the security of the electric grid. 

“By linking physical objects to the full power of cyberspace, the Industrial Internet promises to dramatically reshape how people interact with technology, “ said Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “The Administration looks forward to working with public-private collaborations like the new IIC to turn innovative Industrial Internet products and systems into new jobs in smart manufacturing, health care, transportation and other areas.” 

Asked about when IIC members might start moving from standards work to test beds to getting products to market, Ruh responded “We don’t have an answer for that, but we’re in a hurry.”

The consortium was formed to:

  • Identify requirements for open interoperability standards and define common architectures to connect smart devices, machines, people, processes and data
  • Use existing and create new industry use cases and test beds for real-world applications;
  • Deliver best practices, reference architectures, case studies, and standards requirements to ease deployment of connected technologies;
  • Influence the global standards development process for Internet and industrial systems;
  • Facilitate open forums to share and exchange real-world ideas, practices, lessons, and insights;
  • Build confidence around new and innovative approaches to security. 

The IIC is open to the participation of any interested company from any part of the world. Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group and also the IIC’s executive director, said the IIC has extended invitations to other companies, and that other participants will be announced shortly.

As founding members, AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel will each hold permanent seats on an elected IIC Steering Committee along with four other elected members. The Steering Committee will provide leadership and governance to help organizations capitalize on this vast opportunity. 

“We are at the precipice of a major technological shift at the intersection of the cyber and physical worlds, one with broad implications that will lead to substantial benefits, not just for any one organization, but for humanity," said Janos Sztipanovits, E. Bronson Ingram Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Director of the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS), Vanderbilt University. “Academia and industry understand the need to identify and establish new foundations, common frameworks and standards for the Industrial Internet, and are looking to the IIC to ensure that these efforts come together into a cohesive whole.”