Amazon distribution center shown with warehouse robots.

Fall 2017 Industry Lecture Series Recap

From shopping to shipping: Internet of Things powers our lives

So you decide to develop a smart gadget.

Along the way, your item will be researched, designed, stored, transported. And today, industry leaders say, you can expect the Internet of Things to run through nearly every step of the logistics process, from development to ordering and shipping.

Like the power that runs your gadget, IoT is becoming integral not only to the things you purchase but to the forklift that plucks them from the warehouse … and the system that gets them packaged and sent to your door.

The future is smart

In a new Industry Lecture Series in 2017, professionals who are working with HCI and IoT every day shared their experiences with those who may one day be doing their jobs: students at the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI.

The speakers — from General Electric, Crown Equipment Corp. and Amazon — offered unique insights into how IoT and Human-Computer Interaction are part of the essence of emerging technology. They gave students a sneak peek into an interconnected future powered – and empowered – by data.

Kitchen of tomorrow

For someone who incorporates the latest technology into meal preparation, GE Appliances designer Chris Bissig is refreshingly down to earth on the subject of cooking at home.

“Kitchens are really the heart of the home,” says GE Appliances designer Chris Bissig.

“Kitchens are really the heart of the home,” says Bissig, who manages a team of high-tech designers at GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville. “It’s where everything happens … where our kids do their homework, where families get together.”

And it’s where IoT is changing the rules.

A Purdue University graduate, Bissig joined GE Appliances in 2000, leading design of its refrigeration platforms. He’s now at the other end of the thermometer, working to design smart ovens that not only bake bread, but adjust the temperature throughout the baking and tell you when the loaves are done.

“Cooking is where a lot of passion is,” Bissig says. And in the kitchen of tomorrow, it’s where culinary tradition is meeting up with wireless technology, HCI, and the Internet of Things to spawn a new generation of smart appliances.

The Internet of Things delivers

Today’s state-of-the-art smart oven incorporates both IoT and principles of Human-Computer Interaction — and so does the process of manufacturing, transporting, storing, and shipping it.

Another Industry Lecture Series speaker, Will Seidelman, is a senior lead UX researcher within Amazon Operation’s Human Centered Design organization. He offered his views on how advances in IoT are fundamentally altering the product design process—from conceptualization through deployment and scaling.

HCD, for example, is chartered with thinking big and relentlessly iterating on new ideas to solve challenging issues within Amazon Fulfillment Technology.

From here to there

But smart technology and the Internet of Things are being used at an even more fundamental level in the logistics process – physically selecting and moving products on a massive scale.

That’s where Mike Gallagher comes in. As vice president of global design for Crown Equipment Corp., his job is to get things moving. Based in New Bremen, Ohio, Crown is an innovator in the field of forklift design, with 18 manufacturing facilities (including Indiana plants in Greencastle and New Castle), and a presence in 84 countries.

With great research and design, “You can really rock the world,” says Mike Gallagher, Crown Equipment’s vice president of design.

One of the top five largest lift truck manufacturers in the world, Crown’s forklifts utilize IoT technology and HCI-forward design for safety and efficiency in the global market.

“We actually don’t think the truck is just a lift truck,” Gallagher says. “We think of it as a giant sensor in a supply chain.”

The forklifts do much more than move product – they are part of a tracking system that goes beyond the items being moved. A system of sophisticated sensors relays how the trucks fit into the process.

“We can know about the operator, if he’s on the truck, off the truck, if they’re charging the battery properly, or crashing the truck,” Gallagher notes.

Data drives design

Wireless technology is integral to the next generation of kitchen appliances as well, says GE’s Bissig. It’s bringing dedicated cooks a freedom of movement they haven’t enjoyed before, allowing them to step away from the stove … but still be connected, via their smartphones.

GE already produces Wi-Fi-enabled kitchen appliances that let you turn on the oven or monitor the dishwasher from your wireless device.

“And of course once your appliances are connected, they can connect with other systems through the home,” Bissig notes. “We were one of the first manufacturers to work with Amazon” to develop appliances that would work with its Amazon Alexa voice service, through GE Voice Activation (Geneva), which also works with Google Assistant.

“This lets you control your appliances with your voice. This has been really popular,” he says, because it offers great convenience – the ability to pre-heat the oven without touching it, for example, while you’re cutting up a chicken … or when you’re still 10 minutes away from home.

In the kitchen with IoT

GE is combining IoT with a deep database to develop appliances that can take the guesswork – and the hands-on work – out of precision cooking. “That’s using the optimal application of heat” to create the best meal, for example, Bissig says … and it’s where the Internet of Things can become the ultimate kitchen helper.

Complete with functional user interface in the form of touch screens and probes, its smart ovens provide fail-safe, step-by-step digital guides to producing the perfect roast, pizza, or pie.

GE’s new generation of smart ovens have the ability, once you’ve selected a cooking program, to change rack position and alter temperature as needed during the process. All you have to do is open the oven when it’s time to eat.

In incorporating HCI and IoT, smart design remains central to the process of dealing with data and providing good customer service. At Amazon, for example, its Human-Centered Design organization is multidisciplinary, with talent in the areas of UX design, writing and research, brand design, and design technology. Teams work across disciplines, with the goal of creating the best possible experience for the Amazon customer.

Research powers the process

Technology helps bring customers’ needs into the design process from the start. As part of developing products at Crown Equipment, “In the interaction design studio we have a giant touchscreen display” where engineers and designers can share ideas, Gallagher says. “We work interactively on that display to show them the kinds of things we’re working on in the lab.”

And once the brainstorming is refined into a focused lift truck concept, “At Crown we turn those ideas into 3-D real quick,” Gallagher says. “We do a lot of 3-D printing. Prototyping, and modeling, is a big part of the equation,” he says, acknowledging that another evolving technology — virtual reality — could change that.

Good design, Gallagher stresses, comes from state-of-the-art industrial design and solid research. Assemble a group of great industrial designers, he says, “and when you couple them cross-functionally with a great research team, you can really rock the world.”

Where does the data go?

Industry sees great potential in the data generated by the next wave of IoT technology. With Crown Equipment’s lift trucks, says Gallagher, “All this truck technology is much more than truck technology – and that’s information technology, which is just great fodder for innovation, and for designers and engineers to say, ‘What can we do with this data?’ ”

As IoT generates an endless stream of information, Gallagher says, “There’s no hope for us to be in the automation world, which is coming at us very rapidly, unless we get the Internet of Things and a system in place to manage this data and manage it for value, and deliver it before our competition does.”