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IBM pairs IoT development with Watson at business unit

IBM cuts the ribbon on a global headquarters for its Watson internet of things business unit in Munich

IBM has announced that Munich is to serve as the worldwide headquarters for a new line of business marrying their internet of things (IoT) services with the cognitive computing power of its Watson system.

Dubbed the Watson IoT Unit and opened alongside an innovation centre, it marks IBM’s biggest European investment since the 1990s.

Big Blue cut the ribbon on the campus at an event held on 15 December 2015, as it launched a series of offerings, capabilities and partnerships designed to extend “the power of cognitive computing” to the IoT via its worldwide platform, the Watson IoT Cloud.

It plans to host 1,000 IBM developers, consultants, researchers and designers at the centre, as well as data scientists, engineers and programmers to build connected systems and deliver Watson application programming interfaces [APIs] and services on the IoT Cloud to accelerate this process.

“The IoT will soon be the largest single source of data on the planet, yet almost 90% of that data is never acted on,” said Harriet Green, general manager at Watson IoT and education.

“With its unique abilities to sense, reason and learn, Watson opens the door for enterprises, governments and individuals to finally harness this real-time data, compare it with historical data sets and deep reservoirs of accumulated knowledge, and then find unexpected correlations that generate insights to benefit business and society alike.”

IBM hopes it will be able to attract a robust ecosystem of customers, startups, academics and IoT specialists to the programme. It will be targeting a number of IoT-ready verticals, such as automotive, healthcare and manufacturing.

At the same time, it will open eight Watson IoT Client Experience Centres in Beijing, Böblingen (also in Germany), São Paolo, Seoul, Tokyo and three locations in the US.

Matthias Rebellius, CEO at Siemens Building Technologies, which partnered with IBM to develop smart building technologies around energy management and sustainability, said the combination of IBM’s management and database technology with Siemens technology would “stretch the envelope” of building design and performance.

“By bringing asset management and analytics together with a deep technical understanding of how buildings perform, Siemens will make customers’ building operations more reliable, cost-optimised and sustainable,” he said.

APIs for developers

Four families of Watson API services are to be made available at launch, designed to help customers and developers make greater sense of the largely unstructured data collated by IoT devices.

These include a natural language processing API to allow users to interact with smart systems using human languages; a machine learning API to automate data processing based on learned priorities; a video and image analytics API to enable monitoring of unstructured data from video feeds and other images to identify patterns and correlations in the physical world; and a text analytics API to mine unstructured textual data, such as technical logs or even tweets.

Cognitive meets the IoT

IBM believes cognitive computing – as famously demonstrated by Watson – will be a key enabler of the IoT in the future. This is because rather than being explicitly programmed, machines will be able to learn and reason from human input and their own experience, which will make them better able to keep pace with the volume and unpredictability of the vast streams of data generated by IoT devices and sensors. It said that cognitive systems would be able to make sense of the 80% of global data that is unstructured, giving insight into previously unseen aspects of the world around us.

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Some reports from 2013 estimate that 90% of the world’ data was generated between 2011 and 2013. With IoT expected to be the largest single source of data, I’m curious to see how well Watson’s cognitive computing scales to handle the larger and larger amount of data returned by IoT devices.
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