GE waves developers onto its huge IoT stage

The company is hosting a developer conference this week and announcing Predix developer kits

It takes a village to raise an IoT infrastructure.

That’s the way it looks as the major players in the internet of things pair up in one partnership after another, while also reaching out to developers from startups and enterprises. The potential uses of IoT are so diverse, especially in the industrial realm, that specialized knowledge is a key part of the formula.

General Electric has more than a century of industrial experience, but its five-year-old GE Digital division hopes to leverage outside expertise in its IoT mission. This week the company is hosting the first developer conference for its GE Predix software platform, where it will announce developer kits to help get the ball rolling on new IoT projects.

Predix started as an internal tool for GE to monitor products like jet engines that it had already built and sold. Now the company is offering it to others as a platform for capturing and analyzing data about all kinds of industrial assets. It can collect many kinds of information about those assets and, with customers’ permission, combine inputs from many users to learn things like when a piece of factory equipment is likely to fail.

Enterprises and third-party vendors can build applications on top of Predix to serve specific vertical industries. The Predix Kits that GE Digital is announcing on Tuesday are small hardware-software packages designed to help developers get started using Predix.

The standard hardware kits are built around Intel's Edison processor module and a Linux OS developed by GE Digital. Developers can plug the devices into assets they want to monitor, connect them to the Predix Cloud, and get to work collecting data in about 15 minutes, said Lizzy Li, innovation service program manager.

In addition to the standard kits, GE is building versions for certain types of applications, like weather stations and room monitoring. The hardware is designed to be inexpensive and easy to start using, but the real point of the kits is the software that developers will create with them, which could later run on other systems. The kits are currently in beta testing.

A Predix application might be used just within the enterprise that developed it, or it could be shared with others or turned into a product.

The developer kits are just one part of a broader effort to simplify GE’s IoT technology for enterprises and to bring it closer to assets in the field.

Over the next few months, that effort will also include ways to quickly create a “digital twin” of an industrial asset such as an engine or pump. Digital twins are virtual models of assets, which enterprises can use to understand things like how an asset will behave if it’s operated at a certain intensity.

Also, GE plans to make it possible for the algorithms that run on Predix in the cloud to operate in the field as well. In some cases, managing assets like wind turbines requires such quick responses that going to the cloud and back takes too long, said Hima Mukkamala, head of engineering for Predix. One thing GE will use to make that possible is software containers.

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Stephen Lawson

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