As one of the top minds working at General Electric sees it, no longer are we merely in an era of dizzying high-tech advances. Knowingly or not, we’ve actually moved beyond the Information Age and its inherent limits.
"Today, I'm pronouncing the end of the Information Age," declared Dr. Joseph Salvo, director of the GE Telematics Center of Excellence in Niskayuna, NY, speaking at a media event held there late last week. “In the new age, the sheer amount of information is not as important as the quality of said information,” he continued. Salvo pointed out that now content is readily available, “commoditized” and easily downloaded wirelessly to a variety of mobile memory devices.
As Salvo sees it, the new age is characterized not just by the availability of information but by the continuing evolution of connectivity-- as we can now talk to 4 billion people across the globe seamlessly. "Several billion people in India and China have been brought into the global network...we are moving away from the physical world," he said. 'The natural extension is to all objects."
Where previously the "network" was far less diverse, the information explosion will make it far easier to connect with anyone, anywhere, Salvo continued. He said the most important aspect of information is becoming not how much we can store, but the ability to network the information with other sources.
An example from the trucking industry is the global scope of GE Asset Intelligence’s VeriWise tracking system. The challenge for tracking is keeping aware of the location and status of billions of assets in real-time. According to Salvo, sensors are key. "It's not about a 'box,' it's about a brain....there is a brain in the trailer, it knows where it is. The object is self-aware." A swarm of intelligent trailers, including in-cab devices, RFID inventory management, in-road sensors, tire pressure monitoring and door sensors, allows fast decisions without any supervisory input needed. He defined the VeriWise network as the ability to connect anything to anything, anywhere, anytime.
"What the world needs now is transparent end-to-end logistics," said Salvo. The goal is for system consciousness, and the future will include infrastructure services, portfolio optimization, real-time routing, recovery planning, planning optimization and local decisioning through the VeriWise Geo-analytical system.
This telematics system is still in its infancy but will explode from a $4 billion industry to one worth a projected $80 billion in 2008. "We are evolving from point-sensing to pervasive, interactive sensing," he said. While we must label and track trillions of objects, we also have to avoid storing data that will soon have absolutely no value, he pointed out, adding that while the 20th century was the era of “commoditization” of most physical assets, the 21st will change the perceived value of pure data in all its forms-- because having data is far less important than connecting it.
In other developments the company has been working on composite engines, incorporating lighter composite materials into GE aircraft engines and wind turbines to lower fuel consumption and emissions while enabling operators to stay economically viable. It was pointed out that this technology is starting to find its way into mainstream applications after 30 to 40 years of research and development. GE Rail is developing a hybrid locomotive that is in the process of being released with a prototype machine in operation at the moment. The company said the rail hybrids will produce fuel savings of 10 to 15% and their technology will be adaptable to on-the-road vehicles, such as trucks and transit buses.
The GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. employs 1900 of the company's 3000 researchers. The remainder work out of centers in India, China, and Germany.