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How will the Internet of Things impact the wine business?

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I began hearing about the Internet of Things (IoT) last year. It was hard to wrap my mind around it—what is it, exactly?—and still is. The best I can do is to quote Wikipedia and then see if I can make sense of that. (Hang in there for a moment, because this is eventually going to be about wine.)

The Internet of Things” [says Wikipedia]…”refers to the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing- like devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. Typically, IoT is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications.The interconnection of these embedded devices (including smart objects) is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields…”.

As far as geek-speak goes, that’s fairly comprehensible: All things in our world are getting smarter, and increasingly are able to talk to each other. The data gathered by their sensors, meters and other devices can then be analyzed and used in beneficial ways.

For example, Fast Company reports on “Soofas,” smart benches in Boston public parks, whose solar panels can “charge your phone” and, potentially, give people localized information “about…farmers’ markets and…inclement weather.”

Libelium, an IT company, suggests dozens of other uses, including monitoring parking places in crowded cities, detecting “preemptive” fire conditions to alert people in danger zones, remote control of swimming pool conditions and remote monitoring of radiation levels in nuclear power plants. And now we move into wine: Also on Libelium’s list of IoT uses: Wine Quality Enhancing,” for example, “Monitoring soil moisture and trunk diameter in vineyards to control the amount of sugar in grapes and grapevine health.” (I know that viticulturalists have been using sensors for years to give them readings, but this IoT application sounds considerably more sophisticated.)

Nor is it only vineyards that can be IoT-monitored and controlled: Schneider Electric, an IT management firm, which has worked with Cisco on IoT issues, says it’s exploring “new areas and new customers” for business, including “extend[ing] this environment of sensors into the actual wine production plant where grape yields are calculated and the wine fermentation and production processes are automated and controlled.”

People are even designing “smart wine racks” based on IoT technology. The BBC recently reported on “a LED-equipped wine rack [where] every bottle has an RFID [radio-frequency identification] tag…connected to the Internet to let the owner know when a bottle has been removed.” The smart wine rack also can do tricks: “If you want a specific wine for a party, the LEDs in the rack will light up the bottles you asked for.”

I’m sure the owners of vast wine cellars, who long have complained of the complexities of locating a particular bottle, will appreciate that!

Obviously we’re just at the beginning of this technology invading/taking over/assisting our lives; I use multiple verbs because it’s hard to predict just what its impact will be. As a science-fiction buff, I’m both excited by this development, and a little concerned: It’s not out of the question to imagine that life, and living processes, themselves will someday get involved, for we too are “things” in a certain sense of the word. As WhatIs.com, an online encyclopedia, notes, The Internet of Things…is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” I suppose we might eventually have wine reviewing and critiquing done “without requiring human-to-human” interaction. Wouldn’t that be something!

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  1. Randulo Zeeek says:

    In the winery end of production, here in Bordeaux, wineries have been using SMS enabled monitors in the vat rooms for at least ten years. They get constant updates of data like temps in each vat and of course, any alarms.
    An IoT wine fridge might have avoided some damage to several bottles when the compressor died a few years ago. The unit was so quiet in a back room we didn’t check on its health daily. Suddenly, the strong smell of ammonia made it clear something was wrong!
    Caveat, much of the technology is made in China and there have been documented cases of backdoors in software. What if they lock the door from the inside and demand a payment or they’ll turn off the cooler?

  2. I, for one, welcome our new robot winemakers.

  3. A little bit off-topic, but one of my favorite projects is http://www.consumerphysics.com/myscio/. Now anyone can get things like alcohol, TA & RS without even opening the bottle. Tons of applications in winemaking as well.

    To your last sentence… the machines are definitely coming. Take http://nextglass.co + http://automatedinsights.com and there you have it.

  4. Bob Henry says:

    As someone who organizes wine cellars, I can assure you that few collectors have the time or budget for the hand labor required to affix tracking devices to each and every racked and boxed bottle:

    “People are even designing ‘smart wine racks’ based on IoT technology. The BBC recently reported on “a LED-equipped wine rack [where] every bottle has an RFID [radio-frequency identification] tag…connected to the Internet to let the owner know when a bottle has been removed.” The smart wine rack also can do tricks: ‘If you want a specific wine for a party, the LEDs in the rack will light up the bottles you asked for.’ I’m sure the owners of vast wine cellars, who long have complained of the complexities of locating a particular bottle, will appreciate that!”

  5. Silly stuff mostly, at least for wine. In a digital overload world few wine consumers are going to complicate their enjoyment of wine with an overload of trivial data stored on the cloud and accessed from remote parts of the planet. Sometimes a pen and paper is quite enough, thank you. My cellar is just fine as is.

    In the winery, the winemaker already knows more about yields and process conditions than any automated system could otherwise report on a screen in the back office. Fun stuff, but just plain silly and it won’t result in better wine. That takes a human touch.

  6. Steve,

    I love this Ted Talk by one of the creators of the internet, Tim Berners. He talks about how this was one of the original intentions of the internet. http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web

    We are still in the second phase of the internet (Web 2.0). But the next phase is to have phsyical things, not just images, text and video connected in the web, but everything. Now that is big data! But can you imagine what that will mean in terms of our collective knowledge and the way we will live? We are living in exciting times, Steve.

  7. Bob Henry says:

    Sunday’s Los Angeles Times “Business” section healthcare advice column ran a cautionary tale that tangentially touched on I of T:

    “Use a Fitness Device, Lose Your Privacy?”

    Link: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-healthcare-watch-20140727-story.html#page=1

    Excerpts:

    “Digital devices and smartphone apps that track what we eat, how much we exercise, our weight, blood glucose and blood pressure, among other things, are widespread.

    . . .

    “There’s no shortage of mobile health apps, either. According to Forrester Research, by the end of 2013, 40,000 health and wellness apps were available for download. And more are coming.

    . . .

    “As consumers increasingly use mobile apps and devices to capture and store health-related information, they can release personal data that may not be as confidential as they thought.

    “Most apps are created by independent app developers, and you, for the most part, don’t know what’s happening to the information” you input, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

    “He says hundreds of companies, most of which are unknown to consumers, compile data and create dossiers on you that they exchange with other data brokers and with companies. For example, Stephens says, ‘We’re seeing a frightening trend where healthcare providers are buying the data to monitor the habits of their patients.’

    “Information in the wrong hands can thwart efforts to buy long-term care and life insurance policies or even to land a job, if insurers and prospective employers gain access to health data you didn’t intend to divulge, or even current habits that may increase your risk of developing a disease in the future.

    “Medical identity theft, in which your name and ID are used by another person to gain access to medical services, is also a concern, experts say.

    “Deven McGraw, a Washington, D.C., health privacy expert and lawyer, says consumers may be surprised to learn that all the information they upload is most likely not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA is the federal law implemented in 1996 that requires most healthcare providers and insurers to keep your medical information private.

    “‘The coverage boundaries are really just for health plans and doctors and hospitals, not the vendors of tools like social media, apps and body sensors. As a result, it doesn’t matter how sensitive the information is; it won’t be protected,’ McGraw says.

    “In California, the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act adds a possible extra layer of privacy protection. The law requires those who collect healthcare information to safeguard those data. But the law may not apply to all mobile applications.

    “Experts say consumers face a significant challenge to control their digital data.”

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