Brains Meet Brawn: Embedded Strength in Brilliant Machines

Brilliant Machine

Since his recent peek into the industrial sector, which left him pleasantly surprised, regular Connected Battlefield contributor Rubin Dhillon has been drawing connections between several burgeoning areas in the era of the Industrial Internet. Here he shares yet more insight from his unique perspective.

Have you seen GE’s series of “Brilliant Machines” commercials that ran a little while back? You know the ones that feature KITT (Knight Rider), the DeLorean (Back to the Future) and various robots and androids from the Lost in Space robot to Data from Star Trek TNG. Some guy took a bunch of those commercials and mashed them together into a single video—check it out here. Watching that video got me thinking…some of those machines are getting closer to reality, and of course everyone is talking about the machines that make up the Internet of Things. But there are other Brilliant Machines out there today—and some of them are big, rugged, powerful machines that take a beating, toiling away unnoticed in some surprising places.

Machines have always transformed the way we live, work and play. The Industrial Revolution of the 1700s ushered in an era of profound economic change, raising the living standards of entire populations around the globe. We’ve come a long way since then, with highly advanced factories and robots that changed the face of manufacturing forever. We’ve also seen the advent of personal and mobile computers and connectivity that brought us the Internet Economy. Now we’re seeing the beginnings of a new era where the worlds of industry and the Internet are merging; where machines, big data and cloud computing come together to create Brilliant Machines. This is the Industrial Internet: a new, modern industrial revolution set to change our lives yet again.

What does a “Brilliant Machine” look like?


Well GE did introduce the “heaviest metal rockband” to a stunned audience in Union Square last year, but no that is not the “brilliant” I’m referring to here. In comparison, our definition of a Brilliant Machine may seem quite boring. To us, what makes a machine a Brilliant Machine is its ability to communicate, to share data and insights with other machines and with the humans that rely on them. The machines at the foundation of the Industrial Internet have sensors, computers and communications capabilities well beyond anything that’s come before. These are machines that can adapt and optimize themselves to run more efficiently, and they can predict and diagnose their own failure. These machines operate on factory floors, on oil rigs, in power plants and in hospitals. Brilliant Machines are everywhere—they’re the planes, trains, trucks and turbines our customers are building today, and they’re the rugged military battleships, ground vehicles and autonomous aircraft that bring serious brawn to the brainpower.

My machine is tougher than your machine!

Some refer to the Industrial Internet as a segment of the Internet of Things, but it is a bit more than that. It’s not about connected lightbulbs (although GE does make them and they are pretty cool). It’s not about smart phone–controlled garage door openers or coffee machines. The Industrial Internet is about bringing the power and benefits of the Internet economy to applications and industries not currently taking advantage of it; industries such as manufacturing, energy, mining, and defense and homeland security. This is about a burgeoning new $30B economy. This is where a 1% improvement in efficiency can save billions of dollars.

A GE locomotive weighs 440,000 pounds and can pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747s with its 12-cylinder, 4,400-horsepower engine. However it only uses one gallon of fuel to pull a ton of cargo 500 miles. How? Software that can process 150,000 data points per minute from 250 embedded sensors. The same software can predict failure and schedule maintenance.

So, if there are so many benefits to all this Industrial Internet stuff, why is it just catching on now? Part of the reason is the fact that it has been so difficult to get the sensors, computers and connectivity into the machines that serve these industries. Not only do they need to be Brilliant, they need to be tough.

How tough? These are machines with thousands of moving parts. They must operate in wet, cold, hot, dusty, dirty, harsh environments. As our connected battlefield readers know full well, some of these machines are often shot at—with BIG guns! You can’t just strap a $500 laptop to the side of a military vehicle to make it intelligent. You need something a bit more rugged.

The U.K.’s latest armored vehicle, the Scout SV supplied by General Dynamics, has a combat weight of around 38 tons. Its .805bhp engine, 7 wheel-station running gear and Renk 256B automatic transmission system can propel the vehicle at 43.4mph. Its open-architecture advanced electronic systems connect over a 20Gbs/sec Ethernet network, allowing the processing, transmission and storage of 6TBs of intelligence data that, among other things, enable the vehicle with practically x-ray vision for targeting and defense capabilities.

Rugged embedded computing for Brilliant Machines

Tough machines operating in harsh environments need equally tough embedded computing, connectivity and software solutions. It’s not easy (nor is it cheap) designing, manufacturing and delivering advanced electronics systems that can survive the environments these machines endure. These are mission-critical systems essential to the operation of some of the most dangerous machines in the world. These are hardware and software platforms that must operate securely and reliably ALL THE TIME and for a very long time. Such systems rely on advanced thermal technologies to enable high-performance computing in small spaces. They rely on computing solutions that minimize power consumption and they leverage networking technologies that can securely transfer data over long distances and difficult terrain. These are the types of solutions that we here at GE deliver.

But customers come to us for more than just rugged embedded solutions. They come to us for GE Rugged.

What is GE Rugged? It’s how we describe our portfolio of some of the toughest, most secure boards and subsystems in the industry, yes—but it is also how we manage and secure our supply chain to protect against counterfeit parts and ensure delivery. It’s how we manage the lifecycle of the products we manufacture, keeping them alive long past the average lifetime of standard commercial electronics. It’s the commitment we make to our customers—how we protect their sensitive, often classified and export-restricted design data for example. It’s our commitment to integrity, quality and reliability. GE Rugged even describes the support we deliver to our customers which, given the nature of their applications, requires careful handling.

I could go on, but you are going to hear a lot more about GE Rugged in future posts, so I’ll leave it there for now. 

There are millions of gadgets about to be unleashed on the world as part of the Internet of Things invasion, and they’re gaining all of the attention right now. I mean, how are you supposed to ignore the possibilities of an Internet-connected toilet? Then Google’s egg-shaped automobile—slightly less awesome than KITT—is already roaming the roads out there. People are starting to walk around with all sorts of wearable tech, making it look like the Borg collective is a reality. Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of an ocean storm, or in the blazing sun of a remote desert, or in the depths of a mine in the outback of Australia, brilliant, rugged machines are working, unnoticed, changing our world and building a huge economy that will benefit us all.

What Brilliant Machine are you building? 

Rubin Dhillon

Rubin has spent over 20 years in the embedded computing world, in roles ranging from support to sales to product management and even garbage collector. He experienced the huge growth (and crash) of the telecom industry, and he's spent time dabbling in medical, industrial, transportation and military applications. Rubin figured he has so many stories to tell, he should get into marketing and so he is now our Global Director of Marketing for all things embedded. Connect with Rubin on LinkedIn and he'll explain the "garbage collector" story…

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