You can’t get here from there

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, (or Industry 4.0 as it is often called), it is worth taking a moment to reflect upon where we are and how we got here. The integration of intelligent systems via the cloud infrastructure to support both design and manufacturing supply chains of both intellectual and physical property is already changing the way industry creates, makes, and distributes things.

The benefits of the cloud of course extend into the public sphere as well. People living in a developed country (and encouragingly more often in developing countries) in today’s world are swimming in technology, from the smart phones in their hands to the medical implants in their bodies. The Internet of Things (IoT) is still in its infancy, with no real end to development in sight. Application spaces new and old are being revolutionized by the injection of intelligent connected technology, bringing the Cloud and its benefits into every facet of modern life.

It is very easy to forget how complex the system we are creating is, and that of its supporting hardware and software infrastructures. Everything from programming to plastic has had to adapt itself to serving the Cloud and the devices that make up the IoT within. To get here, each core technology has migrated through several generations of development, to the point where anyone from the long-ago dawn of integrated electronics over six decades ago would be hard pressed to recognize, much less work with, advanced SoCs and other highly-integrated chipscale packages. The same can be said for every other discipline, from radios to resistors.

Electronics are so advanced now that even the machines that make the machines have advanced to a point where the processes involved in the latest advanced technologies are almost unrecognizable to those who used to deal with legacy materials and processes. Silicon Carbide ingots must be grown in a high-temperature gaseous plasma, for example, and 3D printing is already changing how companies design and develop prototypes as well as finished products.

Alternative energy is also very well-suited to serving the Cloud and IoT. Harvested thermal, vibrational, and solar energy can power smaller devices completely, and extend the battery lives of larger portable products. A Smart Grid that can balance and manage a variety of energy sources also takes advantage of the same Cloud infrastructure that benefits consumers, reducing costs for all while increasing performance, safety, and reliability.

Just as in other areas the technology used to generate alternate energy is as removed from legacy technology as the LED is from the light bulb. One day, people will look at a time where we pumped volatiles out of the ground and burned them to create energy with the same feeling of quant humor we feel when we look at pictures from the time of horses and gaslights.