Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott has written about what the firm hopes to accomplish through extensive research and development into what it calls the ‘intelligent cloud’ and the ‘intelligent edge’.
Over the past couple of years most major Silicon Valley companies have greatly advanced their stake in cloud-based infrastructure. As the field has moved forward, so have expectations of what can be accomplished in a world of connected devices. Talk of ‘dumb terminals’ connected to a powerful mainframe located on the web now seems well and truly antiquated. These days the focus is on neural networks of smart devices which can empower users in all kinds of endeavours, well beyond workplace productivity tools like Office 365 and enterprise social network collaboration platforms.
Microsoft, under the stewardship of CEO Satya Nadella is one company at the leading edge of this AI-powered, interconnected future.
Kevin Scott’s recent blog unpacked Microsoft’s terminology by giving examples of his ambition to resolve several global challenges with this technology, while admitting it is still in its early days. Scott explained how the intelligent edge could have a place in increasing food supplies around the world, pointing to the real-world application currently going on in the US state of Washington.
A farmer near the town of Carnation has, since 2011, been using devices such as Internet-connected drones to monitor for pests and soil moisture in his vegetable crops. Special cloud-based Microsoft software called FarmBeats helps the drones to identify the landscape, eventually creating a heat map that can help determine where best to plant his crops.
Another situation in which the intelligent edge can work to predict real world outcomes is in the research of threatened ecosystems. To demonstrate this, Microsoft partnered with entertainment company Disney for a conservation project located near its theme park in Florida. A migratory bird named the purple martin has seen its numbers decline almost 40 per cent since the 1960s, but Disney and Microsoft hope to turn this around with breeding and nesting information gathered from sensors located in specially built birdhouses in and around Orlando.
Finally, Scott believes interconnected smart devices can help curtail waste in energy resources while improving industry safety. In partnership with Schneider Electric, a French firm, Microsoft has deployed sensors and automation tools to configure oil drilling equipment remotely for optimum performance. These devices also mean operations personnel rarely need to go onsite for repair and maintenance.
The company realises that all of this Internet-connected equipment offers potential targets for hackers, and so offers a ‘baked in’ security solution in the form of Azure Sphere. This technology is an actual silicon chip developed by Microsoft off the back of its experience in manufacturing the Xbox gaming console and is designed to protect micro-controller unit-powered devices. Scott’s piece certainly reflects the wide and varied research the company can leverage to solve global problems.
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