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How edge computing has become part of daily life

From driverless cars to supermarket robots, edge computing is having a huge impact on our daily lives.

Unless you're a hopeless nerd, you probably don't spend a lot of time reflecting on how edge computing affects your daily life. (That's our job.) But it does, and in ways you're probably unaware of.

In simplest terms, edge computing means putting processing power, software services, and data as close to end users as possible. It's designed for scenarios where data packets traveling across thousands of miles of fiber at the speed of light is still too slow. It's the difference between having a lifesaving drug in your medicine cabinet and having to drive to the pharmacy to pick it up.

Because data isn't hopping from server to server across the Internet, it's also less exposed to attack or prone to breaches. That's why intelligent edge devices increasingly will be found in medical instruments, factory robots, autonomous vehicles, Wall Street trading tools, and more.

The smartphone in your pocket is an edge computing device. So is that busy-body home speaker that's always eavesdropping on your conversations. So is your car.

As telcos continue to build out their high-speed 5G networks, the edge will reach even further into our daily lives. Here are eight ways the intelligent edge is already having an impact.

Save your life

When it comes to healthcare, time delays can be a matter of life or death. That's why edge computing is being embedded into medical devices. For example, teams at UCLA Health, Mass General Hospital, and Kings College in London are piloting mobile MRI machines that use AI to analyze radiological scans, reducing the time required to identify anomalies from hours to minutes. Edge computing will also be widely used for at-home medical monitoring and providing healthcare services to remote and rural areas—think of it as a digital doctor that makes house calls. At a more personal level, devices like smart watches and fitness trackers have already saved people's lives.

Drive you home

When you're hurtling down the freeway at 70 mph, there's no time to upload data to the cloud and wait for a response. If you've bought a new car within the past few years, you're driving an edge device on wheels. High-end automobiles can contain hundreds of sensors, measuring everything from engine performance to how closely you're tailgating the car in front of you, with as many as 150 electronic control units translating sensor data into useful information. As fully autonomous vehicles continue to develop, they'll rely on edge computing devices in traffic lights, sidewalks, and the road itself to guide you safely home.

Keep shelves stocked

Edge computing in retail is handling everything from inventory management to cleanups in aisle 7. For example, Giant Eagle stores in the Midwest have deployed rolling, camera-equipped robots to scan store shelves, identify out-of-stock items, and dispatch mere humans to replenish them. More than 300 Stop & Shop locations are using robots to identify spills and other potential hazards in store aisles. And Gap stores are using IoT cameras to measure foot traffic.

Last March, Amazon began selling its cashier-free automated checkout systems to other retail chains, meaning you may soon be able to walk out of your favorite store without waiting in line. The downside? It takes all the fun out of shoplifting.

But seriously, shrinkage, the retail industry's term for losses due to shoplifting, internal theft, fraud, human error, and damage, averaged more than 1.6 percent of total revenue in 2019, or $62 billion. That figure is a significant increase over prior years, and the industry is aggressively looking for ways to reduce it. Because electronic tagging and bar coding everything has had little impact on shrinkage, retailers will be looking to edge solutions to decrease such losses.

Build better widgets

One of the biggest applications for edge devices will be industrial. For example, storage device maker Seagate Technologies is using IoT sensors and artificial intelligence on its manufacturing line to predict equipment failures in real time. By taking corrective action before a tool fails, Seagate can avoid having to take the line down for maintenance, as well as minimize potential product defects. From monitoring air quality in mine shafts to controlling robots in automated factories, edge computing will be an essential component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

Please read: The latest on 5G: what you need to know

Grow your food

The family farm isn't the quaint analog operation it used to be. Moisture sensors embedded in the soil tell farmers where and when to water. Drones fly over fields to spot pest infestations from hundreds of feet in the air. IoT devices on the tails of pregnant cows identify when they're about to calve. Smart harvesters use computer vision and AI to separate the wheat from the chaff—literally—as they plow. In rural areas with limited bandwidth options, precision agriculture relies on 5G connections and edge computing devices to analyze data and make it useful to the people who grow our food. In short, your next meal will likely be brought to you by tech.

Make you rich

In the world of high-frequency trading, where algorithms strike deals in nanoseconds, time literally is money. As prices fluctuate, even small amounts of latency cost traders as much as $5 billion per year. That's why financial institutions are looking to intelligent edge solutions to manage real-time trading, cryptocurrency transactions, and payment processing, as well as faster and more accurate fraud detection.

Catch bad guys

Public surveillance cams generate enormous amounts of data, and analyzing that data in real time requires significant computing power. That's why cities from Atlanta to Zurich have combined IP-based cameras and other sensors with analytics at the edge to enable law enforcement to identify potential suspects. Other agencies use edge technology to track vehicle traffic, monitor pollution, and manage energy use.

Please read: Where are all those smart cities we were promised?

Blow your mind

Edge computing built into cell towers makes it possible to play complex games like "Fortnite" or "Call of Duty" on mobile devices with minimal lag. As high-speed 5G base stations proliferate, the edge will soon make augmented reality an actual reality. Imagine playing soccer on a real field against a holographic Cristiano Renaldo, doing battle with life-sized orcs in your backyard, or skiing down a double-black diamond run from the comfort of your living room. Real life will never be the same again.

Given the growing impact of the edge devices we now carry around in our pockets without even thinking about their computing power, the world is ripe for new and more interesting ways for the edge to become front and center in our daily lives.

Related links:

How 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will work together

What CIOs need to know about 5G

Where are all those smart cities we were promised?

Using AI to fight wildfires

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.