THE “internet of things” (IoT) is much hyped. For a decade, a world in which household appliances, packaged goods, clothes, medical devices and much more besides would be connected to the internet via smart chips and capable of sensing and sharing information has been just around the corner. Progress remains slow in the consumer market, despite a few hit products, such as the Fitbit, an activity tracker that connects to smartphones. An industrial form of the IoT, however, may come to fruition much faster.

As the world’s biggest manufacturing power, China is well placed to lead this transition. Which is why this week GE, the world’s biggest industrial company, opened what it calls a “digital foundry” in Shanghai. The centre will help Chinese companies develop and commercialise products for the industrial internet of things, which involves factory machines and industrial goods communicating with each other and their surroundings. It will probably be a much bigger market than the one for consumers. China has millions of factories with billions of machines and it also makes most of the world’s electronics, including many of the sensors and other...Continue reading