25th November 2016

What Big Data is and 5 amazing ways in which it’s being used

From mobile phones, social media platforms, home central heating systems and research surveys, to public transport networks, hospitals, air quality sensors and orbiting satellites, everything around us pumps out all kinds of information. Once the Internet of Things (IOT) gains ever more traction, it genuinely will be conceivable that fridges will tell ovens what food is about to be placed in them so that the correct setting can be chosen, this data anonymously fed back to food producers, retailers, connected device manufacturers and other potential recipients. Informational already really is absolutely everywhere and is only set to grow in all directions.

Big Data refers to digital information received in huge volumes, in a variety of structured and unstructured formats and at high velocity, requiring rapid processing, often in real time. It’s no good if an organisation sits on all this data and does nothing, though, in a world where the knowledge economy is booming and data is helping all manner of businesses and other entities stay relevant, innovate, boost profitability or provide more efficient and optimised services. Big data analytics is therefore vital. A wide range of industries are harnessing big data to remarkable effect, so let’s take a look at some more unusual examples.

Connected cows

Argi-tech is revolutionising farming. On some farms, cows’ stomachs are fitted with sensors connected to a cloud platform via Wi-Fi that monitor the herd’s health, notify vets as soon as symptoms start to develop, and incorporate pedometers to tell farmers when individual cows are in heat, indicated by them walking more than usual. The sensors also enable farmers to track their cows, measure their growth rates and see how much they eat. In this case, big data is helping maximise milk production, which is great for farmers at a time when supermarkets are known to be squeezing them1.

Precision plonk

Vineyards in drought-affected regions like California are turning to drones that survey and take images of the land and vines, using artificial intelligence to make decisions in order to collect the most accurate and consistent data. The drones also monitor air quality and combine this information with data transmitted by sensors placed in the ground that measure soil moisture, humidity and temperature. All this information tells wine producers precisely how much water each area of their vineyard requires, helping reduce water usage in drought areas2.

Much Ado About Nothing?

Although suspicions have existed for centuries that the famous playwright William Shakespeare may have co-written three of the Henry VI plays with Christopher Marlowe, it wasn’t until this year that big data helped prove it. Databases of a wide range of plays and other works from Shakespeare, Marlowe and other writers from the Elizabethan period were crunched in search of distinct individual words or combinations. Writing styles were deeply analysed and any patterns discovered were rigorously applied back to the relevant texts to help scholars come to the conclusion that now sees Marlowe’s name listed as the co-author of certain works.3

Universities get social

Standardised exam results are all very well, but universities are waking up to the fact that other perhaps more indicative factors can be analysed as part of their admissions processes in order to award places to the students most likely to stick around and make a success of their degrees. Perhaps surprisingly, some education institutions believe that the more social media friends a prospective student has, along with how many profile photos they’ve uploaded, can often result in them being more likely to eventually graduate. Some colleges and universities also use behavioural and demographic data for admissions decisions. On the flipside, websites akin to Trip Advisor for students have been set up, enabling them to rate the universities they’re studying at, to help prospective freshers decide where to apply to, based on opinion-led big data.

Christmas Trees

Even a species like the Fraser Fir, often regarded as the perfect tree, doesn’t end up looking in particularly good shape by the New Year, so scientists regularly work at refining the breeding of such trees. This requires an understanding of how they grow best, which is fuelled by data. The snag is, databases are often spread out over multiple locations, in differing formats and simply too large for desktop computers to process. Such challenges led to the development of the Tripal Gateway cyber infrastructure in America, which enables scientists to access, visualise and analise data anywhere in the world. Drone technology also allows researchers to survey and monitor forests, combining this information with soil, climate and genetic data to understand changing forestry biodiversity5. For the majority of consumers, all this behind-the-scenes data analysis translates into Christmas trees that supposedly improve with each year that comes along.

In the automotive field, Trak Global Group is a pioneering thought-leader in the use of connected technologies and big data. Our telematics solutions help wide-ranging organisations to manage driver risk and we work with some of the world’s most renowned brands across the fleet, automotive, rental and insurance sectors, helping them optimise their use of big data.




  1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-04/these-cows-will-text-you-when-they-re-in-heat
  2. http://www.techradar.com/news/world-of-tech/how-the-iot-is-creating-precision-farming-1328440
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-shakespeare-marlowe-idUSKCN12O1QE, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/books/shakespeare-christopher-marlowe-henry-vi.html
  4. http://www.masterstudies.com/article/How-Big-Data-is-Changing-Higher-Education/, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/new-tool-colleges-using-admissions-decisions-big-data/
  5. http://today.uconn.edu/2014/12/big-data-and-the-science-of-the-christmas-tree/
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