9th April 2018

What’s new in the world of big data? We round up some remarkable developments

Away from recent negative headlines surrounding how a small number of companies may have used the world’s largest social media platform to influence elections, ‘big data’ continues to be harnessed in a wide variety of very positive ways.

Big data converted into sound

One of the most remarkable latest developments is the sonification of big data by researchers at Virginia Tech1, basing their work on humans’ far more sensitive ability to identify changes and anomalies when in audible form, such as when bad notes stand out in live or recorded music.

The scientists’ tests involve converting multiple servers of earth’s upper-atmosphere data into sound that is then played in 360-degree 3D through a specially-built array of 129 loudspeakers housed in a massive immersive cube inside the university’s Moss Arts Center. Each speaker is assigned a section of the planet’s atmosphere and the combined audio output replicates a half-dome hemisphere allowing users to hear everything around them, varied by amplitude, pitch and volume.

Incredibly, users can even rewind, speed up and otherwise interact with the outputted audio by gesture. Virginia Tech firmly believes that spatial, immersive representation of big data through sound provides a unique perspective – although they’re not the first, with previous experiments having been conducted in Glasgow.

Japan’s wine industry turns to big data

The Okunota Winery in the city of Kōshū, Yamanashi, has embraced cutting-edge technology including wireless weather and microbiology sensors to reduce its reliance on pesticide and ultimately to continuously improve the quality of the wine it produces. Gathering data from the widespread network of sensors also contributes to a richer knowledge of a vineyard’s different ‘terroir’ characteristics. The winery’s boss was introduced to technology when Fujitsu temporarily took over part of his farm in 2010 as part of the electronics giant’s farming support activities.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is meanwhile backing a project by wine-growers in eastern Nagano Prefecture using precise measuring instrumentation from Uizin to analyse environmental changes, grape growth stages, pest control records and the composition of ripened grapes. The big data is processed to forecast optimum times for spraying the fields and harvesting the grapes, with product quality again in mind but with the added benefit of boosting the country’s economy now and in the future.

Smart farming with the help of drones, satellites and artificial intelligence (AI) is also being turned to in Japan at a time when agricultural careers are starting to dwindle, with sensors from e-Kakashi more efficiently replacing old-fashioned scarecrows in rice paddy fields.

A bra empire built on big data

International Women’s Day was celebrated recently and one of the entrepreneurs profiled was Orit Hashay, CEO of the online lingerie retailer Brayola, which is making impressive inroads into the market that is expected to be worth $55 billion globally by 2024. After training as a software developer and including a reviews website as one of her early projects, it was during Orit’s pregnancy that she identified the opportunity to make online bra-fitting easier and pioneered a solution based on a smart computer algorithm combined with big data analytics. Processing over 50 million data-points, Brayola’s online assistant finds the perfect fit and style for each customer and has seen the company’s returns rate fall impressively to 10% below the industry average3.

Big data to help reduce flight delays

Predictive maintenance made possible by connecting vehicular sensors with computers is already helping fleet managers to minimise the time that any of the cars and vans under their care will spend out of service, and the aviation industry is also seizing the benefits of such systems.

Delayed flights have long proved irksome for business and leisure travellers but with firms like easyJet and Airbus joining forces in predictive maintenance agreements, it’s anticipated that tardy or cancelled flights will become less frequent over coming years. Airbus’ Skywise data platform analyses big data from the countless individual components dotted around each plane and will notify easyJet’s engineers of potential technical problems as far in advance as possible, enabling them to proactively order parts and intervene early when signs of degradation or failure occur4.

Businesses large and small reap efficiencies from Wi-Fi data

Formula One is a sport that relies very much on vehicle data but has ironically neglected data analysis when it comes to fans attending races, but anonymised Wi-Fi tracking data is now being used to study crowd movement and behaviour. By understanding which food and drink outlets, TV screens, gates, car parks, retail stores and other facilities are primarily used by fans during race weekends, the experience can be optimised to both increase the enjoyment of attendees and also maximise circuit revenues while reducing costs5.

Small businesses such as humble restaurants are also turning to big data to survive in a traditionally competitive industry in which long-term success can be difficult to achieve. A report from Toast found that during 2017, 78% of the small restaurant managers they surveyed looked at financial data and diner metrics on a daily basis compared to just 46% a couple of years ago. Customers are no longer anonymous unknowns to restaurants embracing technology, with the analysis of Wi-Fi signup, receipts and reservation information enabling proprietors to understand what their customers want. Popular menu choices can be stocked more accurately while space in both the kitchen and restaurant areas can be optimised, as can staff rotas6.

Addressing India’s water crisis with big data

UNESCO predicts that central India’s renewable surface water resources will recede by as much as 40% in the near future, with the water table in Bangalore particularly at risk amidst the country’s acute water crisis. Infrastructure urgently needs upgrading and investment is needed in water distribution systems.

Aggregating big data across the complete water cycle by means of sensors is helping to bring about tangible change. The Elemento Aqua system from TetherBox uses cloud-based tools like Hadoop and monitors oxygen and contamination levels in real-time, pumping oxygen into various lakes to maintain hygiene.

Water wastage through human negligence is also partly to blame for the crisis, so smart water meters from IoT company WaterOn will hopefully result in a 35% reduction alongside providing immediate alerts when leaks occur, shutting supplies off remotely. Residents will be provided with mobile apps to monitor their water usage and data is sent to the water company’s cloud server through Nuclious, which is a hybrid variant of wireless communications hubs combined with wired meters. IBM is also working in various parts of India to tackle the water crisis7.

Despite negative noise surrounding big data in recent headlines, it’s clear from looking at this handful of current examples that it is significantly contributing to substantially positive changes in many areas of life and business around the world.


1. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3265456/big-data-business-intelligence/to-understand-big-data-convert-it-to-sound.html
2. https://www.nippon.com/en/features/c04602/
3. https://thenextweb.com/tech/2018/03/08/israeli-entrepreneur-built-big-data-powered-bra-empire/
4. http://www.aviationtoday.com/2018/03/28/airbus-provide-predictive-maintenance-platform-easyjet/
5. http://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/22974971/formula-one-big-fan-based-data-project
6. http://theweek.com/articles/754665/how-small-restaurants-are-harnessing-big-data-survive
7. https://analyticsindiamag.com/how-big-data-is-used-to-address-water-crisis-in-india/