How we would help rock band U2 leverage AI on the Edge

A fictitious story (for now) with real implications on how Embedded AI unlocks the value of IOT. 

Whenever I hear the term “the edge” in reference to artificial intelligence (AI) on the edge, I can’t help but think of Dave Evans – the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, artist, and guitarist who has been Bono’s right-hand man in U2 for 40+ years. And who can blame me? The Edge has been his stage name that entire time whereas the edge as a technology platform is just now making its presence felt. But trying to describe edge technology to people who don’t swim in the deep end of the technology pool can be challenging, and The Edge and his famous band provide an interesting way to talk about the edge as a technology value proposition.

Twenty years ago, according to Brain Eno, when Evans was in the studio with his bandmates, he accessed his music experiments from a bottomless green duffel bag, stuffed with cassettes. Those “experiments” were nuggets of what might become a song. By sharing those sounds with his bandmates, emotional connections were formed, lyrics and instrumentation added, and perhaps tested and played live before ever being pressed onto a record. This is the core of their work – to deliver an emotional connection through music and provide a memorable user experience for their fans – that has provided them success for close to half a century.

Today creating that same user experience remains the goal. But Evans no longer needs a duffel bag of cassettes. He can access a deep history of chord arrangements, key changes, samples, riffs, and experiments – essentially all kinds of data points – that he’s stored in the cloud for future use and creative development. It makes sense to put them in the cloud as he doesn’t need to access all of that information at a moment’s notice.

Now imagine I convinced the band to embark on a worldwide tour unlike any other, and instead of a pre-determined set list they’ve decided to play nothing but requests from the audience at every venue, meaning no two shows will be the same on the tour. The band needs real-time data from the crowd to make instant decisions and deliver this customized user (fan) experience. How do we help them do it? With embedded AI and edge devices.


Edge devices are dedicated physical devices that live in a specific environment for the purpose of detecting, sensing and collecting strategic pieces of information. Manufacturers might want dedicated sensing devices on the manufacturing floor, agribusiness might plant them in a cornfield, and U2 could place them throughout the stadium for the specific purpose of collecting voice data by crowdsourcing preferences when asking which song they should play next. Instead of real-time data coming solely from the loudest guy with front row seats, every voice matters as live data comes in across all sensors throughout the venue.

AI on the edge isn’t storing and aggregating data, rather it is collecting and processing data, and making real-time decisions. Take the robotic vacuum for example. Its value proposition is the speed of cleaning and navigation decisions it can make in real-time while freeing up time for humans to address other tasks. It’s not necessary for the robot to connect data to the cloud to make decisions. That can take time and drain valuable battery power for the job at hand, which is to clean a particular room. With AI on the edge, it can learn and navigate the space it needs to clean in real-time faster and more efficiently.

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The big differentiator is that the intelligent device is collecting remote information about its local surroundings that are strategic to delivering on the value proposition of the connected system.

For U2, it’s not just song selection which is what the intelligent device delivers to the system. It is really about how that song now unlocks what the stage production team does to connect video screens, content, lights and create an immersive experience specific to that piece of data. The song identified through AI is the key that unlocks the creation of the ideal, customized, user experience in real time. It is the key that unlocks all of the tailored elements of the show connected to it –  how “With or Without You creates an emotional experience that differs dramatically from “Pride: In the Name of Love.”

Mapping U2’s one-of-a-kind, but-still-fictitious world tour isn’t that difficult – thanks to clear parameters (request-only concerts) and a technology solution that can provide real-time feedback (embedded AI) connected to their stage devices (IOT system).

But for a lot of companies, things aren’t so cut and dry.


You need your own version of an emotionally gratifying user experience for your fans or customers. What is it today? What should it look like tomorrow?

Since there’s a lot of chatter – and perhaps not enough clarity – about artificial intelligence on the edge (or edge intelligence, embedded AI) it can be hard to arrive at a clear-cut conclusion on how this technology can benefit business. Even worse, questions about edge vs. cloud, feasibility, and the ongoing evolution of current technology options can leave companies not only confused, but stagnant.

Our dream scenario doesn’t happen if The Edge doesn’t have any curiosity about technology, let alone one with his namesake. He and the band would miss out on perhaps one of the most gratifying, real-time experiences for the band and its fans. Instead, they embrace technology.

While nobody can be expected to have all the answers, the reason why some companies seem to make all the right moves is because they remain curious, move beyond their proven capabilities to discover new possibilities, and collaborate with others (i.e. partners, stakeholders, users) in areas they desire to grow.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate embedded AI and determine if it’s the right technology solution.

  • AI on the edge is trending right now, but the question to ask is – how fast do I need insights? Do I need to make real-time decisions or not? If you do, you can benefit from edge technology.
  • As AI on the edge becomes a more popular technology tool, there are also attempts to “widen the pipe” to the cloud to unlock unlimited storage and processing capabilities. A few things to keep in mind:
    • Every byte sent to the cloud is taxed; determine if that’s cost effective
    • Currently, storing data on the edge is not cost effective – do you need storage?
    • Determine the appropriate level of intelligence needed for the task at hand – edge devices will have processing limitations
    • Choose development partners with AI/IOT experience who can weigh the trade-offs of insights and data against cost, understand your strategic intent and value proposition, and determine a cost-effective solution.

As a company, your value proposition is tied to the user experience. Honoring your customers with the best possible user experience is, by far, the best business practice. The user experience is not just important, it’s everything! And more than ever, that user experience is tied to the technology that can generate positive experiences.

This is where technology decisions become paramount. To miss on the technology is to fall short of the value proposition that is promised. Choose development partners with AI/IOT experience who can weigh the trade-offs of insights and data against cost, understand your strategic intent and value proposition, and determine the most elegant, satisfying and cost-effective solution.

And U2, if you’re listening, we’d love to connect our edge to yours.

As our Director of Data Science, Ryan is responsible for bringing value to our team and clients by designing sensor solutions and data analytics pipelines that create trustworthy decisions and insights . He leads a team of talented system thinkers who approach challenges through the lenses of sensors, data, AI, and algorithms.

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