Unlike the other articles on this blog, which are mainly geared towards coding and code snippets, this article is intended to discuss some of the key angles in terms of creating Smart Initialtives with the use of IoT technologies.
There has been a lot of development already around Smart Homes via gadgets like switches, lights, thermostats, leak sensors, even refrigerators. IoT is also a widely discussed topic in Industrial Automation. There is also a lot of buzz out there about Internet of Things (IoT) and some exciting concepts around Smart Cities. And why shouldn’t opportunities be looked for in improving citizens’ lives? Luckily many governments are interested today already that are taking vested interest in delivering that to the residents.
Typically, the availability of the Internet, Devices (including sensors within devices), and Communication Tools are the key ingredients of any Smart Initiative.
Always available Internet ensures constant data flow between devices, sensors, and consumers. Devices that can seamlessly connect and stay connected to internet ensure that the required data points are accurately captured and timely delivered. By the way, it is also getting critically important that these devices use low power. Communication tools and methods provide frameworks to develop various models of data transmission such as on-demand connections, message queuing, etc.
Finally, what makes all of this “Smart” are the use-cases and the execution of these use cases. For example, just because it is possible, what improvement to the quality of life would a Smart Toaster or Smart Coffee machine provide? I want to argue there is none! However, Smart Lights that turn themselves ON and OFF, or Smart Thermostats that set themselves based on time of day and weather conditions are smart value adds to one's quality of life. How many times have we forgotten to turn the lights off before leaving our homes, or how many times have we not set the right temperatures in winter that have led to bursting the water pipes? Not having to deal with that on a day-to-day basis is an improvement in quality of life, not to mention the financial benefits coming from the use of smart devices.
So, is Anything That is Automated, Smart?
A few years ago, as the “Smart” concepts were being coined, I used to wonder how Smart was different from Automation. Or was it one and the same thing?
Well, let’s take a factory. Factories have machines. Some machines are fully automated (a.k.a. CNC) and require attention only on an exception basis. So if they are already automated, are they Smart? or if not, what keeps them away from being Smart?
In my opinion what differentiates Automation from being Smart is simply the way in which metric data is collected, analyzed, and used in making a decision or taking an action (by both humans as well as machines themselves).
A digital (non-internet-connected) thermostat at our homes is capable of providing automation to start and stop the heater or air conditioner based on the sensors built-in within that unit. We can tell that this is automation right away. But that is definitely not Smart, as it is not able to store and analyze the historical data easily. We cannot know whether it is ON or OFF from far away, i.e. without physical inspection. We cannot control it from far away unless it's pre-programmed already. Bottom line, the digital thermostat in this example, improved our quality of life minimally by providing ability to read out digital numbers from the LCD panel. An internet-connected thermostat on the other hand, because of its ability to fill the gaps mentioned above, drastically improved the quality of life.
Thus, Automation and Smart are not the same!
The Internet provides a very big boost to our abilities to develop Smart Initiatives, and it already has a reputation of breaking the barriers related to knowledge and information, and this benefit gets extended to Smart Initiatives as well. Concepts like Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Smart Offices, and (although not an official term) Smart Industries are possible today and are just going to grow in the future. Possibilities are endless and it’s all in the ideas. Speaking of idea, imagine the power your Smart Thermostat will deliver if it can not only read data from its sensors and save for your analytics but also call external weather API’s to adjust its settings based on external weather conditions. Now, that would certainly improve our quality of life and is worth calling a Smart Initiative.