One morning, as part of my normal routine, I grabbed my computer bag and headed for my garage as I do almost every weekday. As I walk through the door I notice the exterior light outside the door is still on, and I immediately think to myself, “Oh man, not again!”
You see, I love technology. Whenever new products come out, I’m generally in line waiting for them, eagerly trying to find the quickest way I can get my hands on whatever the new tech is. I generally get the most excitement out of technology that will provide some sort of reprieve or enhancement to the daily tasks we take part in. It could be the latest mobile phone that is faster, bigger or better in some way, or some software, even a process, to improve the speed at which I can get my software built, tested and deployed. A web enabled, programmable and extensible hub for turning off my lights in the morning when the sun comes up is something I’m eager to jump on to see how I can integrate it into my life.
My interest in home automation dates back to performing some basic automation with a custom developed application and leveraging a serial based X10 controller (a communication protocol originally used in signaling over power lines). At the time I had no idea the scale of what these technologies could become, and the so called Internet of Things (IoT) slowly began to take shape over the next ten to fifteen years. The whole idea behind IoT is that every day physical objects and devices can all be inter-connected. These “connected devices” can send data, real time or logged in some form or fashion, about their movement, temperature or light sensitivity, to name just a few. This data acquired from various independent, purpose built devices leads to better user experiences, economic decisions, inventory control, energy conservation and well, your imagination is the limit.
In August of 2012, a Kickstarter project called SmartThings was created to join the home automation and IoT consumer space. Before its creation, there had been many attempts and various new protocols created to try and improve the home automation space. Private companies such as Lowe’s Iris system and have gained quick momentum. Other smaller projects such as and Quirky came along as well to try and leave their mark on this growing space.
These devices are built upon the same basic technologies. They are acting as a control hub for various communication protocols, including the 30 year old X10 protocol as well as some newer variations called ZigBee and Z-Wave. Their goal is to provide the best set of tools and experience for consumers, while solving the same problem. They are all competing to provide the best connectivity to the broadest set of devices. Some approach this by partnering with a national home improvement store for easier access to potential customers, and others by striving to have the best mobile application and customization platform.
Despite all the companies and devices striving to provide the best value and features, their customers are all generally trying to do the same things. This brings us back to my original story with my exterior light. The light not turning off (and not always responding to commands despite being on one of the latest reliable mesh network communication protocol called Z-Wave) is a fairly minor issue. Within my house, I also have thermostats that can automatically control the temperatures in my house to try and avoid freeze or heat based damage. I also have moisture sensors to detect water leaks near critical, fault prone devices in my house such as water heaters and air conditioner drains. Thankfully, I have not had to test the failure rate of these devices, although I have read reports on community forums about these devices failing and not responding correctly when needed. These devices all rely on the same basic connectivity methods. When disruption of service occurs, the difference may be a light not turning off, or over $80,000 in water damages. Quite a different result.
Don’t get me wrong, the doom and gloom of my recent experiences piloting a few IoT implementations are likely somewhat isolated. The sheer amazement of what we can do with these connected devices far outweighs the occasional disruption of service I personally encounter. From turning on lights to opening blinds when a certain individual’s phone enters a 50 foot radius of my house to simply alerting you when the potential of some water related danger may be occurring in your house. Consumer implementations are such a small drop in the bucket to the IoT explosion that we are currently undergoing. IoT is embedded in commercial and consumer spaces alike. Businesses have had amazing insight into their energy consumption through IoT like devices for years. Commercial businesses have fine grain controls of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to discretely control and monitor zoned system temperatures. Integrated solutions exist enabling business and leasing organizations to control and monitor individual lights within a building as well real time energy usage of these systems.
The focus of IoT goes far beyond the legacy control and monitoring of electrical or infrastructure components, businesses have been using radio-frequency identification (RFID) and other sensors attached to shipments, products and other items for years to monitor temperatures, locations and how the items are handled, stored or moved. Organizations are leveraging micro-computers and system of a chip (SoC) based devices coupled with various sensors to provide even more information into this growing nebula of data we have access to. Being a problem solver and process improver at heart, I can’t help but let my imagination go on a tangent about all the devices you touch through the day giving you feedback and enabling you (or even software) to make decisions based on them. My coffee is getting cold (via my internet connected coffee mug), my dog has taken 1,024 steps while being at home today (using a pet fitness tracker), or 2,356 products just left my store (Target’s public announcement of RFID tracking most products). The possibilities are endless.
Many top news and technology individuals and organizations talk about the Internet of Things and the power this level of data can bring to individuals and organizations alike. Where do you see the possibilities?