By Danny Bishop
Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data together represent a paradigm shift in our ability to understand our physical world. It will not just live up to the hype but will be vastly more powerful than most people can appreciate right now.
It goes far beyond collecting email addresses and targeted advertising – it will facilitate our rapid and hopefully successful transition into a sustainable existence in our resource constrained world. It will reduce waste, improve efficiencies, and in so many ways improve our lives, our planet and our ability to live indefinitely on it.
It is a dramatic technological revolution that will happen at incredible magnitudes, at incredible pace. It will create vast workforces of specialists to create the connectivity, databases, data processing, machine learning and so on. But besides this, is it just automatic that we benefit from this, and leverage the technology to its full potential? No, it’s not – what it will do is make existing experts in many fields exceedingly more powerful, influential, and effective.
Sitting behind each new internet connection, database, and team of software and network engineers will be people who have a deep understanding and a thirst for deeper understanding of the underlying processes. These are the people that know a lot, but also are uniquely aware of how little we actually know. And they know what to do with the information that could become available. They will architect these systems, deploy, market, and ultimately move us closer and faster to the fundamental truths they are seeking. These are the people that will truly unlock the power of IoT, and deliver to the world the dramatic improvements in resource efficiency that IoT can provide.
Let’s consider the hot space of connected lighting. Why would we want to interconnect smart light fixtures? Well, there are a number of reasons, and being able to switch a light on or off from anywhere is important but far down the list. It is more about resource efficiency, and it will greatly enhance this in a myriad of ways far beyond just energy efficiency.
We don’t need the Internet to provide great energy efficiency. Autonomous systems utilising smart sensor arrays have proven that beyond doubt. But electricity demand side management does require the Internet – and there are dramatic and meaningful gains to be made by managing demand – ask anyone in India, South Africa, or many other countries about scheduled brownouts due to both lack of peak electricity supply and transmission.
What about maintenance? Sounds trivial, but the current maintenance of large lighting systems is disparate, reactive, and depends on so many links in a chain that makes it incredibly inefficient and wasteful. The occupant reports a lamp failure after probably some delay. The office manager passes it on to a facility manager with a rough description, and the facility manager calls the electrician, who gets third hand information about where and what the fault is. He finally tracks it down, and by that stage the whole process is so expensive that the ‘smart’ thing to do is replace the whole floor of lights on the assumption that the other lamps are probably due to fail soon. None of this information gets back to the manufacturer, supplier, or into any managed body of knowledge. So a simple lamp replacement costs so much, results in massive waste, and the manufacturer doesn’t learn how to improve their product and avoid a similar situation in the future.
Now consider the alternative. A lamp blows, and automatically sends a notification to the electrician, with the lamp model, ballast model, location and how to access the facility. He goes directly there and replaces the lamp. He is curious as to why it failed – he checks the database that is automatically updated, and it turns out that lamp was installed two years prior to the other ones in the area. Based on data gathered already from three million similar lamps, he runs a query to predict which ones on that floor will blow soon. Based on the measured burn hours, dim levels and power cycles he is directed to three more lamps expected to fail in the next two months. He replaces them. The invoice is raised automatically. The data on the failed and replaced units are automatically gathered by the lamp manufacturer, which adds to the now wealth of reliability data that had been collected worldwide, and leads them to understand the failure mode. Based on this data they prepare a business case to invest in the engineering required to fix the failure mode, resulting in an increased lifespan of two years, and again dramatically less waste, cost, and overall inefficiency. And by then we understand when and why they fail so well that we are always replacing them before they blow. This is predictive maintenance – and the promise of zero downtime. And it of course applies to everything, not just lamps.
This is but one simple example of the power of Internet connecting a device. There are countless more use cases known, and vastly more waiting around the corner. So, look for a company, product or service that is solving the fundamental problems first, and using IoT to further enhance an already deep understanding of the application. IoT is not about connectivity – it is about the applications and the value. The connectivity and analysis tools are already the commodity – the wisdom we gain, and what we do with it is where the value lies.