Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in product introductions in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. There seems to be a lot of manufacturers that want you to believe that wirelessly controlling a device by a smartphone app is “the Internet of Things”. Well of course it depends on your definition of the IoT, but simple control of a device via Bluetooth from a smartphone app doesn’t really qualify as an IoT solution to me.
In my opinion, to qualify as an IoT “product”, the product needs to:
- Be a device that is collecting data and optionally controlling a remote device
- Have the ability to communicate the data collected to the cloud
- Have the ability to perform data analytics on the aggregation of the data collected to derive new value
To illustrate the difference between simple local control and a true IoT application, consider the example of a device designed to turn a light bulb on or off from your smartphone. Aside from it being pretty cumbersome to do (start the app on your phone, select the right screen, scroll to find your particular light bulb, then tap to turn it on — I think I’ll just go flip the switch on the wall), simple controllers do not make use of other devices that might work in concert with the light bulb controller — say a motion detector. A more sophisticated light bulb controller that worked in conjunction with a motion detector by passing messages over the local area network could automatically trigger the light bulb controller to turn the light on when someone entered the room. No clunky smartphone interaction is required. By having the ability to have separate devices work together, the process is simplified and much more useful.
Next — consider the integration of a cloud-based server that can communicate with the light bulb controller. By sending the device’s status to a server, I can track when the device is on or off from the cloud. Now imagine that I do this for every light bulb (or any other appliance) in my home. I now have data available that shows the state of all of my devices in real time and data that shows how each device is utilized over any time interval that I choose. I also gain the ability to control my device from the cloud — I no longer need to be within Bluetooth proximity to control my lights — I can do it from virtually anywhere that I have an Internet connection. This gives me additional capability to create cloud-based software to set up a schedule when I want specific lights to go on or off in my home automatically. Again – no smartphone app required.
Lastly, after accumulating light bulb data over time, I can now look at it as an aggregation and derive important and valuable information from it. For example, I can track my overall energy usage over a day, month, or year. I can tell if a bulb is burned out (i.e. if it is not consuming electrical current) and needs replacement. I can combine my lighting control data with data from other systems to provide a comprehensive picture of my home or office energy usage / savings.
If I am the light bulb controller’s manufacturer, I can use the data accumulated in the cloud to determine how my customer is using my product (how often, how many times, at what times, etc.). I can also derive quality information about all of my devices in the field — time between failures, most common failure, etc. The data allows me to understand my market and use this knowledge to create better products and more compelling solutions to stay ahead of the competition.
In our small example of the light bulb controller, you can see the value of not only controlling your devices locally, but the additional value of combining the function of the controller with other devices, the value of interacting with your device via the cloud and using data analytics on that data to derive new value. Thinking beyond simple light bulb controllers, imagine applying this same mind set to IoT solutions for factory floors, agricultural applications, transportation, oil/gas rigs, medical, home automation, and any other industry that involves process control.
Now that is the Internet of Things.