Early examples of the “potential” of the Internet of Things (IoT) patently failed to inspire enthusiasm worthy of (what has been rightly termed) the fourth industrial revolution. Prefixing everyday items with “smart” quickly became ubiquitous, with “smart” toasters and kettles negating the apparently now unacceptable effort of journeying far into one’s kitchen and manually flicking a switch.
This ill‑considered trend of labelling everything and anything as “smart”, for me, clouds the true potential of IoT. Today in an attempt to clear the fog, u‑blox positions that proper, valuable potential as the Internet of Things…that really matter. So what really matters? What applications of the IoT will genuinely benefit our lives? The list grows longer by the day though the majority can be categorised neatly into connected vehicles, connected city and connected industry.
To many, their first thought when hearing “connected vehicles” is naturally their own car, where infotainment has led the way in inspiring consumers to the possibilities of their vehicle itself connecting to the internet. In addition to music and videos, internet connectivity enables integrated satellite navigation systems to maintain live traffic information and to guide drivers. This is but a small step relative to the revolution that new V2X architectures offer.
V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) allows two‑way communication between the vehicle and its surroundings. In the short term V2I is tasked with improving traffic flow, fuel consumption, parking availability and locality of electric vehicle charging points; in the longer term it is paving the way for widespread fully autonomous driving.
V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle) creates a world where our vehicles communicate with one another, each employing the collective pool of data gathered by a daisy‑chain or mesh of vehicles to autonomously make decisions to improve our safety, whether that’s maintaining safe speeds, distances, or reacting to an accident instantly a mere few vehicles ahead.
V2P (Vehicle to Pedestrian) will protect those without the luxury of a metal shield, our pedestrians. Our vehicles will gain an awareness of pedestrians within close proximity of its travelling path and alert the driver, or take control from the driver altogether, to avoid a collision. With an increase in incidents of phone‑obsessed pedestrians walking into traffic, concepts to alert pedestrians via their smart phone are being explored. Though how that message is conveyed if it must enable a pedestrian to take evasive action instantly, must be carefully considered.
So many opportunities exist within our cities to improve the efficiency of the vast background infrastructure that today we take for granted. Migrating that infrastructure to rely on connected and increasingly autonomous devices carries significant risk, so necessitates unparallelled security requirements alongside flawless quality of data, in both accuracy and reliability.
In our connected city, the costs of failure are high. The emergency services will be revolutionised, shortening response times and providing instant access to relevant data gleaned from local environmental sensors and CCTV, also known as video surveillance, to save more lives.
Smart metering will alleviate the manual task of collecting readings by using the cloud to get that data to the utility company; that data must be unimpeachable, as consumer confidence is vital to building this connected ecosystem and quickly lost with any financial inaccuracies. NarrowBand IoT (NB‑IoT) will enable a nationwide roll‑out to the most isolated areas, and through increased utility autonomy, will contribute to reducing our energy bills. Beyond decreasing the cost per kWh, the connected city promises vast energy efficiency improvements through lowering its consumption. Smart street lighting avoids needlessly illuminating unoccupied areas yet can rapidly light up when a person is detected, even facilitating various levels of brightness derived from ascertaining pedestrian density via sensors.
Smart parking infrastructure is already coming to fruition reducing congestion. Barcelona, for example, recently discovered 40% of the city centre traffic was simply looking for a parking space and therefore implemented smart parking solutions; the connected city not only guides you to an available space but handles payment autonomously through Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).
The connected city offers the greatest opportunity, but also the greatest challenge. Its realisation at infrastructure level will demand ecosystem level interoperability between all connected services with robust sharing of “big data” and scalability. It is here that some of the most exciting innovations can take place: providing a “city‑level” data interface that allows new and innovative applications to spring up. At device level, it calls for a unique requirement for longevity, near‑zero maintenance and power consumption so low that devices ideally power themselves through energy harvesting.
Increasingly labelled Industrial IoT (IIoT) or Industrie 4.0, the connected industry is already revolutionising the way we work, wherever that may be. In heavy industry, connected machinery enabled to organise its own preventative maintenance averts catastrophic failure, while gathering real‑time data on the manufacturing floor drives plant efficiency improvements that reduce operational costs and environmental impact.
Agriculture is rarely considered to exist at the forefront of technological innovation, though with an estimated 9.1bn mouths to feed by 2050 (source: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf), employing connected sensors to monitor local environmental conditions provides the data critical for optimal use of land - a necessity to meet the challenge of such population growth. In our medical industries, real‑time monitoring of patients within their homes with sensors, either wearable or mounted locally to monitor vital statistics, free up our hospitals yet enable rapid reactions to any deterioration in patient condition.
A reduction in operational costs, improved productivity and potential new revenue streams with the connected industry all naturally excite industry leaders. The reliance on autonomous decision making through big data gathering on paper is a no-brainer and removes the potential for costly human subjectivity or even error. The challenge is ensuring the new connected infrastructure and big data gathering achieves unsurpassed reliability levels and is inherently infallible.
u‑blox has been connecting fundamentally scalable devices both robustly and reliably since 1997, nearly two decades before “IoT” or the more prosaic term “M2M” hit the headlines.
By Tony Milbourn,Vice President, Corporate Strategy, u-blox.