Opinion: From Consumerisation to Industrialisation – how sensor technology is driving the IoT
Steve Reynolds, Managing Director, TBS Mobility, explains how industry took the humble sensor to underpin the digital revolution.
We have been living with the Internet of Things for decades, just without really knowing it.
Industries like fruit processing have been using the type of sensor technology driving the IoT for over 20 years, sorting and grading everything from apples to kiwi fruits to assess everything from weight and ripeness to damage.
Fast forward to 2018, the advent of smartphones and advances in technology has facilitated the progression of IoT into a transformative imperative in certain sectors, to disrupt what are seen as traditionally people-centric processes.
To understand how, and where, it is going we need to understand what the Internet of Things is.
It can mean many things to a lot of people, but the best, and least confusing description I have found is this:
The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to inter-operate within the existing Internet infrastructure.
At the heart of it is the advancement of sensor technology, which is simple but incredibly effective, and sensors will continue to play a revolutionary role on consumers and businesses in the short to medium term.
From its humble, fruit-sorting beginning, the next logical step was to free sensors from being wired to use low power wireless technologies such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, short range wireless technologies with a range of around 100 metres line of sight, and to power these sensors with batteries, making them compact and configured simply through an app on a smartphone.
Around 2 -3 years ago we started to see IoT home automation technology available to the consumer for controlling lights, sound systems, monitoring temperature, sensing when doors are being open and closed, monitoring movement, humidity etc.
Realising the benefits sensor technology could have to business, and with increasing expectations to do more, with less, companies began introducing it to the workplace.
As a result, the variety of IoT wireless sensors available is growing and new long range wireless technologies such as LoraWan, SigFox and NBIoT are starting to gain traction as these provide a more suitable long range wireless connection. Both LaraWan and SigFox have a range of around 10 miles line of sight to a connecting gateway and NBIoT uses the 4G mobile network infrastructure. These long-range sensors also have a battery life of up to 5 years.
These sensors are ensuring that building instrumentation is cheaper and easier – so that it is possible to provide advanced intelligent services cheaply to a whole range of sectors.
Commercial service contracts, for example, become more efficient and predictive right the way from wireless sensors triggering a workforce service request to empty a bin that has become full, to monitoring the ambient conditions of the workspace to ensure they are at the optimum settings for employee comfort.
New digital services will enable building tenants to realise improved space utilisation and employee efficiencies that directly improve their daily work tasks. More sophisticated IoT technologies are also being used to provide people counting solutions using video cameras and streaming video analytics to provide information on how buildings are being utilized by their occupants.
And a number of sensors are beginning to appear that will have a positive impact on health management such as wearable cardiac patch technologies that provide a live stream of ECG data from a patient including blood oxygen, skin temperature, body fat, and galvanic skin response (stress) providing healthcare professionals with a new data dimension in diagnosis. Not only this, these devices can be used on first responders to monitor for health impacting levels of stress.
The data from each sensor activation, to the servicing of an action, is also stored in a Cloud database, which can be analysed to improve performance, provide valuable insight and derive new ways of working as part of a continuous improvement programme.
We have come a long way in a short time since wireless sensor technology became commonplace in the workplace, but we are only scratching the surface.
Gartner predict by IoT technology will be in 95% of electronics for new product designs and there will be 31 billion connected IoT devices. The possibilities will be endless.
Steve Reynolds Managing director of TBS Enterprise Mobility and honorary president of the Mobile Data Association