We live in an exciting time. The first wave of computers has peaked -- almost all of us to now carry around a sophisticated computer in our pockets. The second wave is in process; in most countries worldwide, in cities as well as in rural areas, people can connect to the Web almost anywhere.
The question we often ask ourselves is, how did we ever manage to survive without all these complex and powerful connected computing devices?
And now the third wave is upon us -- the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) will once again change our lives in such a way that we cannot remember how life was without it.
However, there are many challenges to conquer before the IoT is commonplace. Unfortunately, when I read the accompanying media coverage, it feels like we are surfing the crest of the hype cycle as fast as we can.
The word smart is becoming the dumbest word around. It has been applied to almost every device and system in our homes. In addition to smartphones and smart meters, we now hear about smart clothing and smart shoes, smart lights, smart homes, smart buildings, and every trendy city today has its smart city project. Just because it has a computer inside and is connected to the Web, does not mean it is smart.
As typical with technology hype cycles, after the peak of the inflated expectations, the trough of disillusionment is waiting, and the armies of sideliners and criticasters are already shifting into gear: lack of interoperability, standard wars, primitive user interfaces, concerns about privacy and security -- all good arguments. But hopefully we will soon get on the slope of enlightenment, because I believe that the IoT will bring the value that will create a next wave of wealth creation, as we have seen from the computer wave and the Internet wave. But to be enlightened, we first need to understand where the hype overtakes the smart, so we can bring the IoT back to its real large proportions.
For example, we recently had a smart meter installed in our home and my expectations were high: this would revolutionize the way our family consumes energy.
However, a few weeks after this meter was installed, the warm water pipe in the basement broke. This meant that the hot water was continually leaking out and spilling into the basement. And, as the water continued to leak, the boiler kept refilling and reheating even more warm water to be wasted. Because our boiler was large enough that we still could shower in the morning, the problem was not noticed for days, until I went into the basement and found it flooded. Based on the spike in my energy bill, plus the increase of monthly deposit, it must have been leaking for a time. But we didnt know about the leak. Why didnt this new smart energy meter tell us we were wasting energy? The smart energy meter was not very smart now was it?
Instead, lets imagine a real smart meter.
A real smart meter at least would know what my average energy consumption is, so if there was a sudden spike in energy usage, it would recognize that there was something that needed attending to and would send me an alert. Even better, a truly smart meter could take action, stopping the supply of water and electricity (or in our case natural gas), if something is really wrong.
I probably would not expect my smart meter to fix the warm water pipe in the basement, but it should be able to inform me that unusual consumption registered, uncontrolled depletion suspected -- supply suspended, please verify before reinstating, or some type of message to get my attention.
Looking back, I now realize that we really did not get a smart meter installed. It was only hyped as a smart meter: a marketer running away with what an engineer told him could be possible
The better term probably would have been digital meter, as it only measures the energy consumption digitally on a continuous basis, and communicates this with a host computer. This process enables me to log in on the utilities website and check my power consumption. But there is nothing smart about this meter (or metering); it may be state-of-the-art, it may be an advanced sensor, but to call it smart? At a minimum a smart meter should be able to detect and alert exception situations.
This is a good example of how the hype cycle is building, because it is clear that this digital meter has the capability of turning into a truly smart meter. That is, if it could be connected with the data of my regular energy consumption, and also if it would be capable to take action; that is: sending an alert and cutting the supply until the problem is fixed (or someone gives an override). But as long as this is not the case, my digital meter, despite its interesting advanced electronics, is as equally dumb as its analog predecessor. The lesson here is: be aware of marketers, putting their hands on technology.
This is just one example of how the word smart is being misused today. I fear many end users will be greatly disappointed as they realize that their new Smart Home is not very smart at all. As I said before, just because a device has some computing capability and is connected to the Internet, does not mean it is Smart. It needs some kind of intelligence in the system -- in the cloud -- that recognizes what is normal and what is wrong, and then has the ability to take some action to correct the problem.
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12 December 2017