I am the first to admit that when my father lent my little brother and his skint bunch of hippy mates a fair whack of money so that they could build an ‘ISP’ (never heard of it), to act as a gateway to the then-new ‘Internet’ (lost me completely), I derided his decision.
‘No Dad,’ I opined, ‘this “internet” thing sounds like a dud to me. I reckon you can kiss your money goodbye.’
Fast forward a few years and said brother was counting the proceeds of sale of that business (I refuse to divulge exactly how much money they made as the thought still makes me slightly queasy).
And now it seems that I am being asked to grapple with yet another internet: this time an ‘IOT’ or Internet of Things. Determined not to repeat my earlier dismissal of the internet, and as I run a company that makes internet-connected lighting controls, I quickly sought out examples of benefits that an IOT will offer us all – preferably lighting-related.
And what I have learned so far has left me somewhat unconvinced. Apparently, the IOT is best exemplified by a Mercedes talking to a Google Nest. This in turn means that, thanks to the IOT, your house will automatically warm (or cool) itself in preparation for your arrival. Thank goodness and about time too, I imagine that our captains of industry will mutter.
Seriously? Your house has a smart thermostat and is fully air-conditioned and now, thanks to the IOT, you finally get to avoid any (temporary) discomfort by using yet more power to make your nest all comfy-cosy before you even get there? Am I the only one who thinks that this is just the teeniest bit self-indulgent at the expense of the environment? Let alone that this all sounds rather, umm, underwhelming for something purporting to be so revolutionary?
Putting aside for a moment the questions this raises about hedonism at the expense of future generations, why would anyone entrust this decision to a thermostat controlled by Google (with its extreme appetite for selling your data) anyway, when presumably your security system is already entrusted to do the job and only talks to your appointed and trusted security monitoring company?
In the absence of more sensible examples of things that will talk to other things for the betterment of our lives (without writing cheques that will be payable by our descendants), I racked my brains for a better idea and I came up with this: why not have our phone’s calendar talk to our car navigation system? That way our cars will know we have an appointment in Goondiwindi that we need to get to and will automatically offer to plot the course.
This would be a vast improvement on the current situation in which, for alleged safety reasons, the nav system cannot be used except when the car is completely stationary, leaving the car idling the fossil fuels away while we grapple with the task of either 1) manually entering a destination that it refuses to recognise because we aren’t entirely sure how it is spelt, or 2) trying to get the voice recognition to actually recognise our spoken destination.
Of course, Google may not see an angle in all this as, unlike their uber thermostat, the calendar doesn’t know the unattended state of your house, only the appointments of one of its occupants. (Sorry Google, you know we love you as a search engine, just not in a Big Brother kind of way).
As for lighting and the IOT, why not have the security system talk to the lighting system? Their conversation would not be a riveting discourse, but would instead be all about whether an area is occupied or not, a job the security system already does with anal-retentive precision?
My firm already does something like this in railway stations where any need for sensors for the lighting system has been obviated by the CCTV system’s cameras, with their eminently superior detection facilities. And let’s face it, the security system is much more mission-critical in the sensing department, so if anything we just need to temper the CCTV system’s enthusiasm (they can be like puppies – ‘I have a tail, look at my tail, I still have a tail, isn’t it great that I have this waggedy tail?’) so that our intelligent lighting control systems are not overwhelmed by their enthusiasm for shouting out updates.
Of course, there are plenty of buildings where this interfacing has already happened, albeit as either a low level interface (relays) or as a high level (but not IOT) interface (BACnet, Modbus, SCADA, OPC, etc.) where the interface is usually and purposely firewalled from the average Joe on the internet.
Similarly, the fire alarm system should talk to the lighting so that emergency egress is aided by full illumination of the exit path (and the rooms that have trapped any occupants). Again this can be and has been achieved without recourse to any ISP-reliant or cloud-reliant internet of things.
There are some truly visionary concepts out there that foresee every light as an IOT node but, like the scenario of the Merc and the thermostat, whilst I can see plenty of upside for big data, I am yet to fully grasp the revolutionary benefits to the occupant.
Yes, changing some lights to red would help alert people to an emergency. Yes, some colours could be used as cues for all sorts of things for the hearing impaired. But why is this better handled via the internet than locally within the building? Or is this yet another example of my thick-headedness in all things internet?
In my defence, and as proof that I am not a complete Luddite, when my own building’s alarm system is armed and occupancy is subsequently detected, my smartphone is able to instantly inform me of the intrusion (along with the security company monitoring my system). And it can likewise show me – on my phone and in real time - each room’s camera feed. Areas where intruders are moving about are automatically illuminated thanks to the lighting system’s (non-IOT) sensors.
This scenario, quite apart from making the burglars’ ugly mugs easier to see and record, also means that a trip and fall by the burglar cannot be blamed upon poor illumination levels as, Your Honour, the lighting automatically made adequate vision for the task of theft (without undue hazard from low light conditions) eminently suitable.
In all seriousness though, make no mistake: big data wants to get inside every building, especially your home. So the IOT is going to happen, like it or not. Let’s just hope though that the IOT comes up with things that are more worthwhile, sensible and sustainable than a car that controls the temperature in our homes. Like, maybe a smartphone that talks to your car and plots the route to your next meeting automatically. Now that would be something.
Just wish I’d been the one who came up with it. Wait…