What Makes an IoT Solution ‘Smart’?
What exactly is a smart IoT solution?
Many IoT solutions claim to be smart; indeed, we see this prefix applied to anything from meters to cities. But is it being used accurately? All too often connected solutions are described as smart when they are anything but. The manufacturer has simply taken an existing product, added internet connectivity and called it a smart IoT device. The device may still largely be a dumb terminal that does not leverage the many new possibilities opened up by the fact that it is connected. Nowadays the real value is in intelligent solutions, and smart SMEs can build in smart capabilities to their solution to add to their value proposition.
Take a typical home security alarm system. It senses a door is opened and sends out a message. It is a reactive notification only. With no interpretation by the device, human intervention is required.
A truly smart solution is one that can interpret data and react accordingly. In the case of a home security system, the ‘smart’ comes in being able to recognise if the alarm has been triggered by accident, for example by the family pet, and in such circumstances make the decision not to sound the alarm. If the alarm has been set off by a human, the system should be able to determine whether that human is a member of the household or not and act accordingly. Where such interpretation is carried out by the solution, whether in the device itself or in the cloud, then it is surely worthy of the ‘smart’ designation.
So how can IoT developers and manufacturers make their products smart, and thereby add value and drive sales? The key is to think bigger, and to enlarge the value proposition by building in intelligence and automatic decision-making. At every stage, they need to challenge their own assumptions and consider whether their products really do remove – or at least reduce – the need for human involvement. All too many IoT products still require someone to sit in front of a control panel waiting for a notification to pop up.
Cocoon Labs provides a good example of a smart approach to home security. The Leeds-based SME’s solution works by picking up low-level sound waves too quiet for humans to hear and sending a notification to the householder’s smartphone if anything unusual happens. Crucially, the system’s built-in AI tunes itself to the household’s frequency, learning the rhythms of the home in order to avoid false alarms. According to Sanjay Parekh, Cocoon’s CEO, the key to offering a smart solution is simplicity.
“Not all smart home technology is truly smart. Many so called solutions are confusing to use, don’t really solve a problem and have not been designed to fit easily into the lives of their customers. We believe that for technology to be smart, it must solve a real world problem, simply,” he says.
Of course, smart IoT products are applicable to any number of use cases, both large and small. London-based industrial IoT company ThingTrax provides an SaaS-based solution for the manufacturing industry that is designed to help track, capture and analyse data from machines and operators in real-time and provide actionable business insights. The company has adopted a smart approach in order to move up the value chain from simply providing alerts to offering a more predictive solution. Aman Gupta, ThingTrax’s head of devices, says, “Our device can decide to send more data to the cloud for analysis depending on what it finds. That is the intelligence we have built in.” ThingTrax have recently secured £250,000 in seed funding
Also based in London, Felcana offers a very different product for a very different market: an ecosystem of connected and responsive devices designed to monitor pets. The solution uses intuitive machine learning to analyse a pet’s behaviour and activity patterns, and lets users know when things change, for example indications that the pet is unwell and needs to see a vet.
At the end of the day, a smart device is one that can make a judgement and act on it, taking unnecessary workloads away from humans and freeing them up for more specialised and productive work. By focusing on making their devices not only connected but smart, SMEs will find that they are more in tune with market demands and better able to offer IoT products and services that provide effective solutions to real-world problems. End users, be they companies or consumers, will be willing to pay a premium for a solution that will make their lives easier and save them (and their employees) time and money.