The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data isn’t just about more data, it is about smarter, faster decisions. Smarter measurements and faster decisions can result from wise use of smarter sensors, which allow us to better manage the collection, processing, and analysis of data in order to make quicker, more informed decisions.
“As smart as the sensors already are, the success of the IoT depends on their becoming even smarter with, for example, their own IP addresses so they can be identified together with their location”, according to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Senior Member Chonggang Wang, who’s also editor in chief of the new IEEE Internet of Things Journal.
“Today’s sensors generally have resource constraints, including limited computation and storage, short battery life, and the inability to communicate with each other”, he said.
By 2020, some estimate that the number of connected sensors and devices will exceed 1 trillion. Without intelligence distributed throughout these systems, the amount of data produced will far exceed our ability to understand and process it, not to mention the network bandwidth required to send this magnitude of data.
By employing smarter devices, only actionable data will get transmitted along with the context required to understand the information. By moving processing and intelligence from a centralised host to the data source, data can be refined and reduced, leading to faster decisions and less reliance on data transfer.
Similar to the server / thin-client model of computing from the 90s, consider the big data trend as a transitional phase while sensing and processing models catch up.
The relevance of this trend in engineering can hardly be overstated. As systems become more complex, the amount of data required to describe those systems has grown almost beyond comprehension, which inevitably results in longer project schedules and significantly less efficiency in development. More advanced tools and smarter measurement systems will be essential in order to manage this explosion of data and help engineers make informed decisions faster. In conventional measurement systems, sensors are often considered simply as a source - meaning a sensor changes a physical signal into an electrical signal to be sampled down the line with an analogue to digital converter.Tanuj Mohan, CTO and Co-Founder of Enlighted, suggested that there is a distinction between a sensor that simply triggers an action and one in which information that is gathered is used to influence the future.
“[A] way to think about a sensor that is not smart is to think of an automatic door opener in a building”, Mohan explained. “There might be a motion detector above the door, and when the light pattern above the door changes, it assumes there is someone there and opens the doors. This is useful, but not ‘smart’. There is no central data repository and no application layer that allows the building to be optimised dynamically. It’s Pavlovian – stimulus A always causes response B. No learning over time”.
Mohan also suggested that smart sensors enable both real time control and longer term assessment that can lead to fundamental change. “The data is stored to a central repository and then harvested by apps to both 1) show building operators what is happening in their buildings at every minute of the day and 2) optimise the building in real-time to reduce energy and meet the needs of occupants. These processes create a feedback loop. When the sensors are installed, data is generated that is used to optimise the building. As it is optimised, people use it in different / better ways, which provides new data and new opportunities for improvement. And so on”.
You can listen here to the Webinar Q&A we did with Tanuj at the end of last year - Shining a Light on the Internet of Things in Buildings.
With smarter sensors we will have the capability to join “things” together more efficiently, more cost effectively and provide more useful information in buildings. Smart sensors, as discussed in a recent Memoori report, will help transform Building Automation into the Building Internet of Things (BIoT).
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The technology can collect data from all the sensors and devices and with Big Data software, analyse all of this data and immediately optimise and fully automate the buildings performance. It can and will add a further dimension through more effective convergence with the business enterprise.
Technology giants and innovative start-ups are leading the way in developing a smarter generation of sensors, new projects are also emerging from government and academic institutions. Work is beginning on a new research project led by four UK universities (Science of Sensor Systems Software (S4)) that aims to deliver smarter, more reliable sensor based systems. These are the systems that will determine the future success of Smart Cities, the IOT, big data and smart buildings.