24th March 2016

Demystifying the Internet of Things (IoT)

Trend of the moment or real life development – we have all heard so much about the Internet of Things over the past few years, but what really can we take away to deliver better products and services to consumers? Demystifying the Internet of Things (IoT) has become somewhat of a passion for us at Heber. We get asked about it a lot, but in essence it is a new and fashionable term for what we have been doing for decades. Our aim is to take the best from a technology and make tangible benefits for our customers and their consumers alike.

Just like ‘Cloud Computing’ is not really some ethereal cloud of data, rather it’s a more powerful server connected to the internet. Ten years ago we just stored data, now we can run individual applications on these servers, and allow hundreds, thousands, even millions of users to login and work with these remote applications – sadly, no clouds involved!

IoT and ‘cloud computing’ are often bound together, as you usually need an intelligent ‘application’ running 24/7 on a web based server to help send packets of collected data, messages and controls to a device. That device is also connected to the internet, quite often via a wireless network.

The biggest next step from just collecting data from a device or person is to control, sense and interact with physical devices, remotely and anywhere in the world. In a nutshell that’s what IoT promises to bring us.

So, what about real examples of useful things? Sky TV is an example of an IoT connected device. You can set a program to record on your digital receiver from anywhere in the world. How about something more significant to our daily lives…

Intelligent parking spaces have been given as examples, but let’s create a wider vision of how our ever-connected world can bring us time-saving innovations. Imagine a city where every single parking space has a small sensor relaying if the space was free and its location. As drivers enter a city, their car sends out a message that it’s looking for a convenient space to park – near the location that was automatically set in the car sat-nav from an e-mail meeting request. A notification is sent to a parking space – or maybe a choice of many – a slot is chosen and it’s reserved for enough time for the driver to reach the location. Once parked the number plate is scanned, identified and the sensor updates the arrival time and starts to automatically charge for the duration parked.

For it to be efficient, and be commercially viable, all that intelligent processing needs to happen automatically via ‘Cloud Computing’. One small city may have 30,000 parking sensors, each sending an update every few minutes, along with cars pre-reserving spaces with a compatible ‘IoT sat-nav’. Billing, fines, infringements, even damage, accidents or vandalism could all be sensed, logged and reported automatically.

All this data processing and control needs to happen in real-time. So far so exciting and futuristic. However, the technology is there now and has been used effectively for many years – if in slightly simpler formats and without the IoT label attached to them.

Over the last 30 years Heber has designed many connected devices. From remote monitoring systems for care homes, to vending machine remote diagnosis to minimise service calls and reduce loss of sales from a lack of product stock. Many devices don’t need to be taken ‘online’ to be innovative. Heber has pioneered the use of no-extra-cost product service tools that allow service engineers to diagnose issues and potential problems from the outside of the appliance or machine. Heber’s Magic-Eye technology does not add any cost to the product, and can revolutionise the way companies address service and support for products and devices.

Interwoven with IoT and cloud computing is another term: ‘Big Data’. This is not about storing lots of data or files away on massive servers, ever growing and expanding. It’s actually more about quickly analysing masses of instantaneous data, processing and looking for patterns, trends or matches to enhance or improve things, usually with a specific focus back to the people supplying the information – often with an App on a phone or mobile device. The raw data is not stored, but used to create an ever changing instantaneous trend or shift that can be used by a company or sold as a service to make money. We are going to see a lot more of this, especially as smartphone ownership increases, allowing an ideal route to the data.  All that needs to be done is connect to other wearable devices or connected products around the home or business to start analysing all that valuable information. This technology can be applied to a myriad of areas from fitness and lifestyle choices to travel, leisure – almost any sector. How consumers adopt this technology and allow their data to be shared and analysed remains to be seen, but possibly provider trust and reward will be important trade-offs. In the business arena, cost and efficiency savings can be made if more is known about the way people react and use products and services.

So, in conclusion, IoT is already here and is already providing benefits to businesses and consumers alike. Some of the applications may be more mundane than futuristic but the benefits are very tangible in terms of optimising product efficiencies.

If you would like to meet or find out more about internet connected devices, remote data collection and product development, please contact richard.horne@heber.co.uk for an initial discussion. Heber awaits your call and looks forward to helping you design your next IoT connected product.

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