There are many articles, conferences and general banter about Smart Communities, Smart Cities and IOT. – AND – I am not complaining, because it is an area of great opportunity and a place where North America lags much of the world in implementation. Any attention is good attention, as far as I am concerned, and it is an area where I would love to see flourishing activity.
I have been working in this space for close to twelve years and I will not be the first to tell you that IOT and Smart Buildings have been around for a long time. I know people that have worked on it since the late 80’s. I don’t know the answer as to why the adoption has been slow, but I would like to take this opportunity to demystify the whole concept. So much attention is given to the solutions and possibilities and little to what is actually required to yield the benefits. A good analogy is that everyone is focusing on the shiny ornaments that will hang on the Christmas tree, rather than the tree itself and the beauty of the ornament is nothing without the tree.
So what does this Christmas tree really look like?
The starting point is the network and I realize that IP protocol is not exciting and switching has become commoditized, but it is the basic starting point of any Smart Community IOT initiative. If you can’t connect the things, you can’t listen to what they are saying and you can’t tell them what to do. We all have to make our presentations to Executive teams and explaining the network is not always the simplest thing, especially when it requires an investment. I always use the analogy of the human nervous system. We don’t have nerves exclusively for sight, for hearing, for touch, and for motor activity in our muscles, we have one central nervous system connecting all things within the body. Our central nervous system reads all the sensors and becomes the pathway to make us react and do things. It is same with connected communities.
The second component is interfaces or places where people can get visibility into what is going on in the community. If you want to change behaviour for enhanced sustainability, you have to be able to present the option to the person to decide to set back the thermostat. If you want security, people need to see cameras in the community and be able to engage in dialog around safety and security concerns. If your security alarm goes off, you want people to be notified. The Christmas tree is a giant communication platform with multiple ways to communicate with the people engaged in the overall system.
The third component is compute, or cloud, which is term that I generally don’t use, because the media has beaten it to death. The compute is the brain, reading the sensor inputs and telling parts of the system what to do and providing messaging to the people in the system. Here is the place for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, completing an ecosystem that can scale and deliver services that matter.
Fundamental components for a Smart Community
My last frustration with IOT and Smart Home is that it is not about dimming the lights and turning down the music when your girlfriend comes over or changing the colours of lighting. All very cool stuff, but save it for the magic show. It is generally not what the mass market wants and needs.
I believe that it is about services that matter, and technology that becomes invisible, supportive, but not invasive. I always break it down into sustainability, security, and services.
Once the three components are in place, there is an endless opportunity to create solutions that leverage the network, interfaces and computational power to create better places for people to live. Smart cameras can intelligently assess bad situations and tell people about it. Time of use energy rates can be communicated and acted on in real time to save you money and contribute to a sustainable environment. Integrated and automated locker systems can deliver on-line orders to your community fulfillment centre.
SmartONE solutions is a smart community company that focuses on the delivery of all components to create a smart community. We build networks and are leveraging the Commax smart community platform from Korea. In my multi-year pursuit of smart communities, I found that the North American Smart Home providers have focused on homes and not a bunch of homes that share common infrastructure. The North American systems are not built to have 700 people looking at the same front door camera, or controlling the same main entrance. In Korea, however, every building has a Smart Community solution and they have integrated parking and package delivery solutions. I typically give the analogy that the system is a giant intercom. It is video phone hardware first and a smart home and community system second.
I am excited about this work, because I can clearly see the impact and the opportunity to create better places for people to live. I know that it is cliché but,
It is not about the technology, it is about the people and creating services that matter!