Sensor Pervasiveness in IoT
Smart technology for smart users
As users become more technologically savvy and discerning, connected smart devices continue to permeate the fabric of our lives, both in the personal and professional spheres. Automobiles, television sets, fridges, coffee machines, thermostats, toilets, faucets, ovens, light bulbs, and a plethora of other objects have already gotten ‘smart’ and can now do much more than what they originally intended to. We also expect them to do better, despite costing us more to acquire. What’s a light bulb that can’t be remotely dimmed or the color of its luminescence – adjusted? What’s a fridge that can’t tell you when it’s time to stock up on groceries?
If it can be measured, it can be recorded
The way most IoT devices work is by incorporating both sensors and wireless connectivity – two seemingly simple hardware modules that have been around for a while. So, what’s causing the proliferation of all these connected devices, now more than ever before? It mostly has to do with data and services. Whereas previously we had the tech to enable smart devices, we now also have advanced infrastructure and software to make the best of their capabilities.
Smart tech collects sensor data, which is then fed into intelligent computer algorithms, which can trigger certain events (e.g. notifications) when a pre-defined set of conditions occurs. Based on the triggered events, further actions can then be selected and undertaken by users, thus generating additional data which helps the algorithm ‘learn’ and become better at predicting future events (the so-called predictive algorithms).
The data behind IoT
All the data generated by sensors, microphones and cameras is, of course, stored on the cloud – naturally triggering privacy concerns about this form of decentralized surveillance. What may seem like trivial data like households’ TV viewing habits, their consumption of heat, fruit, or gasoline, can make up sophisticated consumer profiles, which can then be targeted by tech giants and advertisers, or in a more sinister scenario – government organizations. In China, for example, manufacturers of connected cars are known to be sharing data with the government regularly.
If all our actions and habits are recorded and tracked, what remains of personal privacy in a tech-dominated world? Issues arise when connected devices don’t offer the ability to turn off or restrict data sharing.
The future of sensor-driven tech
With falling prices of hardware components and advancements in software, we can certainly expect the Internet of Things to be implemented in more devices and further applications. Fishing rods, fragrance diffusers, door locks and toothbrushes can now be remotely controlled, and their usage analyzed through apps – no more worrying about whether you’re brushing correctly or whether you’ve left the door unlocked.
The latest IoT innovations
South Korean diaper manufacturer Monit has recently unveiled the smart diaper, after successfully testing moisture sensors that attach to diapers, thus making visual inspection obsolete. In theory, that technology can also be applied to feminine napkins, too – whether that’s an innovation that women would embrace, is another question.
White appliances manufacturer Whirlpool is testing an oven window which will work as a display. The oven will then link up to your calendar online and recommend what you should cook based on the free time you have on that day. A built-in oven camera will inform you whether your pizza is ready, without ever having to open the oven door.
Innovations are mostly consumer- and competition-driven, though consumers themselves couldn’t fathom that most of their everyday actions could be automated. Companies, on the other hand, are studying repetitive, annoying or risky tasks and looking into whether they can take the grunt work out of them by automating them with the help of sensors or cameras.
As gadgets become increasingly smarter and more connected, it’s important to consider whether we really need a fridge that checks the shelves, orders food and makes coffee on top of offering recipes for smoothies, and whether the added layers of complexity are beneficial or ultimately – a hinderance to utility.