Will Sensor Technology Turn the Internet of Things Into the Internet of Systems?

The internet of things is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. The term is said to have been invented by Kevin Ashton during his time as brand manager for Procter & Gamble in 1997. It has been repeated enough to necessitate its own abbreviation: IoT.

Data collection was the first phase of IoT. Getting connected sensors small enough to be able to be put into a wide variety of devices took a lot of technological innovation. Now, the sensors have become so small, robust and affordable that the collection of data is no longer a technical bottleneck. Now, for the IoT to be able to truly change our lives, our business and our buildings, we will have to figure out of way for them to work within the internet of systems.

I can’t take credit for this idea, as much as I would like to. I came across this concept at Propmodo’s last facilities management event thanks to Marian Kost of Disruptive Technologies. His company is one of the pioneers of sensor innovation. They are a Norwegian firm that cut their teeth in the semiconductor and microchip business working for companies like Texas Instruments and Silicon Laboratories. Now they have developed a connected sensor the size of a postage stamp that can track a large number of environmental factors and can run on its own power for up to fifteen years. As he put it, “We have built the world’s smallest sensor. This allows you to stop worrying about the hardware so you can spend time worrying about the data.”

Because, in the end, it isn’t about just collecting data. The future lies in using that data to make real-time decisions. In order to do that, though, there needs to be a connectivity between data systems. Hence the term, the internet of systems.

Now, Disruptive Technologies is turning their sensor horde on buildings and Marian outlined a number of use cases, all of which require a connection to other important systems. One has to do with a building’s electrical system, one of the main sources of fire danger. By installing their sensors on every fuse and electrical line and comparing it to granular energy usage they can see circuits start to overheat and recommend maintenance that could prevent damage to the electrical components or worse.

Another use could be to help buildings save on energy. They can help a building understand where its occupants are and adjust everything from heating and cooling to janitorial services accordingly. Here Marian talks about his firm’s work with Prescriptive Data’s Nantum product.

Lastly, he explained how these tiny devices can change the way we understand our workplaces. They have been working with a number of furniture manufacturers to equipe entire offices with connected chairs and desks. No longer will corporate occupiers and facility designers have to guess about how much workers are using different types of seating. Instead they will be able to understand usage on a much more holistic level. This can also be used to bring transparency to a workplace. Meeting rooms and conference rooms will be able to give updates on when they are full or empty. Devices like coffee machines or printers will be able to have an help button installed that can bring instant help. All of these happen so seamlessly that the users barely even know where the data is being collected. Instead the can just enjoy the benefits of a true internet of systems.

There is no better time to create a connected building than now. No longer to expensive monitoring devices have to be purchased or additional wire need to be run. Instead, those tasked with creating better spaces can worry more about how what the data is telling them, not how to collect the data itself. Here is Marian’s final rallying cry for the next generation of the internet of things, the internet of systems.

Editor and Co-Founder

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Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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