Unifying the Internet of Things

One Smart Sensor to Rule Them All

Since the term was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, there has been recurring confusion over the ethereal Internet of Things. Will it ever really happen? How will it change our lives? While there’s still scepticism surrounding the capabilities of connectivity, more people are gradually coming to accept the reality of smart things. Even so, adoption has been stunted by uncertainty over data privacy, expense and infrastructure. In order to communicate, things need to be connected. Until now, this has meant buying smart appliances, or fitting sensor tags to the ones you already have. This is expensive, complicated and time consuming. However, a team from Carnegie Melon University could have the answer. Instead of requiring multiple sensors, they have created a singular device which recognises and records events within whole rooms, making objects smart without additional installations. This is seriously important for IoT development, but how exactly does it work?

The sensei of sensors

Gierad Laput and team have created a single sensor unit which can track events within entire rooms. The device is plugged into a wall socket, and can capture information about sound, temperature, humidity, light and motion. Machine learning then recognises patterns of sensor activation. The device is able to detect first order sensors (turning on a coffee machine) but it can also discern second order sensors (the amount of coffee used). The system is so sensitive that it can even recognise when someone is writing on a whiteboard. Not only are they a plausible alternative to existing IoT systems, but they’re remarkably inexpensive to make. According to Gierad Laput, each unit costs $100 to manufacture – but, in time, he believes this could drop to just $30. In short, we’re looking at a highly accessible and affordable solution which could be the catalyst for wider IoT adoption.

These synthetic sensors are clearly positioning themselves as a leader in connectivity, but they aren’t short of competitors. High profile companies like Google, Microsoft and AWS and a plethora of startups are working on devices and services. The race is very much on to come up with the cheapest, most user friendly systems, but how could single sensor units disrupt IoT?

How will single sensor units disrupt the Internet of Things?

Firstly, single sensor units are a serious enabler for the Internet of Things because they address some of the key obstacles standing in the way of adoption. For example, home owners won’t have to fork out for expensive singular devices, nor will they need to install separate sensors into their existing possessions, therefore saving time, effort and money. This will in turn disrupt the design and manufacture of IoT devices because it will seem unnecessary to purchase separate smart units. As well as disrupting the development of IoT as a technology, single sensors will change domestic and professional spaces by contributing to improved efficiency. The sensor could even be used for security, detecting and reporting unusual events. Single sensors could also help to watch over elderly relatives, easing the burden on care facilities. Through tracking events in domestic and professional environments with just one intelligent sensor, IoT suddenly becomes more valuable to a wider audience. For instance, the synthetic sensors’ product doesn’t just tell you when a towel dispenser is dispensing towels – it tells you exactly how many are used and how many are left. This could be applied to any resource, meaning that companies and home owners alike would never run out of commodities because they’d always know what they had. Unfortunately, the single sensor can’t solve all of IoT’s problems. The rise of cybercrime, especially after the global Wannacry attack of Friday 12th May, has cast real doubt over connectivity. This can only be overcome by developing security protocols and protecting data.

The concept of a single sensor unit is brilliantly simple, seamlessly connecting and tracking smart things. It brings obvious advantages for IoT application, demonstrating the everyday usefulness of connectivity in our homes and workplaces. Of course, there are still issues with IoT. The idea that software knows exactly how much coffee you’re drinking or how many hand towels you use is a little unnerving, and cybersecurity breaches are doing nothing to improve confidence. The challenge for companies is to come up with a simple, helpful service to convince people that investment in IoT is worthwhile. Once the single sensor unit hits the consumer market, these synthetic sensors could be well on the way to doing just that.

How might a single sensor improve connectivity in your workplace? Will they lead the way in IoT technology? Can one sensor really solve the problems which have held back the adoption of IoT? Comment below with your thoughts.