Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger


App idea: Using gaming and social media to reduce your energy footprint

Energy footprint

SAP runs an event called InnoJam at its developer TechEd conferences. The SAP InnoJam events are held during the weekend prior to TechEd. During these events, people from the SAP community compete against each other in teams building working prototypes of solutions to real business cases, using SAP technologies.

SAP solicit ideas for business cases to be developed at these InnoJams – I added one this morning on building a residential energy management application. The application would use a combination of gaming techniques (leader boards, achievement badges, etc) and sharing to social networks to keep customers engaged and incented to try their best to reduce their energy use.

Here’s my submission:

Energy management applications being rolled out by utility companies have a very short Mean Time to Junk Drawer (MTJD) – they are ‘all shiny’ for the first couple of weeks but the shine quickly wears off and they are soon put away in the proverbial Junk Drawer never to be opened again.

How do you make energy management applications more engaging, bringing utility company customers back again and again to try to improve on their previous energy reduction steps? You do it by turning it into a game and allowing customers to share their progress on their social network of choice!

SAP have a new application for utility customers called Smart Meter Analytics which runs on HANA. The flood of data which will be coming from Smart Meters means HANA is necessary to do meaningful analytics on Smart Meter data (Centrica talk of going from their current 70m smart meter reads per annum to 30bn when all of their smart meters are rolled out – that’s a lot of data).

Smart meters give far more granular reads on energy consumption, allowing for residential energy management applications to be built and indeed SAP’s Smart Meter Analytics application has an Energy Efficiency Scorecard for residential customers.

But, if you build an application for energy management which allows people to compete against each other. If you introduce point scoring, leaderboards, and achievement badges and add to it the ability to share your progress with your social networks (a bit like FourSquare), then the application becomes far more compelling.

Also, the mobile app would want to have a way to check energy consumption remotely, and if a device has been left on (TV, aircon, oven, etc.), remote power-down from the mobile app.

Now, for utility companies to get this to really fly, they could offer prizes to schools in their locale – the school district with the greatest energy reductions gets a new energy efficient computer lab, or new energy efficient lighting, or… (you get the idea) – pester power from the pupils in the schools on their parents, combined with educating the younger generation on the importance of energy reduction is a major win-win!

The cool thing about this is that because it is based on the utility company’s Smart Meter Analytics, it is the customer’s actual energy use, not pledges, or estimates – so reductions reported are real, and realtime.

What do you think? Do you think this is a good idea?

Photo credit Tom Raftery