Watch where you put that sensor!


Posted on: Mar 24, 2016 by Andy Wallace

I recently came across an article on a Technology and News website that reported on a Search Engine for the ‘Internet of Things’. What a cool idea! A one-stop shop to check the status of the webcams in my house, fiddle with the heating and lighting and maybe even check where my family members are based on the location of their smartphone or tags on their keyring.

Atos-Ascent-Watch where you put that sensor!

Luckily I didn’t have to search far to find some of the things that other people connect to the web;

a classroom full of 4 year olds, a kitchen, a cot complete with sleeping baby and yes, even a man on the toilet.

Clearly, there are a couple of fairly obvious lessons to be learned here.  Firstly, don’t use this service whilst you are in the office. Embarrassing!  And secondly, if you connect up your home without considering security, then a potential burglar may well be able to check out your home defences remotely, set the  heating to something nice and comfy, turn down the lights, stick the kettle on and go about their business in complete comfort.

Old dogs and new tricks

At a recent meeting of the Atos Scientific Community a colleague demonstrated a fantastically innovative health care solution. A blood pressure monitor, bathroom scales and a smart watch that all work together to provide information securely to the user, a family member or healthcare professional. And before you ask, yes they have thought the security aspects through!

Then I thought of my dear dad, sitting at home the other day, wondering what that faint ringing noise was. The firemen were very kind to him when they turned up. They re-set the smoke alarm, disposed of the burned saucepan and gave him a leaflet on Fire Safety.

But I think it’s safe to say I won’t be recommending to him a new smart watch which would require young, nimble fingers, good eyesight and the ability to hear a gentle beep.

Consumer Gadgets and Awesome Mega-Structures

When we consider the uses of connected devices as consumers, we tend to think of nice shiny things that make our lives a little easier, or a bit cooler, or help us to achieve certain goals.  Broadly speaking we are happy to trade a little personal privacy in exchange for a record of our fitness, advice on how to improve our health, gain a loyalty discount or a myriad other benefits.

But if we think about raw materials, components, containers, modes of transport and other aspects of the supply chain in a ‘Business to Business’ world then the picture becomes far more complex.

That got me thinking more widely about how we build sensors and connectivity into smart objects.

Businesses are becoming increasingly good at tracking their supply chain and integrating data about suppliers, parts and materials into their manufacturing and process control systems. The proverbial gentleman with a clipboard has been replaced by systems that read RFID tags, QR or barcodes and which can provide timely updates on inbound deliveries. So if I can add this stream of data to my detailed 3D model for the production plant or awesome mega-structure that I’m building, then I should be able to know, not just what every part looks like, but also where it is, when it will arrive, when it will need replacing and what its financial value is at any moment in time.

Just how many dimensions are there?

Er, that’s not an invitation for readers with a working knowledge of Einstein’s general theory of relativity to pass comment. At the Scientific Community meeting that I mentioned earlier, we had a discussion about the 3D representation of objects. The object in question was a robotic arm, which was required to be placed, assembled or built in a confined space in an engineering plant. 3D modelling does an excellent job of showing what will work and what will not. But it really comes in to its own when the dimension of time is considered. It sounds like we might be on the verge of a 4D revolution.

And now it’s time for a small confession. I’ve already mentioned the Global Atos Scientific Community but I didn’t mention that our UK members have an online ‘catch-up’ every couple of weeks. When it comes time for this call, I’ve usually just dropped my daughter at school and I’m on my way into the office. About three quarters of the way there, without fail, I pass through a cellular dead-zone and drop off the call. Now, if it was me that needed that connected healthcare solution, that would be a really bad place to have a sudden medical emergency!

Who’s User Experience is it anyway?

So, where are we? I think we’ve established that connected objects need to be reliable and secure and also that a great user experience is inherently a subjective thing. If I were that part-built robotic arm, awaiting a consignment of 10mm nuts and bolts on the back of a trucked parked in the layby ¾ of the way between my daughter’s school and the office, then a great user experience might feel like Low Power Consumption, Long Battery Life, Encrypted and Secure with Multi-Network access.

So let’s keep those innovations coming. From smart watches that help us monitor our health, or bicycles that remind their owner where they are parked, to beer kegs that tell their Asset Manager when they have fallen off the back of a lorry, there are a hundred thousand great ideas out there.

But as well as a fabulous customer experience, let’s not forget about reliability, scalability and good old fashioned end-to-end service. That way, the next must-have addition to the Internet of Things won’t become just last week’s forgotten shiny thing.

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About Andy Wallace

Consultant, Programme Manager and Business Director and member of the Scientific Community
As a Consultant, Programme Manager and Business Director with over 30 years experience in the IT Industry, Andy has been responsible for large and complex assignments for Financial Services, Utility, Energy, Chemical, Nuclear and Public Sector clients. He has worked in a wide variety of different geographical, cultural, business and technical environments and has a special interest in digital business transformation and the impact of technology change such as IoT, Blockchain and Open API banking in the financial services sector.

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