Why can’t experts predict the weather accurately? That’s one of the modern world’s longest-running jokes and even Simon Gear, South Africa’s most popular meteorologist, often admits that even he gets it wrong. But at the very least, it can help us pack a jersey or motivate for that extra round of golf by pointing at the forecast for sunshine. In some cases, such as the Capetonian drought, it’s even more relevant.
Suffice it to say, we talk about the weather a lot and, armed with modern weather apps, we have made it more parcel to our lifestyles than ever before – even if predictions aren’t always on the money. Yet recently the weather became a much more active part of my world when it joined my connected reality.
I have a rather substantial garden, one that demands its own levels of attention including watering. For that, I relied on a standard controller that would periodically open the taps to the sprinklers. But recently it was replaced with a new controller, one we’ve taken to call ‘Diamond,’ because my wife loves it so much. Diamond can do what my previous controller did, then goes much further. A true Internet of Things (IoT) gadget, it has smarts that changed the way I water my garden.
Once Diamond connected to my wifi, it asked for my location, as well as the type of plants found in the different watering zones, and the watering times. It then devised a smart metering schedule which can be dynamically informed by the predictions from Simon and his peers. That’s right, by using an online connection, Diamond is aware of any afternoon precipitation and will thus avoid doing any watering. While the rest of us murmur on about the weather, Diamond makes it a central part of its life without any instruction. Costing on the lower end of a few thousand Rands, Diamond will pay for itself in no time through water savings.
Diamond is a simple example of the IoT phenomenon. When you hear predictions about billions of connected devices and how they will change the world, Diamond is a contributor to that reality. From doorbells that send photos of the visitor to your phone, to industrial equipment that alerts operators that they require repairs: such devices will provide us with many new ways to engage with, and manage, our society.
Consider electricity consumption; I recently spent some time with Prof. Willie Cronje and his team from the Wits’ School of Electrical & Information Engineering. They are doing exceptional work on pico-grids, interoperable with multiple electrical sources; and storage devices such as solar panels, wind generators, batteries, and the like. They are also working on IoT devices that will regulate electricity consumption and spending. These make decisions such as switching other devices on and off at the optimal time. One example is a simple fridge unit that will cause fridges and freezers to “overcool” when electricity is cheaper.
Smart devices are getting smarter, and cheaper, by the day. In addition, their ability to make micro decisions in split seconds based on accurate information is mind-blowing. What the impact will be on our world is still impossible to predict. Some go so far as to imply a luxurious utopia for all. That’s far too naive for me, but there is no denying the massive potential hidden in this new era. That also implies new areas of uncertainty which is why we should debate and weigh the potential of smart devices around us. Whatever the future will be, rest assured it will be written through the influence of a smart, connected world. It’s not a topic anyone in a position to make decisions should ignore or take for granted.
What possibilities do these devices pose for tomorrow? That’s a topic all on its own. In the next instalment of this series, I will comment more on the prevalent economic and cultural dynamics of this convergence.
But in the meantime, my garden looks great, my water bill is lower, and my wife is very impressed with this new controller. In just a few swift changes it’s made my previous system look like a relic from prehistoric times. Pretty soon that experience will resonate in systems and services all around us. Your fridge will no longer be a fridge. It will be a connected decision-maker, acting in our interest. But online, it will be just one of the billions of IoT devices changing how we run the world.