The concept of an “Internet of Things” (IoT) has been around for some time. It refers most fundamentally to a network of physical objects, each embedded with sensors to collect important data and connected over the internet. This in turn allows objects and systems that would previously have been manually operated to become fully automated, responding to specific situations and carrying out their functions without human interaction.
This technology is now proliferating, in countless applications, more than ever before. However, the concept is not a new one, and the technology to make it a reality has actually been around for nearly forty years. The first device that operated in this way was a vending machine that could monitor its own inventory and automatically order refills when they were needed. That was in the early 80s – the technology has come a long way since then.
The Internet of Things has ultimately led to so-called “smart buildings”, a concept with far-reaching implications for the future management of business premises in almost every industry sector you’d care to name. Smart buildings work via the convergence of multiple technologies, all connected together, interacting, and sharing data. This means everything from heating, lighting, and ventilation to security and fire safety can be managed and automated as one single smart building.
This has proven nothing short of revolutionary, and as the technology has proliferated in recent years, smart buildings seem set to become the industry standard of many industries. Everything from offices to construction sites and even residential homes can become smart buildings. Below, we will take a look at the many applications of this technology and how it is leading to a far more efficient management of space.
Management of Office and Business Spaces
All indoor business premises require a careful and efficient management in areas such as security, lighting, heating, and air ventilation. It is perhaps in this area that smart building technology has so far had the biggest impact. Specifically, the automation of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (given the acronym HVAC) is nothing new. The Internet of Things has long since taken a great deal of the manual work out of such basic functions.
IoT and smart buildings work thanks to a system of sensors that can trigger automated responses. Such sensors include thermal, light, and motion (or occupancy) sensors. In the case of heating and air conditioning, thermal sensors are the most important, closely monitoring a building’s temperature and activating either heaters or air conditioners in order to alter the indoor environment.
As mentioned, such technology has been around for a while, and automatic heaters and air conditioners are now commonplace across all industries. Yet the road is still wide open for innovation. New technologies such as occupancy or motion sensors can tell when a room is occupied, which avoids wasting energy resources on locations within a building that are not in current use by turning off lights or heaters.
Coming to security concerns, occupancy sensors can control automated doors to keep certain areas off-limits or to keep the building secure at night. Complex alarm systems even collect data on the nature of what has triggered them. In the future, it seems certainly likely that complex security systems will develop that can share information with authorities upon any breach being detected.
Room scheduling is another fast-growing element of smart building technology that seems set to become commonplace in offices and other indoor places of work. By inputting a week’s meeting schedule, a smart building could be able to acclimatize and otherwise “prepare” the rooms as and when they are scheduled to be used, providing optimal space utilization.
Fire safety is one area that has seen much urgent innovation and the use of smart building technologies to create safer and more secure working environments for employees.
Whereas fire safety has involved many conspicuous installations, such as large sprinkler systems, business warning signage, large fire doors and fire extinguishers, the Internet of Things offers the opportunity for many of these functions to be automated and ultimately performed more efficiently.
For example, a simple heat- or smoke-sensitive sprinkler system may trigger a building-wide indoor rainstorm. A system of complex sensors and equipment integrated by the IoT, on the other hand, could collect data on any fires breaking out (such as their size, their location within the building, and rate of spread) and trigger an automated “smart” response such as the closing of fire doors in the affected area and targeting the sprinkler system at the fire itself.
There is even the possibility that a sufficiently sophisticated set of sensors could collect detailed data about any incidences of fire and immediately share that data with fire services, along with plans of the building and other useful information.
Medical and Healthcare
The application of IoT technology to medical care is another area of development that has been going on for some time. The technology even has its own name – the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT. IoMT technologies are already widely used, and many more seem set to make an appearance.
IoMT devices currently in use at medical premises include smart beds, which can tell when beds are occupied (useful for scheduling) as well as collect other data such as whether patients are trying to get up or if any urgent care is needed. Emergency notification systems in particular are now prevalent.
IoMT devices are also being put to use for health monitoring, which means the constant surveillance of important parameters such as blood pressure or heart rate, allowing for medical professionals to be automatically contacted in the event that they are required. In the future, it may even become commonplace for certain medications to be automatically administered according to data collected by sensory equipment in use at hospitals.
Sophisticated IoT systems are as yet not commonplace in residential homes, but it seems almost certain that they soon will be. The possibilities implied by such technologies for running the home economy seem almost endless.
Automatic shopping ordering is something that has been much talked about. Reliant upon fridges and cupboards fitted with sensors and connected over an internet system, a smart home building could one day order just what is needed when it is needed.
Beyond this, many of the climate control and security applications that apply to offices can naturally apply to homes. When it comes to the Internet of Things and smart buildings, the market is sure to follow wherever the technology goes.
Author | Emily Forbes
An Entrepreneur, Mother & A passionate tech writer in the technology industry!