Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting

The night the IoT shattered my dreams

Gordon Routledge remembers the night in a Philadelphia hotel room when the reality of the Internet of Things hit him.

WHEN you’re on first-name terms with the person who runs the airport parking, the passport control officer nods in recognition as you pass through for the third time in a month and you no longer bring the family gifts from some far-flung airport, it’s time to conclude you may be travelling too much. 

But wherever there are people in the world, there are lights, and that means a smorgasbord of trade shows, conferences, product launches, factory visits and installations of the latest technology that must be explored.

And happily, to the annoyance of many people around me, jet lag is not something from which I suffer. I avoid it by never heading straight to bed when I arrive in a city in a different time zone. This usually means I have to take in a spot of the local nightlife, and a few shandies to restore my hydration levels. If I didn’t, my digital sleep mechanism would kick in: I’m either asleep or awake, on or off. This mechanism kicks in at the slightest chance of some downtime. Even if I’m compressed into the smallest budget-airline seat, I’m usually asleep before we leave the runway. My ear used to be trained to the tinkle of the approaching drinks trolley but since they’re rarely free these days, I appear to have tuned this function out.  

I fight the urge to sleep if I’m sitting in a conference session on applying the latest DIN 151722552 issue 2 draft standard for software security but alas my body says ‘you don’t need to know this’ and I end up slumped forward in my seat. I must apologise to the person who was sitting in front of me during a Hong Kong conference last year when I head-butted them in the back.

In the run up to LightFair this year, my in-box started to fill up with press releases trying to tempt me to visit various booths. I could ‘experience a new paradigm’, witness a blue-sky technology or attend the launch of a new white box.  Needless to day, the white box looks pretty much like the white box they released two years ago and is surprising similar to the many of white boxes already on the market. 

But Hank and Dwight at the PR agency have got wise to the white box syndrome and my lack of interest in their ‘paradigm shift’, so they have a new ruse: they simply replace the word dimmable with the acronym IoT. 

Yes! The Internet of Things! Even the dullest products can be brought back to life with a sprinkling of the IoT…

Yes! The Internet of Things! Even the dullest products can be brought back to life with a sprinkling of the IoT, and possibly a mention of a smart-phone app or a Bluetooth mesh. That’s before we even get to the IoT’s evil twin Smart Cities and its distant cousin Human-Centric Lighting.

However, when it comes to the IoT I like to think I’m ahead of the curve. Three years ago I bought a smart thermostat and it’s since been joined by door locks, smoke alarms, bathroom scales and a bristling network of CCTV cameras. I love the interoperability of IoT devices and how they share data to enable some great functionality. Lock the door, and I get the message: ’would you like to turn your heating off?’ If a CCTV camera goes offline, I receive an email with a video clip of what happened just before it went down. If a smoke detector is activated, it shuts down the boiler.

The power of the IoT is that devices can learn and then share this learning with other devices. For instance, last month my camera system independently decided to learn where the doors are in my house. It set up an alert whenever someone entered just that area. Great, I thought, but at the same time our six-month-old puppy learned how to open doors, so by the end of the day I’d had more emails and messages than my family send me in a month. 

Of course some people never learn. Take my wife. For all the great things she does for me, cooking isn’t one of them. So here I am five time zones behind the UK, tucked up in my Philadelphia hotel bedroom dreaming of those fantastic stands in LightFair, when at 3am I get a violent text alert. ‘Smoke detected in the kitchen!’ it screams.  This is the detector that my six-year-old daughter calls ‘Mummy’s cooking alarm’. The alert comes with a video snapshot of the unfolding disaster at home.

So apologies to the many exhibitors whose IoT offerings I didn’t get to experience. I’d had a bad night’s sleep, guys.  Instead of visiting the booths, I sat in the conference so I could catch up on my sleep. So here’s a lesson to next year’s exhibitors.  If you really want to stand out and attract attention to your booth, drop the phrase IoT and start talking about the real-world applications which will get end users excited.  

Even better, an application that will earn your company an ongoing revenue stream. We want to report on successful trials, case studies and the reasons why customers have adopted the solution – in just the same way we did when LEDs first came on the scene.

So until next year I can dream……