Saturday, June 15, 2024

An Interactive World

The transition of the Internet of Things to the Internet of Experiences is the next big step in technology evolution.

Creators of the Internet of Things (IoT) concentrate their energy on creating individual smart devices. A new concept, the Internet of Experiences wants to transcend to the next level- creating unique experiences by hitching together smart devices to create smart systems . Enabling this demands strategic thinking- visualizing experiences and how to achieve those integrating different smart devices. The concept promises higher returns to companies venturing to achieve this goal.

An interesting experiment was conducted in Melbourne, Australia in 2013 by the city officials. They designated ID numbers and email addresses to each of the city’s more than 70,000 trees. Proponents of the city’s Urban Forest Strategy program asked residents to use the addresses to report issues like disease or dangerous branches. However, residents did more than that: they started writing thousands of messages directly to the trees. These are heartfelt notes to individual trees to express their love and admiration, to share their memories and to express their gratitude for protection from the sun and carbon dioxide. Sometimes they ask the trees for their views on current events, or write simply to say hello or apologize for their dog’s choice of a urinal. Occasionally, officials respond to emails on behalf of the trees. 

A day will arise when Melbourne’s trees – fitted with an array of sensors and connected to low-cost wireless communications – could truly speak for themselves, sharing a wealth of data: temperature, humidity, noise levels, carbon dioxide concentrations, glucose levels and motion readings. Such data can be used to preserve and protect the health of urban forests, which play a vital role in improving air and water quality, reducing storm water runoff, reducing urban ground temperatures, reducing energy use and counteracting greenhouse gas emissions.

This demonstrates the true potential of  Internet of Things (IoT), a storm of innovations in which billions of everyday objects – not just trees, but trash cans, lampposts, parking spots, traffic signals, roadways, hospital equipment, appliances, manufacturing lines, crops in the field and much, much more – are being equipped with sensors, processors and communication devices to share valuable data across the Internet and, in some cases, to act on it.

IoT in its most basic form is a very inexpensive method to understand and manage real-world things remotely. It also equips these everyday things with the capabilities and data to be self-sufficient. As demonstrated by the people of Melbourne, however, once the things in the IoT are connected and given a voice, they become more than just “things.” They become part of a living experience shaped by interactions among people, places and objects, among product, nature and life. They become contributors to what exits just beyond the IoT: the Internet of Experiences.

The tendency of enterprises to create smart devices or “things” connected to the web seems insignificant compared to the rise of the Internet of Experiences which aspires to become something better. The concept wants to realise the potential of what becomes possible when smart devices piggyback off one another’s capabilities to create experiences: innovative services that simplify and enhance daily life in ways never possible before. Enabling a tree, for example, to report, “I’m being attacked by borers,” which prompts a computer to dispatch a drone equipped to treat the situation. Or a highway to report, “I have reach maximum vehicle capacity,” which prompts the rerouting of automobiles onto alternate pathways.

The future may usher in an Experience Economy wherein all devices may need to a standard protocol so that the makers of smart devices can easily imagine, anticipate and virtually simulate how they can leverage the capabilities of devices made by others to improve the user’s experience. Albert Boswijk, a co-author of Economy of Experiences and founder and managing director of the European Centre for the Experience and Transformation Economy opines that “We have moved from a purely transaction-based, commodities economy to one based on goods, then services, and now experiences – meaningful experiences in a purpose-based economy. The digitization of products and services is happening so fast that it’s difficult for us as human beings to make sense of it all. But, rest assured, this digital transformation will change the impact and depth of personal experience.” Against this backdrop, Boswijk said, the IoT is a means to an end. “The Internet of Things enables the digitalization of experiences, and everything that can be digitalized can be personalized. This is key, as every experience is by definition personal.”

The personalization that digitization enables has benefitted giants such as Amazon and Netflix. The suggestions that their sites and apps offer are based on the data they collect about your behaviour when you are using their services. The same concept when applied to the IoT landscape, the sensor-laden world greatly expands the behavioural and contextual data available to shape and deliver personalized experiences. By enabling their devices to share data with other devices on the network (with the user’s permission, of course), and to evolve as the user’s needs and wants change, organizations that aspire to the Internet of Experiences greatly enrich the value they can deliver.

Withings  (Issy-les-Moulineaux, France) ,which offers personal health and well-being devices like the Smart Body Analyser has made some headway with regard to this concept. The Smart Body Analyser can detect a user’s weight, fat mass, body mass index and heart rate, capture room temperature and display air quality, including carbon dioxide levels. Significantly, it can share this data not only with the user and their Withings smartphone app, but with other apps that the user may turn to for weight loss management, fitness tracking, food logging or fertility and pregnancy tracking. The result is the ability to deliver individualized monitoring, goals, tips and coaching to help users reach their personal objectives. If those capabilities are put together with a smart refrigerator, however, and the weight-loss management app could remind the late-night snacker (with a message displayed on the refrigerator door when he grasps the handle) that he has reached his calorie limit for the day. Pair both with a smart exercise bike and he could receive a text message proposing an apple for 15 minutes of cycling.

Joe Pine, who coined the term “the Experience Economy” with his co-author, James Gilmore, sees in this personalization the potential for the Internet of Experiences to bring consumers closer to a Market of One. “The key aspect of your customer, the one who pays you and whom you’ve placed at the center of everything you do, is the word ‘one,’” Pine said. “It’s the individual customer you need to engage. It’s not a market. It’s not a segment. It’s not a niche. It’s an individual, living breathing customer.”In an economy of endless choice, he adds, “it’s the individual relationship you have with that individual customer that is the only lasting competitive advantage you’re going to have.”

Enterprises that design for the Internet of Experiences also think not only about what their device can deliver today, but how it can evolve. In the Internet of Experiences, conventional physical products are mere “delivery vehicles,” or conduits, for ever-evolving experiences. This transformation is already evident as, increasingly, new or upgraded products arrive in consumers’ homes virtually, in the form of ongoing software updates to devices they already own.

For example DJI, a drone-maker headquartered in Shenzhen, China, decided to make its drones easier and safer to fly by issuing a software update that added new flight modes to existing drones. It even transformed the built-in 1920 x 1080 pixel camera on one model into a 2704 x 1520 pixel camera via a software update alone. Withings took a software update path, too, transforming its Pulse pedometer into a new product, Pulse Ox, which improves on the original product by capturing blood oxygen levels and by providing automatic wake-up detection. Nest (Palo Alto, California) used software-only updates in its third-generation Nest Learning thermostat to give customers the option to set the device to display either temperature or an analogue or digital clock. Thanks to software integration, these updated Nest thermostats can now send alerts or shut off the heating system if a Nest Protect smoke alarm detects smoke or carbon monoxide.

But the company that has mastered the art of product and experience transformation through software updates is Tesla Motors. Tesla’s approach demonstrates that, done well, the Internet of Experiences should make once-complex offerings and activities technologically simple, easy and convenient. When Tesla (Palo Alto, California) decided to add a “crawl” feature, allowing drivers to ease into slow cruise control in heavy traffic, it issued an over-the-air software release that added the feature at once to the entire fleet of existing Tesla cars. Previous enhancements delivered via software update include automatic emergency braking, forward- and side-collision warnings and avoidance, traffic-based navigation, commute advice, range assurance to reduce the risk of being out of range of a charging device, and a remote-start capability via smartphone. Tesla plans to add “Autosteer,” essentially transforming the Model S sedan from a smart car into a self-driving car, including a valet “Autopark” feature that lets customers summon their cars from their parking spots via smartphone. As the company states on its blog, “Model S actually improves while you sleep. When you wake up, added functionality, enhanced performance and improved user experience make you feel like you are driving a new car. We want to improve cars in ways most people didn’t imagine possible.”

However this kind of seamless integration and innovation is not easy to conceptualize and engineer. Blending products, services, software, content, technology, cloud and data into an experience within the multidirectional hyper-connected world of the Internet of Experiences remains a complex undertaking. A Nest “learning” thermostat creates an experience by sensing and then automatically adapting to a homeowner’s daily rhythms and personal preferences to make their home safe and comfortable – no programming required. Under the hood, the thermostat is a complex system of sensors, software, processors, circuit boards, communication devices, energy sources, frames, wiring and display monitors. Each of these elements is produced by engineers working in different fields, yet they all need to work in sync with one another and with quality technicians, sales and marketing professionals to produce the behaviour – the experience – that will satisfy and surprise the customer.

Even though the device is complex, but it doesn’t function in isolation. To deliver maximum value, such thermostats are being integrated into larger smart home control systems – which may or may not be produced by Nest. Therefore, it must operate not only as a stand-alone system made up of complex subsystems but be capable of operating in tandem with a much larger “system of systems,” from a smart home system to a smart local electrical grid system, to a smart regional, national or continental electrical grid system.

Joe Pine dreams of a world where things talk to other things. “One day, I’ll turn off my alarm clock when I wake up and it’ll signal the house to warm up downstairs and tell my coffee maker to get my coffee on, and maybe my coffee pot will tell my car to heat up because it’s a cold day here in Minnesota. Customers will be able to design an entire environment for their ideal living experience. Companies need to think about how their experience integrates into such larger, holistic experiences.” Said Joe.

“The Internet of Things is all about the ubiquity of being connected,” said John Blyler, an adjunct assistant professor of systems engineering at Portland State University, editorial director of “IOT Embedded Systems,” and co-author of the forthcoming book Systems Engineering Management with Benjamin Blanchard, emeritus professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “Connectivity is going to cross disciplines. Having everything connected means a lot of our silos are going to have to come down. Proper systems engineering dictates that diverse teams are going to have to come together to make a company’s IoT strategy work.” Strategies for addressing such dependencies and complexities are the domain of systems engineering, a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to designing, realizing and managing complex systems that interact to produce behaviour no individual element of the system can.

“Current engineering practice is ahead of the science,” observes Hillary Sillitto, a fellow of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and author of Architecting Systems: Concepts, Principles and Practice. “We are building systems we do not know how to characterize or analyse, and whose behaviour we cannot fully predict.”The challenge becomes even bigger when these complex systems become part of the largest system of systems ever created: an ultra-large-scale system (ULSS) known as the IoT, which will incorporate devices from hundreds of thousands of makers, all with differing – even conflicting – objectives and approaches.

As enterprises work to hide the technology and develop innovative products – a critical element of a positive experience – what is most important, Pine believes, is to “keep the customer at the centre of their thinking, and to remember they are not producing things for an Internet of Things, but creating living, evolving experiences within an Internet of Experiences.”

Amazon just announced a new concept store called Amazon Go which allows customers to just walk in, grab whatever they want and then just walk out of the store. The items are tracked using smart cameras, baskets and racks and the money for the items are deducted from your amazon account. If you return an item, the bill amount automatically reduces. This concept reduces lines that are common in supermarkets.

In Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 science fiction film, a future world is shown where the environment around Tom Cruise’s lead actor offers him personalised advertisements. With the evolution of the Internet of Experiences, maybe such a future is not far away.