Internet of Things (IoT) systems usually consist of a set of sensors that collect information, which is then transmitted between different devices without human intervention. At the same time, today’s mobile infrastructure — the devices, the apps — is typically all about human interaction.
At first glance, these two environments seem to be separate. But what if they talked to each other? I’d argue that this integration is actually key to making IoT work, especially under circumstances in which human interaction, judgment, and action can enhance data collection, analysis, and system behavior. In short, input from actual people will make the IoT smarter.
A system that collects data automatically can be compromised by issues of data quality, such as inconsistent, missing, or unrecognized data which then can result in incorrect analysis. Human interaction with IoT systems through mobile apps can augment automated data collection and correct, complement, extend, or even override the data gathered by the system or the actions it would undertake in response to the analysis of poor quality data.
For example, the recently-launched iPhone 6 includes the following capabilities: camera, GPS, compass, Bluetooth and NFC, micro location, barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor. These functionalities make it possible for a person to collect a wide range of information which can in turn be used to interact with an IoT system.
Imagine a traffic system that detects that the flow of vehicles has changed dramatically in a tunnel. A photograph of an accident taken by someone in the tunnel and sent via a mobile app could help inform the decision to re-route traffic and open the road to emergency services even if a standalone camera was not present or operational in the tunnel.
At a more personal level, imagine a person wearing a device to monitor blood pressure or sugar levels. While a change in readings can trigger a call from the doctor’s office or signal an ambulance dispatch and preparation of life-saving medicines in the emergency room, it is likely that direct input from the patient or a loved one can help determine whether this is a false alarm. Whether entered through a mobile phone or the wearable device itself, the user’s or loved one’s input – for instance, noting that the patient took off the device momentarily – can help make the system smarter.
Another way that mobile-device users can make the Internet of Things more useful is by granting timely access to their data. For example, in an emergency situation, first responder agencies such as fire departments can be given temporary access to IoT data regarding traffic conditions or building data in order to act more quickly and efficiently. These rights can be obtained and granted via the mobile infrastructure, and revoked when no longer needed. As IoT environments proliferate, the expectation to provide such access will grow to ensure effective and proper use of this expanding infrastructure.
IoT systems are continuing to roll out across industries, such as health management, industrial production, logistics, and retail, among many others. The key to maximizing the usefulness IoT systems is getting these mobile interactions right. We should look for opportunities to improve the capabilities of IoT environments by making it easier for real people to contribute to them.