We are living in a golden age of technology right now. Devices and software permeate our everyday lives, from smartphones to computers in our cars to smart home devices like Alexa or Google Home.
While each of these machines is useful and practical individually, the best way to enhance your daily life is to merge them through the internet of things (IoT). Now, more than ever, building a smart environment is possible, and the potential capabilities are endless.
So, with that in mind, we want to take a look at smart environments and how they can benefit your home or office, and how to get started on building one.
What is a Smart Environment?
So many of our machines these days can connect to the internet. Beyond the usual suspects (phones, tablets, laptops), more and more devices are becoming internet-capable. Refrigerators, doorbells, security cameras, microwaves – almost anything can and will be connected at some point.
By having so many internet-capable devices in your home or office, you can build your own network. A smart environment, then, is simply a term to refer to these various machines talking and working with each other.
Let’s look at a specific example to get a better understanding. Let’s say that you have a smart alarm clock that connects to your home’s central system (i.e., Amazon’s Alexa). When your alarm goes off in the morning, that sends a signal to turn on lights in your room.
When you get up, you walk to the bathroom to take a shower. Rather than having to turn the knob manually, sensors will pick up your movement, starting the hot water as soon as you come in.
After you get dressed, your coffeemaker has a fresh pot waiting for you, and Alexa starts telling you about traffic conditions and local weather patterns.
How does all of this work? Because each device is connected to the same network, they can communicate with each other to turn physical and environmental data into action. Your shower uses a motion sensor, while your coffeemaker is on a timer. Or, perhaps your fresh brew only begins when you’re in the shower so that it’s still hot when you get to the kitchen.
The more devices you have connected, the easier it is to create a seamless transition from one to the other. Lights can turn off when you leave a room and turn on when you enter. The TV can turn to your favorite channel automatically, or you can control your stereo with just your voice.
Simply put, a smart environment is one that adapts to your needs. Initially, you will need to program specific protocols (i.e., when you get up in the morning), but over time the system will refine its actions based on past data. For example, if you like to sleep in on the weekends, all of your devices will start later than usual.
Smart Environments at Work
While a smart home is generally what people imagine when thinking of smart environments, the fact is that you can benefit from this kind of interconnectivity at work as well. Depending on the nature of your business, you may even be able to blend the two by utilizing the same devices on both networks.
Here are a few examples of elements that may be included in a smart work environment.
Personalized Digital Workspaces
Everyone works at their own pace, which means that the best way to capitalize on an individual’s habits is to customize the systems and tools that he or she uses. For example, some workers may communicate best via email, while others prefer to talk on the phone.
Another way that a personalized workspace can benefit the office as a whole is when different departments or positions require specialized software. A marketer doesn’t need access to the same apps as a programmer, or a cashier doesn’t need to see administrative systems to do the job correctly.
With a smart environment, this customization can go even further than digital workspaces. Employees can utilize the devices that are most comfortable for them, particularly when they are mobile. Those who prefer a desktop computer can use that, while others may like to work on a tablet or smartphone instead. Because the workspace can translate across screens, everyone can operate at maximum efficiency.
Thanks to cloud technology, businesses are no longer shackled to the confines of legacy technology. Gone are the days of needing modems and copper cables to connect one office (or one computer) to another. Now, workers can collaborate in real-time using a variety of apps and devices.
When talking about a smart environment, here are a few tools that can encourage and improve collaboration. Best of all, employees can work together in the same office or across the country without losing productivity.
In the old days, everyone would have to call into the same number, which could be confusing and hectic. Also, bad connections could interrupt conversations, leading to miscommunications or postponed meetings.
With a smart environment, however, tools like live video feed and instant chat can enhance conference calls. Participants can take notes, which can be uploaded to a central system for everyone else to see. Leaders can show slides and other clips during the call, and send digital files afterward, so no one gets left out of the loop.
The smart work environment can extend well beyond the office. Workers in the field can utilize mobile technology to handle things like signing contracts, taking pictures, scanning documents, and communicating with other employees. Because each device is part of the larger IoT network, workers have the full capability of being in the office, no matter where they are.
While conference calling can be tricky to master, particularly if people are in different time zones, organizing a meeting in the office can also be a challenge. With a smart environment, however, it’s a breeze.
When a meeting is scheduled, everyone involved can get notifications and reminders about it. Whenever there is an update or change, all participants get a notice. Cameras in the office can see if one person is absent from the meeting and send a notification to his or her phone. Overall, you can streamline the organization process and ensure that no one gets left behind.
One of the best benefits of both smart environments and the cloud, in general, is that it makes IT teams much more responsive. Here are a few ways that these high-tech systems offer improved cybersecurity controls.
- Mobile Sensors – cameras can be connected to facial recognition software to identify potential threats. These sensors can also be motion-activated for after-hours security.
- Back-End Access Control – human error is the most significant problem for businesses. Now, IT teams can lock access to a particular device remotely in case of theft or carelessness.
- Network-Wide Upgrades – before, IT teams had to install security updates and patches directly to each device. Now, with the IoT, the software can update itself immediately.
Smart Environments at Home
We’ve covered some of the potential highlights of building a smart home, but here are a few other ways that incorporating the IoT can offer high-tech solutions.
- Push Notifications – Whether it’s a security camera telling you that something triggered an alert, or your fridge notifying that you’re out of milk, devices can ping your smartphone while you’re away.
- Improved Home Security – imagine being able to unlock your front door without a key. Imagine seeing who’s at the front door, even when you’re not home. Imagine being able to lock all doors and windows with a push of a button. That’s a smart environment.
- Customized Entertainment – realistically, many of your entertainment devices are already interconnected. You can access multiple streaming services from the same machine, and you can shift between screens instantly. Watch a movie on your TV, your tablet, or your phone. Send music to different speakers based on your location in the house.
- Smart Cooking – not only can your fridge notify you when you’re running low on something, but it can offer suggestions of what to cook. You can have a smart oven that ensures your cookies don’t burn. Your toaster can notify you when the bread pops out. Cooking will never be the same.
What You Should Know About Having a Smart Environment
Although there are plenty of benefits of building a smart environment at home or work, there are some considerations to make before going full steam ahead. Make sure that you’re prepared for these potential pitfalls.
We’re all familiar with the fact that Apple devices don’t communicate well with PCs. To make matters worse, if you utilize a variety of apps from different developers, they may not recognize all of your device operating systems. Ideally, you will get as much connectivity out of as few programs as possible.
If your company has a dedicated IT team that can monitor and protect all of the devices you use, then security isn’t an issue. For everyone else, however, you need to be sure that each machine you use is protected against hackers. Even one compromised device can ruin the whole network.
Although smart environments can provide a wide array of benefits and conveniences, getting it all set up can take time and effort. Not only do you have to customize each device to fit your needs, but you also need to make sure that they can adapt to changing situations. For example, if your coffeemaker goes off every morning at 8 a.m., what happens when you go on vacation?
Overall, you need to remember that smart environments are there to enhance your daily activities, not make decisions for you. Don’t forget that you still have to provide data and insight for everything to run smoothly.