As a kid when I read about smart people, I used to think that they must have born smart with special skills and a big brain containing a lot of gray matter. As I grew old and got into the professional world, I got a chance to meet some very smart people. Some of them were kind enough to narrate their stories and experiences to me. Very often than not, they would say that they were born as an ordinary kid. But, they kept observing the world acquiring data and information which helped them become smart. One of the buzzwords these days is ‘Smart Tech’. It sounds like something from a science fiction movies, but, its not fiction any more.
Need For Smart Tech
Today, as the human civilization matures further and aims to explore new frontiers, we don’t want to be dependent only on human smartness. So, now we want Smart Tech and Smart gadgets to do some of the work that humans can’t do or don’t want to do for various reasons. Interestingly, it seems, the way for the technology to achieve smartness is similar to how the humans do it. Data plays a very important role in making a technology/gadget, SMART. One of my earlier articles focuses on the importance of data in today’s economy. It can be read using this link.
What is SMART
The word SMART stands for Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. In simple words SMART means a device that is data driven, connected and autonomous to an extent that it can adapt and react based on the conditions of its surroundings. In casual conversation, people may call anything as Smart tech. But, going by the attributes defined, it needs to be able to act smart to be identified as a Smart technology.
A Smart gadget will need to employ many of the cutting edge technologies to achieve the ‘Smart’ness . Here are the four functions that it will need to perform to be truly called SMART:
- Monitoring the environment (in which gadget has to perform)
- Analyzing the data collected through monitoring
- Identifying the desired/undesired situation after analysis of data
- Report or take action to react to the desires/undesired situation
There are various ways available to monitor the surroundings. Basically when a device is monitoring the surroundings, it is collecting the data. What data is collected depends upon what the smart gadget is trying to accomplish. Sensors are generally employed for the Smart gadget to acquire relevant data from its surroundings. These sensors sense physical phenomena and convert them into electrical signals. These signals are then interpreted by the sensor interface and converted into the data.
For e.g., if its an autonomous vehicle, it will need to collect a lot of data from it’s surroundings. To collect this data, the vehicle will need to employ different kinds of sensors. These sensors act as the eyes of the vehicle. They help in seeing various objects like other vehicles, people, obstructions etc in it’s path. Here is an article explaining how LiDAR sensor help the autonomous cars understand their surroundings.
Bringing in AI
The data collected is not good enough by itself. It needs to be analyzed to understand patterns in the data so as to draw logical conclusion from it. This analysis is done using the artificial intelligence. Different flavors of AI are employed based on the complexity of the data and the kind of analysis needed. Once the analysis is done, the gadget can understand the desired/undesired situation and take action accordingly. How the action is taken is accomplished by issuing the instructions for the action from the on-board computer and then converting those instructions into physical phenomenon through motors, actuators etc.
In the case of an autonomous vehicle, if after the analysis the vehicle detects that there is a pedestrian in its path, it needs to apply the brakes to let the pedestrian safely pass. In one of my earlier articles, I have talked about the AI. Interested readers can read it using this link.
Smart Tech in the Real World
In real world, the Smart Tech is a combination of Hardware (Physical) and Software (Logical) applications of technology. It is really changing the way we live and work. Here are some of the areas/sectors that are benefiting immensely by using Smart tech.
- Home Automation
- Factories (Industry 4.0)
- Smart Mobility
- Smart Cities
For this article, we will talk about the Smart factories a little more. The Smart factory concept is also being termed as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. Smart factories are supposed to help companies reach new level of productivity along with being more innovative and collaborative.
In a Smart factory, the product being manufactured will have all the data about its design and manufacturing process. A network of connected machines will perform the sequence of steps/operations of the manufacturing process. The exact sequence of operations will be decided by this network of machines, run-time. It is based on various other factors like the quantity of the product to be manufactured and so on. This desired flexibility in the sequence of operations is based on the good old FMS concept.
Once manufactured, a Smart factory will also test the product by simulating the environment in which the product is going to perform. During this simulated environment testing, the performance data collected will be used to check the design premise of the product and correct any flaws in design so as to perfect the product for its intended use. So, a Smart factory is basically closing the loop between the intent with which the product is being created and the actual performance of the product. Even when the product is out in the real world, performing its job, it will be sharing its performance data back, to close the loop.
In a Smart factory, humans play the role of supervisor and master planner and act as the decision maker wherever the system needs assistance in making the right decision.
Looking at the various sectors where it is practically being used, Smart Tech has a market of trillions of dollars in the coming years. Though in some sectors the Smart tech is still evolving, it can create a lot of value for the world while improving the overall productivity of human race. Smart Tech can play a very important role in work conditions that are considered hazardous for humans.
There are, however, some roadblocks that need to be cleared to ensure that Smart tech fully evolves and becomes operational. World needs to come together to develop the regulations and guidelines that can be used by anybody to develop and leverage Smart tech. In one such case, the UN Industrial Development Organization has stressed on the need to increases awareness about Industry Standards and Regulations for Industry 4.0.
It needs to be done on a more generic level so that all the sectors trying to harness the power of Smart Tech can do it. Various functions like Data Collection, Application of AI and so on need to have well defined regulations and guidelines. Without a worldwide collaboration in this regard, harnessing full potential of Smart tech may turn out to be a pipe dream.
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