It's official, the age of connectivity has arrived! Well to be honest it has been with us for many years, connecting our lives since the emergence of the first smart phones. Since the release of Apps in 2008 we have become addicted to these small software packages that fulfil a variety of functions from simple games you can play on your phone, to translation services and video conferencing to name but a few, apparently 9.96 percent of App purchases are for business with a whopping 24 percent spent on games. According to USA today 90 Billion Apps were downloaded in 2016, compared with 77 Billion the previous year. It’s a lucrative business too, with publishers earning $89 billion in revenue from downloads and in App purchases, a figure that it is predicted will rise to $189 billion in 2020, just three years from now.

So, the scene has been set, we have our smart tool, the phone or tablet; we have Apps and we have wireless, 4G and other smart networks which is great news, but what does it really give us?
Well to be honest, this is where the hype kicks in and perhaps the confusion. For a definition of “The Internet of Things” I refer you to this definition from Wikipedia:
The Internet of Things is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings and other items
embedded with electronics, software sensors, actuators and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.
Well that’s nothing new as we have been networking devices for many years and so called smart systems have existed for decades, allowing users to communicate over vast distances, to measure and record information and to act upon that information. What is new is the way we interact with this data and how we monitor, record and report this information.
For years retailers have carried out customer surveys to ensure that requirements are met products are delivered in a manner that is conducive to increasing sales. Its costly way of gathering information and not necessarily representative of opinion as the way a question is put and the honesty of the individual can affect the response – think exit polls! If a smart sensor can record how long a shopper spends at a location in a store and if, through smart technology, such as a loyalty card that is linked to Bluetooth or wireless networks, then detailed information can be created that gives a true picture of that persons interests and the value of that retail space.
Data is king, the more we have the more we want. It’s a glib response but, in the scenario mentioned previously, there was a measureable result where retail space, as in floor space and shelving, could be valued with the success of the store layout and product split measured - but how do we extend this to our everyday lives?
Smart spaces, where you can control your office or home via a phone, pc or tablet already exist, but it’s the connectivity of these systems to a wider network where we can manage services for the supply of energy, space, and resource generally.
Well over two years ago Mackwell looked at the trends in the market towards connectivity and the growth of LED’s and made the decision to develop a platform that would be purely LED focused, flexible and would also be at the forefront of the growth of the IoT.
Being a UK designer and manufacturer of emergency lighting we have our own in-house design team to enable the electrical design and dedicated software teams to manage both the embedded and operating software. The latter points being perhaps the most important when selecting a smart emergency device. Security is perhaps the number one issue that the IoT must address and smart devices that have default engineering codes as standard can be hacked and pose a risk.
Mackwell works in a sector where safety is required, not desired and emergency lighting must both operate and deliver safe egress from a building. Increasingly, this is not only due to power outages and fire, but also the ever-present risk of terrorist activity. Public spaces such as airports and mass transit rail systems must consider all possibilities.
The IoT promotes the connection of sensors, switches, vending machines and even kettles to a building’s wireless or Wi Fi network. The security of your system can be compromised by a low cost, poorly protected device such as a kettle, where security wasn’t high on the agenda of how that device should operate. It’s one of 90 billion Apps that connect you to a device. In the wrong hands, it connects someone to your network.
The Mackwell “Origin” platform has been developed to be part of a sophisticated emergency test and monitoring system that is scalable. It can offer basic data or the ability to provide very high levels of information and diagnostics, but this only works because we are the gatekeepers of the system, we validate and protect our software and operating systems to ensure that the IoT functions safely and securely. So, consider this when selecting emergency lighting to connect to any form of control system; does the supplier of that product write or truly control their software.
Connectivity is great and we are partly there with smart phones, sensors and wearable technology but when we consider the security of these systems and in particular life safety systems we can we be confident that a bought-in product has the necessary support and security built in. Also, lighting as a service will offer technologies such as LiFi as a means of connecting such smart devices, thus providing a direct link to the building network.
The Internet of Things is not an exact science when broken down to the reality of day to day use. In theory it’s straightforward, but the selection and validation of tech has become more difficult with the advent of so called smart devices. Smart doesn’t always mean safe and if for example an individual hacked your office lighting and dimmed or turned it off it would be a nuisance but something you could ultimately secure. Don’t forget that most lighting management systems are never truly commissioned. They have a basic configuration that should be tuned once the building is occupied “Post Occupancy Evaluation” another interpretation for POE. Systems that are not properly set up could be a real risk.
Life safety systems must work and must be free from interference so select wisely and talk to the experts. Stick to the design specification and understand that with the rise of the IoT, ‘equivalent to’ isn’t a good enough measure.